All hail Blu-ray 3-D … a format still hanging on as one of the best features of home theater. Budd Boetticher’s trim action meller gives us Van Heflin (good) and Julie Adams (respectable) in a Mexican rebellion mini-epic with a backlot feel but rather good 3-D. The 3-D Film Archive’s experts have optimized the depth effect and included a colorful, very depth-y Woody Woodpecker cartoon. And Boetticher advocate Jeremy Arnold provides the audio commentary.
Wings of the Hawk
KL Studio Classics
1953 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 81 min. / available through Kino Lorber / Street Date February 9, 2021 / 29.95
Starring: Van Heflin, Julie Adams, Abbe Lane, George Dolenz, Noah Beery Jr., Rodolfo Acosta, Antonio Moreno, Pedro González González, Paul Fierro, Mario Siletti, Rico Alaníz, Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., Rosa Turich, Lyle Talbot.
Cinematography: Clifford Stine
Film Editor: Russel Schoengarth
Original Music: Frank Skinner
Written by James E. Moser, Kay Lenard from the novel by Gerald Drayson Adams
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Directed by Budd Boetticher
The latest entry from the restoration experts at the 3-D Film Archive is Wings of the Hawk. Universal-International’s second 3-D release was also its first ‘widescreen’ movie: studios were adopted the 1:85 aspect ratio very soon after Fox’s game-changing launch of CinemaScope.
At this time Universal devoted a big slice of its production schedule to color adventures, either westerns or costume pictures. They varied somewhat in budget — if Gregory Peck was brought in for a show like The World in His Arms, the price tag would go up.
The economy-conscious studio kept its small pool of contract players very busy. Hopefuls Tony Curtis, Jeff Chandler and Rock Hudson would all play colonial soldiers and Arabian Nights heroes; Hudson was an Indian brave at least twice. As it was filmed in the new and trendy 3-D format Wings of the Hawk also merited the hiring of an outside star, ex-MGM contractee Van Heflin. House director Budd Boetticher took the assignment. Two years before he had been lauded for the superb Bullfighter and the Lady, yet he didn’t mind bread ‘n’ butter studio assignments like Red Ball Express.
Wings of the Hawk is so generic an action thriller, ot could have been rewritten from a story about an uprising in the Sudan, or a conflict in a fantasy kingdom. The setting is Mexico but the locations don’t range much farther than Simi Valley. We’re fairly certain that we’re seeing frequently-used Universal backlot sites. One setup with low buildings in the foreground, and a path leading up a hill beyond, seems identical to the front of the gladiator school seen several years later in Spartacus.
And since this is a Budd Boetticher picture, it’s got great equestrian action. The horses are beautiful. Specially trained animals are used when they fall down — no trip wires or stumble pits.
Yankee miner Irish Gallagher (Van Heflin) has just tapped a good vein of gold when the local military ruler Coronel Paco Ruíz (George Dolenz) bring troops to seize his holdings. They slay Irish’s pal Marco (Mario Siletti), but Irish is rescued by the local revolutionaries, led by the firebrand Raquel Noriega (Julia Adams). Raquel is in charge due to the perceived cowardice of leader Arturo Torres (Rodolfo Acosta), her lover. Irish earns his freedom by taking a bullet out of Raquel’s shoulder. But events cause him to join up with the little band of rebels. The plan is to ambush Ruíz’s Federales with American guns purchased with gold from the confiscated mine. This will ensure that the bandit-revolutionary Pascual Orozco (Noah Beery Jr.) can capture Ciudad Juarez. By now an unofficial item, Irish and Raquel fight together. Loyal soldado Tomás (Pedro González González) fights even after his mother (Conchita Reyes) is put before a firing squad. Raquel must contend with the fact that her sister Elena (singer Abbe Lane) has become the consort of the haughty Coronel Ruíz.
