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There are two ways one can look at the Ranown westerns and one is only
a short shift in perception away from the other but would most likely
contribute majorly to one's appreciation of these movies. One is to
look at them as a rehash of the same plot points, ideas and even
dialogue ("some things a man can't ride around" the most famous
example) that showed a director who knew how to make a western one way
and did it over and over again. The other is to look at them as
conceived with regards to an overall oeuvre. That stalwarts of American
cinema with the special weight of Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood
prologued the Boetticher DVDs and had nothing but praise to bestow upon
them, I think speaks volumes in that these small b-movies really had
something going for them, something that sets them apart from all the
other low-budget westerns of their time.
One is their lean storytelling. Unpretentious, stripped of all fat and down-to-the-point, Burt Kennedy's scripts mince no words and waste no time in getting where they want and making it look effortless and natural even when it's not (the opening exchange in RIDE LONESOME is a good example of a scene that doesn't make a whole lot of common sense but somehow works dramatically). Of course the scripts were fortunate to attract such actors as Richard Boone, Lee Marvin and Pernell Roberts to bring the antagonists to life, but even so, one can't argue some really good storytelling was going on there.
The other major attraction of the Boetticher westerns is their visual beauty. With no money for spectacle to dazzle the audience with, with no major action set-pieces, Boetticher cultivated a kind of pointedly austere and minimal aesthetic, a pictorial quality that comes from nothing more than picking the best possible spot to place the camera in any given scene. The opening of RIDE LONESOME, and the entire movie really, is a seminar on visual storytelling that should be taught in film schools the world over. How Boetticher dwarfs his characters against massive natural formations, the use of negative space, his camera movements, all honed to perfection by that point, with one last western left to go the next year.
Although I've enjoyed these movies to varying degrees, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the work of Boetticher (and his creative team). Taken as different but largely identical brushes on the same canvas, examining the same world and returning to the same themes and ideas with the obsession of a true auteur (after all, didn't Faulkner invent his own Mississipi county to set his stories in?); the isolation of the characters from the world around them, old grudges and traumas that inform the present, a small group of people banding together to defend against greater perils even as conflict festers between them; these are just really good movies.
Spare, lean, with gorgeous cinematography and memorable dialogue, "Ride
Lonesome" is the kind of film you want when you reach for a Western.
A bounty hunter named Brigade (Randolph Scott) is bringing in a murderer named Billy (James Best) after a three-day pursuit in a rocky desert. Brigade has unexpected company, though, two ne'er-do-wells who plan to use Billy for their own ends. Less unexpected is Billy's nasty brother, Frank (Lee Van Cleef), who's coming after Brigade, too. For a man in so many sets of crosshairs, Brigade seems strangely content. His reasons turn out to be less clear-cut than at first light.
Director Budd Boetticher and Scott had a famous run of Westerns that literally got their start thanks to John Wayne's "The Searchers." Not only did that film raise the bar for the Western genre, it also tied Wayne up from making a film with Boetticher, "Seven Men From Now," which thus became the first of seven films Boetticher made with Scott. Scott was a lot like Wayne, fixed and stolid in his acting style but surprisingly spry when given the right script. Brigade is a perversely dynamic character that way, allowing Scott to play off his usual ramrod stiffness to brilliant effect.
"You don't see the kind that would hunt a man for money," Brigade is told by Mrs. Lane (Karen Steele), a woman he helps rescue from Mescaleros.
"I am," he says, almost amused at her shock, and then is silent. Scott's Brigade doesn't have a lot to say, but what he does say counts for a lot.
With Scott holding back so much at the center of things, room is given to the other characters. The ne'er-do-wells, Boone (Pernell Roberts) and his young buddy Whit (James Coburn) become our default rooting interests in a way. We sense Brigade can handle himself, but can they, especially when the temptation to do wrong is so great? They don't want to be bad guys, but if they are going to get amnesty for their past crimes, they have to bring in Billy, and that means getting past the formidable Brigade. Will they draw on him, and if so, whom do we root for?
