Dark Command (Blu-ray) (1940)

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Released 1-Jul-2020

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 93:34
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Raoul Walsh
Shock Entertainment
Starring Claire Trevor
John Wayne
Roy Rogers
Walter Pidgeon
George “Gabby” Hayes
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Victor Young

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Kansas 1859, on the eve of the American Civil War. Kansas is not yet a state and tensions are high between those who have come from the south, and want Kansas to become a slave state, and those from the north. Bob Seton (John Wayne), an illiterate cowboy from Texas, travels with Doc Grunch (George “Gabby” Hayes), barber and dentist. They have a special arrangement; Bob in a fight punches a man who then needs to have his tooth extracted by Doc. Business is pretty good until the duo arrive in Lawrence, Kansas and Bob sees Mary McCloud (Claire Trevor) in the street and instantly falls in love. Mary is a wealthy, feisty southern belle; her father Angus (Porter Hall) owns the bank and her naïve younger brother Fletch (Roy Rogers) has southern sympathies, but would like to be a cowboy. Mary is being courted by debonair schoolteacher William Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon).

     Bob stands for town Marshall against Cantrell, and wins, getting closer to Mary. Having lost the election, and seeing Bob wooing Mary, Cantrell, schoolteacher by day, by night heads a gang running slaves and guns. But when Fletch shoots and kills a man, Bob arrests him and refuses to let him go despite Mary’s entreaties. Mary turns to Cantrell; he and his men threaten and intimidate the jurors so that when Fletch is found not guilty Mary agrees to marry Cantrell. Then war is declared; Cantrell and his men, joined by Fletch, turn Confederate freebooters and bushwhackers although loyal to no side, killing and robbing, the militia and Bob powerless to stop them. The climax comes when Cantrell and his men attack Lawrence.

     Dark Command was directed by Raoul Walsh. In a career spanning over five decades Walsh was never nominated for an Oscar although he helmed some classics such as High Sierra and They Died with Their Boots On (both 1941) and White Heat (1949); he also directed John Wayne in his first credited role in The Big Trail in 1930. Wayne had become a star following Stagecoach the year prior to Dark Command although he was not yet a big enough star to get top billing over Claire Trevor, who by the end of the decade would win a best supporting actress Oscar for Key Largo (1948). Of course, Trevor was also in Stagecoach where she, again, was billed in front of Wayne. The other up and coming star was Roy Rogers, in the 1950s he becomes King of the Cowboys! In contrast, Walter Pidgeon had already been acting since 1919 and received an Oscar nomination a couple of years later for Mrs. Miniver (1942).

     Dark Command, from a novel by W.R. Burnett, is an uneven film. It starts off folksy and funny but then turns much more serious with the Civil War and the true character of Cantrell is revealed (not that there was much doubt about that before). There are a lot of montages of riders galloping about, buildings burning and newspaper headlines which gets a bit wearisome but then the climax featuring the attack on and the burning of Lawrence is well staged (except for the horse falls which they did in those days) is quite spectacular, even in black and white. Watching the clean cut and very young John Wayne and Roy Rogers is fun and, of course, it all works out well in the end.

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Transfer Quality


     Dark Command is a black and white film presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p using MPEG-4 AVC. The DVD cover incorrectly indicates the film is 2.35:1.

     We are talking about an 80 year old film here so although the print is by no means pristine it is pretty good. The blacks are solid, greyscales good and detail decent with some softness in long shots of riders galloping about. There are frequent tiny speckles, obvious in some scenes, non-existent in others, and a few bigger ones such as at 77:01, minor motion blur and a couple of changes in brightness, such as the wedding at 57:12. Grain is controlled.

     No subtitles are provided.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 448 Kbps, so not lossless.

     The dialogue is easy to hear. The galloping horses and gunshots, the crackle of flames are nicely rendered. Victor Young was Oscar nominated for his score of Dark Command, one of two Oscars the film received, the other for Art Direction, Black and White, but neither won. In truth, while the score is fine, it is nothing memorable.

     There was no hiss or crackle.

    Lip synchronisation is fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     Nothing. The film starts after the Blu-ray loads.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region A Blu-ray of Dark Command is also extra and subtitle free and has the same range of speckles, but it does have DTS-HD MA 2.0 if that is a deal-breaker for a film that was released with mono audio.


     Dark Command holds up pretty well after 80 years; it is folksy, funny and serious in turns and watching the clean cut and very young John Wayne and Roy Rogers is fun. Indeed, this is the only film in which Leonard Slye and Marion Robert Morrison (aka Roy Rogers and John Wayne) appeared in together.

     The video and audio are acceptable for an 80 year old film. No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, September 08, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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