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For a 71-minute movie, Ride Lonesome is one of the most rivetingly memorable
Westerns I've ever seen. Fans of epics and lots of mindless action should
stay away. This is a thinking person's group character study of the five
principals and the ubiquitous presence of Lee Van Cleef's "Big Brother"
Frank despite a very economic amount of screen time.
True enough that in many ways, this plays a like a typical '50's "classic-formula"(including a misplaced-and-awkward Indian-Chief-wants-widow-for-squaw subplot) Western -- albeit exceedingly well-directed and well-acted. The dialog, richness of characterizations, and interplay among characters ultimately set this one apart. These come across as indelibly drawn real people who happened to live in the 1870's West. However, Boetticher fans need not threat that he has totally abandoned his contributions to Western Mythology. The rather spartan genre-emblematic symbolism he does include resonates all the more as a result of this efficiency.
This is true despite the presence, nay -- especially due to the presence of Randolph Scott and his pitch-perfect interplay with charmingly roguish Boone, marvelously essayed by Pernell Roberts. Neither ever loses sight of who and what the other man is. Both share a healthy amount of mutual respect mixed with healthy skepticism and awareness of an inevitable dark cloud shadowing their temporary alliance. Roberts, in particular, evokes every bit of sardonic humor, masculine charm, and fidelity to his own peculiar code that the script allows him. Scott, for his part, is far closer to the dark bitterness of Will Kane than he is when playing most of his heroic characters.
Both characters are more-than-ably joined in the ensemble by half-witted-but-loyal cowpoke Whit (James Coburn), homicidal man-boy Billy (James Best), and-abandoned-wife-and-later-widowed Karen Steele. The female actor is quite appealing visually and as convincing as possible in her role given her contrived introduction into the plot. Once we get past the Indian subplot, she comes into her own as she gradually learns who Scott's and Robert's characters truly are, and adjusts her emotions accordingly.
But, one facet of this film that has always stuck in my mind is the way Boetticher and Kennedy brilliantly collaborated to have Van Cleef essay Big Brother Frank, the movie's ultimate villain - especially considering the many High-Noon-ish parallels. He neither portrays a Big-Brother-Frank-Miller type of cocksure-but-defiantly-laconic swaggering gang leader or a typically unrepentant Lee Van Cleef villain. Instead, we get a somewhat remorseful, increasingly bemused, but immutably duty-bound human being of real-flesh-and-blood feelings. It is only after exhausting potential alternatives that he reluctantly comes to terms with the inevitability of his final conflict with Scott. And, his reluctance to do Scott further harm seems genuine, only to be trumped by his commitment to free little brother Billy.
But, as good as the entire ensemble is, the film draws a good deal of its charm and heart from Pernell Robert's performance as Boone. I note this as an aside, because Roberts went on to make only one more indelible feature film performance before getting overshadowed on Bonanza. Even worse for his promising career, directors reportedly found him nearly impossible to work with and there was no love lost between him and his fellow cast members who felt he thought himself superior to all of them; intellectually speaking, he was probably right, but that bought him nothing in Hollywood. Eventually, he had a fairly long run starring in a highly rated series that for some reason, has had no shelf-life on reruns called Trapper John, M. D. But, there, too, Hollywood scuttlebutt indicates that he made few friends. After just re-watching his marvelous work in "Ride Lonesome", and recalling other performances, I found myself thinking that these off-the-set issues were truly unfortunate because Roberts truly exuded leading-man-caliber talent. Instead I can only urge other IMDB'ers not to miss this performance.
Despite the economic budget, the cinematic and sound-related choices are impeccably executed. Contrasts are especially effective. My rating for this near-perfect Western is 9/10.
"Ride Lonesome" fully deserves its cult-movie status. Here the chemistry
between the director Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott attains its highest
level. Of course, as for any other cult movie, it would be desirable to see
"Ride lonesome" several times to fully appreciate it. The story is very
simple, and somewhat reminiscent of others by the distinguished
western-writer Burt Kennedy, but it is dense with distinct themes and
psychological nuances. The dialogue is perfect: extremely dry, sharp and
laconic, but endowed with a remarkable sense of humour. We feel that the
guys on the screen are more for action than for chats.
Boetticher merges the audience in the open freeness of wild nature, according to his trade-mark style of turning the landscape into a further character of his films. The photography and the use of color are magnificent. The action scenes are terse, (enough) realistic and much accurate in the movements of the actors. Particularly brilliant are the nocturnal scenes: the shadows which hide the faces are opposed to the glitter of metal objects (cups, fire-arms) and to the lights spread by Karen Steele's blond hair and white shirt. And these nocturnal scenes create a remarkable erotic atmosphere, due to the breathtaking presence of Steele as Mrs. Lane. It has been said that in Boetticher's films the Woman is never a real character, but rather a dreamed object of desire. "Ride Lonesome" is perhaps the best evidence of this theory: Karen Steele is so incredibly gorgeous that the viewer is led to see her more as a Goddess than as a woman. And thus we easily accept the instinctive respect paid to her by the male characters. Also note this subtlety: the Apaches attack the whites just because their chief wants to get Mrs. Lane. The power of Woman rules.
