Review for Sam Whiskey
I think it’s a sign of middle age, when all your childhood heroes and role models have passed away. Sam Whiskey was a regular fixture in our household, simply because it was a regular fixture on the television, getting at least one airing a year, and my dad would tune in faithfully to enjoy some Burt Reynolds Western antics. But like so many of those films from my childhood, it’s less visible on TV today. So when I got nostalgic and started looking for a Blu-ray to watch, I had to import a Region B disc from Germany. There is no UK release at the time of writing. Sam Whiskey is also a special film in that it’s an early Burt Reynolds light comedy, released in 1969, some ten years before he would become the king of that particular genre.
Sam Whiskey is a man of many talents, many trades, but above all he is a gambler. But he’ll be taking the biggest risk of his life when he meets with widow Laura Breckenridge. Before he died, her husband stole $2 million from the Denver Mint. That gold sank in the Platte River. Laura Breckenridge needs to protect her family name. She wants Sam to recover that gold, and break into the mint to replace it before the theft is discovered, a mint guarded by the US Army. If that isn’t crazy enough, he’ll be up against someone else who’s willing to kill for that gold. It’s a suicidal scheme, but Laura Breckenridge can be... very... persuasive.
Sam Whiskey gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc. The image is clear and sharp, and has seen a minimal degree of intervention to make it HD ready. While the image is stable, colours are strong and consistent, and there is a natural level of film grain, there is still the odd moment of flicker, the occasional softness, and one or two missing frames. There is also the odd fleck of dust or dirt on the print, but by and large, this is how a vintage film should look on Blu-ray. It certainly brings out the film’s expressive cinematography and Western landscapes to a degree that I never previously appreciated.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 English and German, in what I assume is the original Mono format. You also get optional English subtitles, although in an odd move for a German release, there are no German subtitles on the disc. The all important dialogue is clear, the audio is rich and resonant with no indication of hiss, distortion or glitches, and while the film’s music can get a little repetitive at times, it’s never overbearing.
You get one disc in a thin white BD Amaray, and if the German ratings logos are over the top, you can get rid of them by reversing the sleeve.
The disc presents the film with a static German language menu.
On the disc, you’ll get an interview with actor Clint Walker (O.W. Bandy), recorded in 2014 and presented in English only. In it he talks about the movie and his career. This lasts 9:02 and is presented in 1080i.
You get the US Trailer for the film in widescreen HD, and the German trailer in 4:3 HD. There is also a slideshow picture gallery full of promotional imagery for the film.
Sam Whiskey is the Anti-Heist! There aren’t too many movies out there where a gang break into a secure facility to return stolen gold, and you might keep waiting for the penny to drop, the twist in the tail, but it never comes. Those expectations will be heightened by the character of Laura Breckenridge, manipulative and devious, the ‘grieving’ widow using her feminine wiles to convince Sam Whiskey to take on the seemingly impossible task.
Nostalgia may have blinded me a little with Sam Whiskey, as re-watching it now after so many years, it wasn’t as good as I remembered it to be. I recalled a knock-about, fast-paced and comic romp that never let up for an instant, filled with action-packed mayhem and great character moments. The highlights of the film had stuck with me, and made me pine for all those moments that I had to have forgotten. It turns out that I had forgotten very little, except for the fact that it isn’t how I described it.
All the scenes I remember are definitely there, but there’s not that much more to the film. It’s a comic romp most certainly, but it’s relaxed, almost sedate about it. It’s also pretty episodic about the whole thing, spending most of the character interactions and comedy in the first act, a tense and exciting sequence where they recover the gold from a sunken riverboat, while dealing with bandits in the middle of the film, and unfortunately a rather pedestrian and unconvincing finale as they break into the Denver Mint.
The weakness in the film is the antagonist, Fat Henry Hobson, who dogs Sam Whiskey’s steps trying to get his hands on the gold by means of whatever petty local thugs he can hire. He’s pretty much a non-character in the film, and his modus operandi doesn’t make much logical sense.
Still, Sam Whiskey is great entertainment, and that’s down to the main characters, Sam Whiskey himself, and his ‘gang’, blacksmith Jed Hooker, and inventor O.W. Bandy, as well as their employer Laura Breckenridge. The comic interactions between the group lie at the heart of the film, and while these moments are strongest in the opening third as we get to know the characters, there is enough momentum to last through the film and keeps a smile on my face up until the end credits. Sam Whiskey is an early attempt at a light comedy from Burt Reynolds and as such is well worth seeking out. This Blu-ray does the film justice as well.