Burt Kennedy's fantastic script keeps us guessing, tossing us new complications and character motivations every five minutes. Meanwhile, Boetticher and cinematographer Charles Lawton, Jr. keep the frame clear of distraction. This allows us not only to drink in the beauty of California's Alabama Hills, what Boone calls so memorably "all this empty," but keeps us on the lookout for dangers lurking in the corners of every frame, whether it be smoke or silhouetted riders on horseback. Even Scott at the film's opening shot appears at first as just another figure on a landscape, tying his character intrinsically to this arid, alien world, leaving us to wonder about him and his motives all the way through to the end.
For all of its main character's cold stillness, "Ride Lonesome" is also a film of humor and action, with Coburn and Best supplying much of the former. Best is enjoyably loathsome and annoying, playing desperately for angles despite all the empty he has between his ears. Roberts steals much of the film with his attempts at working a deal with Brigade and wooing the newly available Mrs. Lane. A great standoff scene between him and Best left me wondering - like herbqedi noted in his June 2004 review - why Roberts didn't emerge as a bigger film actor.
Most marvelously, "Ride Lonesome" manages to deliver all this range and depth, and answer our questions about the reticent Brigade besides, in just over 70 minutes. That's another thing about Boetticher, he didn't waste time. You won't either seeing this testament to the greatness of Westerns.
Seasoned bounty hunter Randolph Scott (as Ben Brigade) catches killer
James Best (as Billy John) in the old west but it's a trap. Outlaws
in the hills have their weapons aimed at Mr. Scott. Though surrounded,
Scott smoothly talks his way out of the situation. On their way to
Santa Cruz, the premeditating men pick up perceptive Pernell Roberts
(as Sam Boone) and his sidekick James Coburn (as Wid). This was the
first feature film role for Mr. Coburn, then primarily a TV actor.
While Scott and Mr. Roberts vie for biggest gun in the group, director
Budd Boetticher drops a sex bomb into the picture with pointed blonde
Karen Steele (as Carrie). The "big guns" contest ends right there. Now,
the contest becomes who is the sneakiest...
The smart money is on Scott...
"Ride Lonesome" is another fine western from director Boetticher and his frequent collaborators, producer Harry Joe Brown and writer Burt Kennedy. For this one, cameraman Charles Lawton Jr. contributes outstanding color photography. A "wide screen" without thousands of extras made several otherwise accomplished directors look momentarily lost in the 1950s, but Boetticher does extraordinarily well, here. For landscape and imagery, this is probably the best of his Randolph Scott pictures. A close second (a least) is "Comanche Station" (1960). Also notable is the fine soundtrack by Heinz Roemheld, even if it does occasionally sound distractingly like somebody is going to start singing "All 'er Nothing'" (from "Oklahoma!").
********* Ride Lonesome (2/15/59) Budd Boetticher ~ Randolph Scott, Pernell Roberts, James Best, James Coburn
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Randolph Scott gives a solid, and somewhat sedated performance , along with an impressive cast in Ride Lonesome. Pernell Roberts has one of the strongest parts in this film, and gives a noteworthy performance also. Soon after this film, he would become a household name as the elder son in the hit television series Bonanza. This is James Coburn's first break in movies and he equally proves to be a very talented actor. Lee Van Cleef and James Best, along with Karen Steele as the spicy widow, help round out the cast in this excellent Budd Boetticher western. The extraordinary use of cinematography, with some of the most amazing landscape ever seen, helps to enhances the four characters in this tight, intense and impressive western. The combining results create a must see film, that belongs in the classic westerns category. I have seen this movie several times, have always enjoyed it and I do not want to give a synopsis of this film. Rather, I encourage the reader to watch and appreciate this fine western story and to judge it for themselves. No doubt, Randolph Scott fans will not be disappointed in what would be one of his most outstanding westerns, to soon close out a very remarkable and successful career.
If you are not particularly a Western movie fan, but are a film buff
who feels an obligation to visit all genres, there are some Directors
that epitomize and rise above the pack. It is with these Artisans you
can savior that which is the best of an admitted overload of mediocrity
The Westerns of Directors...Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, and if you want to get into the more mainstream, John Ford.
Here we have one of seven films that Boetticher did with Randolph Scott and with the always excellent writer Burt Kennedy's curt, colorful dialog. Speaking of colorful. This one was filmed in Cinemascope and the stylistic inclusion of landscape as character is on display here in all it's encompassing beauty. There is nary a close-up in this film and there is no need. It is so well framed the characters are developed by their words, position, and posture.
