Saturday, 4 June 2016


A Brotherhood of the American West, in Journey to Shiloh. Images: UNIVERSAL/SIMPLY MEDIA.

Harrison Ford is the greatest movie superstar on the planet, his shrewd film/character acting choices having made him and Hollywood box office billions. He'd truly make his name with Han Solo in 1977, but before that he was a jobbing, often frustrated, actor in Hollywood, keeping himself as busy as he could to support his young family via numerous appearances in film and TV- some small, some large. These last few years it's been fun catching up with some of that earlier work of his on DVD release and via cable. Out now in the UK, from the popular SIMPLY MEDIA selectors, is one such endeavour, in the Western genre, where Ford acted as background support amidst some other notable of-their-time talent, headed by another soon superstar of the early Seventies: James Caan, for the amiable 1968 morality/anti-war tale that is Journey to Shiloh.

Harrison Ford and his compadres are armed and ready!

Written by one of the original sixties STAR TREK series's best writers, and a veteran of this particular genre in television, Gene L. Coon, based on the novel by Heck Allen, Journey tells the story of a posse of seven Southern Texas country boy patriots doing their bit in heading out to fight in the brutal civil way against those darn Yankees. Along the way, by horse and stagecoach, there's a not always balanced blending of light humour and some very dark moments, within a film that, whilst not a classic, is nonetheless an interesting time capsule- a film caught between genre evolution as it moved from safe, cosy and relatively clean-looking to several years later undergoing a more revolutionary, gritty and violent form with the arrival of Sam Peckinpah and the realist visions of Cline Eastwood. Journey certainly feels quaint in comparison, but Caan gives the movie some subtle respectability and is a likeable enough lead as the honourable Buck Burnett. Harrison Ford, as Willie Bill Bearden, is clearly noticeable right from the start amongst the hot-headed yet often quite innocent of their new surroundings pack following him cross country. Raw but clearly happy to be in a film, he has that kind of early Han Solo "look" and occasional confident swagger about him that we'd all become familiar with by 1977. (Two further westerns would eventually appear on his resume: the mildly amusing 1979 Gene Wilder team up of The Frisco Kid, and the underrated 2011 sci-fi hybrid Cowboys and Aliens, playing the grouchy but heroic Dolarhyde). Amongst the rest of the Journey ensemble, and looking as equally youthful as Ford, are Michael Sarrazin (who has the second lead status to Caan), Airwolf TV series icon Jan-Michael Vincent and cult favourite Don Stroud.

The original movie featuring that other group of seven cowboys!

Directed by William Hale, another TV series veteran, one watches Journey with the feeling that it likely had its genesis as a movie of the week before being transferred to the the big screen. Its no classic, but its a diverting enough hour and a half, clearly showing its parable heart on its sleeve to the real-life events then going on so tragically in Vietnam. Cleanly presented, though in a 4:3 (pan and scan) ratio rather than widescreen (the same as an earlier US release), Ford devotees will surely want to add this one to their archival collection.

STAR WARS AFICIONADO Rating: 3 out of 5

Get the DVD here: Journey To Shiloh [DVD]: James Caan, Michael Sarrazin, Brenda Scott, Don Stroud, Paul Petersen, Harrison Ford, William Hale: DVD & Blu-ray

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