Wings of the Hawk takes place in 1911, and its action of bringing wagonloads of arms from the U.S. feels like a pre-echo of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch made sixteen years later. Like most of Universal’s early ’50s adventure thrillers the action scenes have a make-do quality. Mexico is a few backlot buildings and the featureless hills of the Corriganville movie ranch. The battles are really skirmishes; the biggest scenes show perhaps forty costumed Federales, albeit mounted on really handsome horses. The rebel camp is small-scale but not tiny and the Colonel’s headquarters is just a couple of rooms. There’s action in every reel, mostly chases, a couple of fistfights, etc. The final battle uses dynamite explosions to generate some scale, and add some dynamic 3-D action.
Perhaps the original book had a reference to ‘wings of the hawk’ but the phrase is never heard in the finished film. The Federales make use of a new .30 caliber machine gun — which supposedly made its combat debut in U.S. Army campaigns on the Mexican border. The movie Villa Rides! (1968) showed airplanes in use in the revolution, but it was set a few years later. The Wild Bunch is supposed to take place in 1913, when airplanes are still little more than a rumor in the remote Southwest. Automobiles are still a rarity.
The capable Van Heflin gamely applies himself to the half-dimensional Irish Gallagher, taking a personal role in all but the most dangerous action scenes. We love Julia (Julie) Adams, but it’s something of a stretch to accept her as a feisty Mexican fighter. Adams’ slight accent soon disappears altogether; the ethnic actors backing her up seemingly mute their own accents so as not to make her stick out. Mexican star Rodolfo Acosta first played for Boetticher in Bullfighter and the Lady and continued for him as a general in Horizons West (great title, so-so movie). Acosta was mostly relegated to playing Indians and soldiers in his Hollywood pictures. You might remember him from How the West Was Won, as one of Eli Wallach’s train-robbing cronies. Shot by surprise, Acosta’s has one big dialogue line: “It’s Rawlins! Arrgh!”
George Dolenz’s main villain is pretty colorless… but he is indeed the father of future Monkee, Mickey Dolenz. Veteran actor Noah Beery Jr. — yes, from The Rockford Files — has one scene as a strictly B-movie Mexican bandit. He avoids ridicule by playing it low-key … not too heavy on the Wallace Beery histrionics. Former silent matinee idol Antonio Moreno (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Searchers) pops up in a couple of scenes as a priest who aids the rebels.
Standing out in the predictable ensemble is Pedro González González’s slightly comic good-guy, Tomás. → According to the IMDB it’s GG’s first feature film, and he handles the light comedy side-kick chores with style and charm, even performing some amusing Mexican dance moves in a cantina scene. The featured cantina dancer is Rosa Turich. Reportedly fifty years old, she looks half that age. She made appearances in scores of movies, usually un-billed.
González won some respectable parts in John Wayne movies but his appearances became limited to condescending bits — over-excitable little guys that pop up to nervously babble a high-pitched ¡Ai Chihuahua! or two. Pedro was not the inspiration for Warner Bros’ cartoon character Speedy Gonzales but he is listed as providing voices for a couple of the cartoons. Along with Bill Dana’s ‘José Jiménez, Speedy Gonzales is now considered an ethnic embarrassment, and effectively canceled from the airwaves. Pedro and his brother José usually played positive characters yet are associated with the same stereotyping.
In Wings González saves the day once or twice and isn’t asked to lay down a Gunga Din– like sacrifice. The role feels like a step forward.
Sexy Abbe Lane was the fourth wife of Xavier Cugat (between Lorraine Allen and Charo) and is much better known as a band singer. She gets special billing for a part that doesn’t generate much energy. The finish is so rushed that Abbe’s character isn’t even given a parting shot.
Budd Boetticher doesn’t overload Wings of the Hawk with 3-D effects. Some furniture is tossed at the camera, as are a couple of rocks hurled by an explosion. The best 3-D shot is an up-angle close-up of a pistol being lowered on a string into Irish’s jail cell. Boetticher and the stunt specialists found okay angles for the fight scenes, but all the horse action is better than normal — is it fair to assume that Budd is responsible for the quality scenes of horses galloping and climbing steep paths?