Any character is designed with accurate psychology, with excellent work by the whole cast. Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, James Best are all commendable. I especially liked a very young James Coburn in the role of the naive cow-boy, living on the risky border between good and evil. Lee Van Cleef has a short role as the main villain Frank, but leaves his mark: look at his sneer and his body language when Frank realizes that he's going to face a mortal clash.
A marginal note: the Italian title of the movie sounds like "The tree of revenge". I venture to say that this title is better than the original one.
I greatly like "Ride Lonesome". You can enjoy it at two levels: either breath in the open spaces and relish the adventure, or make a deeper study of Boetticher's admirable style and technique.
Tight, efficient western story (not a "saga") about a man who uses a
prisoner to get his brother into the open for revenge. In the meantime he
strings along a beautiful stranded woman and 2 outlaws who hope to kill
Scott and turn his prisoner in for a pardon for themselves. The climax
before the evil-looking "hanging tree" is very impressive, although the
could have built Van Cleef into a stronger villain (perhaps the realism of
villain who isn't all that bad was part of the plan). Excellent synergy
all the vital elements by the director in this, one of the best of the
(and hard to find) Ranown films.
Contemporary reviewers described the Ranown films as B+ Westerns. High
quality scripts and execution on efficient budgets. Note that the hanging
tree used at the climax of "Ride Lonesome" is surrounded by water in
"Comanche Station". Unfortunately, in my opinion, some of the dialogue is
recycled by Mr. Kennedy between the two films as the respective
(Best/Coburn - Akins/Homier) contemplate offing Scott and the younger says
you they have to get him between them, you can't go at a man like
Brigade/Cody straight on. However, its reasonable that desperados in a
writer's milieu would use the same phrasing.
The action scenes in Ride Lonesome are excellent and it is impressive to see Scott's riding skills at his age, such as in the scene where they notice the warriors on the ridge and he accelerates his horse in order to get Karen Steele to safety.
The action is complemented by the night scenes where the elliptical dialogue between the characters provides intellectual comic relief.
Other items I liked are Lee Van Cleef's turn when he realizes why Brigade is being so obvious about their path. When I first saw the film I was impressed by James Best's performance but didn't notice the feather in his hat. Seeing it in a retrospective with a friend, he noticed the feather. My first reaction was that the character was part Indian, he thought it was meant to show the character as "chicken", ie punkish.
Ride Lonesome is that rare B-film, one that eclipses in a wink most of its
bigger budgeted brethren. The return of scripter Burt Kennedy (who had not
done the two previous Scott/Boetticher films) to the Ranown company
by Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown), the close group harmony,
resulted in an obviously glorious reunion for all concerned.
Shot entirely outdoors, like "The Tall T," we have large open spaces, but a tightly confined group. This time the bounty isn't gold or money - it's outlaw Billy John (James Best). Former sheriff Ben Brigade has captured him, counting on Billy John's brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) to come get him. Brigade has a score to settle, the murder of his wife, and he intends to settle it at a tree that holds relevance to both lawman and outlaw. Scott is joined by two minor lawbreakers, in whose hope of amnesty provided by the turning over of Billy John to authorities, provides the alliance of adversaries so common to the Boetticher films. Pernell Roberts, the more worldly and intelligent of the two, like Brigade, is looking for personal redemption, and the hope of his own ranch once he settles down. He acts a big brother to the less intelligent, and basically decent, James Coburn, in his filmic debut, is a long way from his more forceful character that would surface in later westerns of Sturges and Peckinpah. Karen Steele is on hand again (she was in "Decision at Sundown"), the group finds her alone in a way station, threatened by the Indians who killed her husband. She serves as conscience and libido stimulator, and her breathtaking appearance is highlighted in what is one of the film's most humorous moments ("I said her eyes").
So, avoiding the Indians on their trail, and the threat of Frank's gang, Brigade leads the group to the inevitable showdown at the hanging tree that will determine the fate of the group, and the individual futures of each.
Ranown, Boetticher and Kennedy had one more film to go, the actor was slowing down - after years of averaging three per year, there were just two releases in both 1957 and 1958, Ride Lonesome was the only film for 1959, and 1960's Comanche Station would be the sole film for Scott until 1962's valedictory film known as Ride the High Country.
The Ranown Westerns of Boetticher and Scott are an example of efficient well acted story telling. Compared to some of the big budget westerns of the old Hollywood era and I include Cheyenne Autumn, Cimmaron, and that blasphemy Duel in the Sun as examples, story was sacrificed for spectacle and characters were types. In the Scott Westerns the story,the reality of the characters actions in that stark landscape and how they survived or didn't made for entertaining yet intelligent film watching. Ben Brigade is out for revenge and his bait is the younger brother of his enemy who out for revenge of his own,hanged Brigade's wife some time prior to the events of this drama. Unlike the villains in the Tall T and Commanche Station, Frank isn't the dark half of the hero-they would never ever share a campfire together,but they do have a since of family loyalty which would require them to risk all hazards. Another family group Boone and Whit played by a young Pernell Roberts and James Coburn enter as potential rivals for both hero and villain,they want James Bests' Billy as a ticket to amnesty and Boone's dream of owning a ranch. Then the SEX is added as Karen Steele the recently widowed wife of a stationmaster draws Apaches and increases the hormone overload of the four men,Brigades' memories of his wife and the others lust incarnate though Boone sees beyond that. somewhat. There's a clash with the Mescalero Apaches and the ultimate climax with Frank and his band of renegades who are only held together by his topdog charisma and nothing else. There is none of Ford's heavyhanded male humor,nor none of Mann's psych drama. Brigade is a self contained economic in his words,efficient in killing hero,no blustery backslapper. And Mr. Scott was secure enough in his stardom that he gave good lines and depth to the younger actors in the film. Class A Western
This spare, brief western is one in a series of similar collaborations between Budd Boetticher the director and Scott. Today's moviegoer sometimes seems to feel cheated if a film runs less than about two hours as if a film's quality should be judged by it's length rather than it's content. A little film like this demonstrates the entertainment value of a short, well-told and well-acted story with minimal production values. Scott is a bounty hunter who has captured shifty killer Best and is intent on dragging him back to the city of Santa Cruz to face his fate. Unfortunately, outlaws Roberts and Coburn want him themselves because whoever brings Best in is granted amnesty for their own past crimes. The men form an uneasy alliance necessitated by both bloodthirsty Indians and Best's brother Van Cleef who is en route to rescue him from his captors. Also along for the ride is Steele, a buxom blonde who's been abandoned by her stationmaster husband. These five people cross desert terrain, continuously at odds with each other and with the people tracking them. If it all sounds simple, it gets a boost from a twist in the storyline that adds much dimension to the plot and to one of the characters in particular. Filmed entirely out of doors, there is excellent use of California scenery (sure to be lost somewhat in a cropped version.) Scott gives his typical solid, dependable performance. Roberts is awarded some interesting and, at times, ripe dialogue. He shares an intriguing on screen relationship with future-star Coburn who has a nice early supporting role here. Best (who somehow doesn't even rate billing in the title credits!) gives a quirky, thoughtful, colorful performance as the marked man. Van Cleef (not particularly believable as his brother!) shows the demeanor and presence that would make him a bigger star later. In fact, the cast is almost uniformly made up of high quality actors. Steele (sporting an impossibly small waistline and B-52 bosoms) isn't exactly what one would expect to find at a wagon station, but she does a good job in the film. There's a nice balance of character work, action and story-telling to make for a pleasing 73 minutes of western entertainment. There's little or no fat to trim from it. It does what it does and does it well.
This is an excellent movie, but beware seeing it unless it's shown in its
proper CinemaScope aspect ratio. One of the best in a series of westerns
starring Randolph Scott, directed by Budd Boetticher, and written by Burt
Kennedy, this is a taut, actionful, and humorous motion picture. The
stories are all pretty much the same in these movies: Scott is seeking
revenge for the murder of his wife, or some such variation. He meets up
with a very likable villain who runs around with a couple of young guns,
eventually they shoot it out. The villains were usually played by future
stars and their rapport with the Scott character is always entertaining.
Boetticher is one of the great directors of westerns, employing a spare style that stresses the beautiful emptiness of the landscape, making it into an arena for the shifting alliances among his characters. And Kennedy is one of the great writers of western dialogue. I wasn't around in the 1870s, but hey, it FEELS and SOUNDS real! See this movie, even if you think you hate westerns and think they're all the same!
They're not. And this is one of the best.
A rather short, but complete western drama. Great sets, script and photography. A simple and to the point story line. Randolph Scott is an ex-sheriff who plans on taking an outlaw(James Best)to Santa Cruz to be hanged. The slow talking Scott rides tall and seems to always be in command. The all-star cast includes:Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn and the handsomely beautiful Karen Steele. Evocative of a classic.