For a somewhat tame, juvenile program picture Wings is not bad. Just don’t expect anything deep, like Van Heflin’s extraordinarily good The Raid, a Civil War spy-sabotage feature made a year later. What with the difficult role given Julia Adams, not a lot of romantic attraction is generated. She never looks natural in sombrero and bandoliers, and her reserve and poise are more fitting for a debutante. Still, Ms. Adams gives the role its due. When Raquel is shot through the shoulder in the first scene, she suffers almost zero physical effect. It must have been Raquel’s sorority training.
KL Studio Classics’ 3-D Blu-ray of Wings of the Hawk is a handsome special edition of this action attraction from 3-D’s splashy first year on the movie-going scene. Although printed in Technicolor the camera original was Eastmancolor, which left the 3-D Archive experts plenty of restoration issues to surmount. Kino’s notes say that the Archive worked with 2K scans of the Left & Right Eye interpositive film records.
Never fear — the show is readily viewable in normal 2-D Blu-ray, from the same disc. 3-D monitors appear to have been discontinued in the U.S. yet various projection systems still offer a 3-D option, using ‘active’ battery-powered 3-D glasses.
Kino’s earlier, beautiful 3-D disc of Taza, Son of Cochise was seemingly remastered from flawless film elements. For this film it looks as if extra work was required to boost faded negatives. As a result, Julie Adams’ crimson lipstick (what Mexican revolutionary doesn’t check her makeup?) often seem on the verge of blooming too brightly. Some scenes are also more grainy than we’d like, indicating perhaps that that some source reels contained replacement footage. A positive note is that Boetticher and cameraman Clifford Stine don’t push the 3-D too much. The film is an adventure that happens to be in 3-D, not a constant 3-D demo.
Jeremy Arnold provides the assured, informative audio commentary. He identifies Wings of the Hawk as Boetticher’s 9th and last film for Universal-International, and notes that their budgets were bigger than the director’s later, more famous Randolph Scott series. Boetticher hated 3-D and didn’t direct the special angles of things flying into the camera.
A second 20-minute audio piece comes from Mike Ballew, who certainly has done his research. He has all the production records and lets us know about every shoot delay and minor injury. He says that there was a color raw stock shortage, that Eastman Kodak couldn’t manufacture enough for all the color films being shot. Ballew explains that Wings’ original release carried 3-channel magnetic stereo sound … and that this disc has that original track, recently rediscovered. He also tells us that this disc contains the original cartoon that played at the Wings of the Hawk premiere — and explains how Walter Lantz filmed it, without a multi-plane animation camera.
← The Woody Woodpecker cartoon Hypnotic Hick is in great shape. It offers terrific 3-D effects, as did the Archive’s earlier 3-D cartoon Boo Moon starring Casper the Friendly Ghost. I’m not a fan of Woody Woodpecker, a feathered jerk who doesn’t offer much of a personality. Besides hypnotism, the subject of the show is the serving of summonses … but not from the HUAC. This is the only time I’ve seen the Walter Lantz character Buzz Buzzard in an animated cartoon. I remember drawing him with a ‘how to draw cartoons’ book when I was a little kid.
One can tell right away that the poster for Wings of the Hawk was not painted by the great Reynold Brown, who had just begun at Universal-International. Brown’s dynamic movie star likenesses were far better than these. To me Van Heflin looks more like Leo Gorcey!
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Wings of the Hawk
Movie: Good +/-
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent 3.0 Original 1953 High Dynamic Range Theatrical Mix, + 5.1 Surround (2020 Compressed 3.0 Midnight Movie Mix)
Supplements: Full audio commentary by Jeremy Arnold; partial (20-minute commentary by 3-D Expert Mike Ballew; theatrical trailer (flat); and 3-D Woody Woodpecker Cartoon Hypnotic Hick (1953).
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: January 20, 2021
Text © Copyright 2021 Glenn Erickson