Ride Lonesome is directed by Budd Boetticher, written by Burt Kennedy
and stars Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, James Coburn,
James Best & Lee Van Cleef. Charles Lawton Jr is the cinematographer
(in CinemaScope for the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, California location)
and Heinz Roemheld provides the musical score. Film is part of the
Ranown Western cycle involving Boetticher, Scott, Kennedy and producer
Harry Joe Brown.
Bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Scott) captures wanted outlaw Billy John (Best) and tells him he's taking him to Santa Cruz to be hanged. Best boasts that his brother Frank (Cleef) will soon be arriving to ensure that doesn't happen. Brigade isn't the least bit bothered by this statement. The two men stop at a Wells Junction, a remote swing station, where they encounter Boone (Roberts) & Whit (Coburn), two drifters, and Mrs Lane (Steele), the station attendant's wife. With Mr Lane missing and the Mescalero Apache's on the warpath, the group decide to collectively travel to Santa Cruz, but hot on their trail are the Indians and Frank's gang. There's also the small matter of motives within the group, seems Boone & Whit, too, have a special interest in Billy, while Brigade may have something far more ulterior driving him on.
As the decades have rolled by, the Boetticher/Scott Westerns have come to be rightly regarded as genre high points. Between 1956 to 1960 they produced 7 pieces of work. The weakest of which were the more jovial Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), and the Kennedy absent WB contract filler, Westbound (1959). The remaining five each follow a familiar theme that sees Scott as a man driven by emotional pain, movies with simmering undertones and pulsing with psychological smarts. Poll a hundred Western fans for their favourite Boetticher/Scott movie and you will find any of the five being mentioned as a favourite: such is the tightness and intelligence of each respective picture.
So we are out in the desolated Old West, it's harsh and weather beaten. Our five characters are either troubled by death-prior and pending-or searching for a life that may be a touch too far from their grasp. As their journey unfolds, loyalties will be tested and shifted, uneasy bonds formed, psychological and sexual needs bubble away under the surface. All viewed by the enveloping Alabama Hills: with Mount Whitney the chief patriarch overseeing his charges. Ride Lonseome, is a stunning movie, an elegiac piece, one that's bleak yet not without hope, a collage of tones seamlessly blended together to create one almost magnificent whole. The first Boetticher movie in CinemaScope, the film is directed with great economic skill, the whole width of the screen is creatively used by the director, placing the characters in the landscape like Anthony Mann used to do with Jimmy Stewart. His action construction is smart and it should be noted that there is not one interior shot in the film. Lawton Jr sumptuously shoots in Eastman Color, actually a perfect choice for the rugged terrain and the wide, lonesome inducing open spaces provided by the Scope format. While Kennedy's script is sparing, perfectly so, the dialogue is clipped but very telling. And crucially there's no manipulation in the narrative.
Then of course there's the cast. Scott leads off with one of his brave, ageing man of few words portrayals, a character with inner sadness gnawing away at him. With just one glance and a couple of words, Scott actually provides more depth than most other actors in the genre were able to do with more meatier parts. With the lead protagonist established, Boetticher surrounds him with fine support. Coburn was making his film debut and with his tall frame and distinctive voice he leaves a good impression, mostly because he works so well off of Roberts' more outwardly tough turn. Their partnership gives the film a believable friendship at its centre, lovable rogues perhaps? And they also provide some of the lighter moments that Boetticher and Kennedy use to tonally keep us guessing. Steele is just sultry, a blonde fire cracker in the middle of a potential hornets nest. While Best does a nice line in snivelling weasel, his characters trait being that he shoots his victims in the back. As for Cleef? He's barely in it, but after his characters introduction into the story, his presence hangs over proceedings like a dark heavy cloud. He will be back, tho, and rest assured it's worth the wait.
Does Ride Lonesome have flaws? Yes. One thing is that at 73 minutes it's too damn short. But moving away from that particular greedy itch of mine, the film does carry some Western clichés. Most notably with the Indian participation in the story. Be it chases, portentous smoke signals or an adobe corral attack-where our group are of course outnumbered-it's stock Cowboy & Indian fare. Not helped by Roemheld's music, which only reinforces the clichés. Thankfully in Boetticher's hands the clichés are overcome by the scenes raising the pulse, and in one particular sequence, providing the basis for a terrific tracking shot. Roemheld does deliver the goods for the finale, tho, and what a finale it is too. Featuring a tree shaped like a cross, the ending has sparked many an interpretation. Some way too deep (French critics) & some just bizarre (internet sleuths), when actually the interpretation is simple; hell they even got Martin Scorsese to explain it on the DVD. The memorable shot involving the tree, as the music pounds away, can induce pounds of goose-flesh on the skin, powerful it is. As endings go in the Boettticher canon? It gives Comanche Station's riderless horse finale a run for the title of being his, and Scott's, best. A near masterpiece from a true auteur. 9/10
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