As always the Director delivers style as well as substance and populates the movie with interesting multi dimensional characters and the cast is outstanding. This is primal as well as evolutionary and humorous as well as deadly serious. A rich and elegant film that is a parade of people through a place within a time when there was an individual and not a collective code of honor.
My favourite so far of the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott westerns.
First film for James Coburn. With "Adam" Cartwright aka Pernell
Robterts, "Angeleyes" aka Lee van Cleef, the beautiful and
well-assembled Karen Steele, and excellent character actor JAMES BEST.
Filmed in the same general location in Lone Pine, California, where Gunga Din was filmed, you can tell this as Randolph Scott "sneaks" up on James Best at the very beginning of the film. Other Boetticher locations are evident, like the crooked tree from Commanche Station, and the area where Scott shoots Lee Marvin from "Seven Men from Now".
This film uses the standard Boetticher "Lone Man" story. Randolph Scott is the "man alone", who can associate with people but generally has no use for them.
Scott's "Ben Brigade" is a bounty hunter who captures "Billy John" to bring back to Santa Cruz for hangin' - Or is that what is really happening here? It seems that Robert's character Sam Boone and Scott's Brigade are destined for a shootout.
Fact is, Boetticher makes you think this is the way it is gonna happen, but as usual, it is all a massive Hitchcock-style "Macguffin".
What DOES happen, is some of the best western story ever written and acted on the screen. And this film is worth seeing, the scenery is worth it, the story makes all of it.
Here's a list of the films by Scott-Boetticher that I have arranged in
order I personally favor.
1. Ride Lonesome 2. Comanche Station 3. Seven Men From Now 4. The Tall T 5. Buchanan Rides Alone 6. Decision At Sundown 7. Westbound
These are all good westerns but, the top four are the films that best convey the Scott-Boetticher "feel". These films are so good that someone had to TELL me they were B westerns. I couldn't believe it! If you've seen some or all of these films and would like to discuss your take on them, drop me a line. I'd love to hear any opinions from other Scott-Boetticher afficionados.
Among the westerns that Budd Boetticher directed com Randolph Scott, I rank as the top three: Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station and The Tall T, in that order. In fact there are three big films with a curiosity: in all three Boetticher put a beautiful woman between criminals creating for the characters of Scott - in each of the films - a situation of permanent stress, in that there was the need to maintain control over the activities of bandits while needed to protect the woman. And the stories have a certain similarity in the sense that women seek approaching Scott settling since the beginning of the relationship a strong sense of confidence in his character. All three are arguably tasteful films, both in photography, as in the development of action with actors properly scaled. And the filming location: Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California has a powerful effect on the outcome of each of the films. Among the three I have greater sympathy for "Ride Lonesome", perhaps by the presence of Karen Steele, perhaps for the great interpretation of Pernell Roberts, perhaps the wonderful final scene of the burning tree ... And not enough these three monumental westerns leased in Lone Pine, Boetticher also performed "Seven Men from Now" also with Scott. And in it we Gail Russell, a story a little different from the three mentioned films, but also a great spectacle. Many consider it the best film of the double Boetticher- Scott. Really Boetticher was a master. And these are his three masterpieces.
In the past year or so, I've made a determined decision to get more
accustomed to pre-1970's films from around the world, particularly
genres I've previously given short change to, such as musicals, war
films and westerns. I have to admit it's greatly enhanced my
appreciation of cinema in general. It's amazing how great some of these
films actually are.
Since cinema is the greatest love of my life, I also collect books on film, trying to find out anything and everything I can. As the old Calvin Klein commercial goes, 'A man has many loves, but only one Obsession'. An unexpectedly great and relatively inexpensive find was 'The Editors of American Cowboy's The Top 100 Westerns of All Time,' from 2011. Looming at #52 was this, and its write-up sounded intriguing, so I've always kept my eyes open for it. Sure enough, last month I saw a Randolph Scott Westerns 6-pack for a very low price, and I pulled the trigger (pardon the pun).
This was exceptional and clearly deserves its lofty status. There is so much action, intrigue and beauty jam-packed in Burt Kennedy's script for this 72 minutes. Every shot is finely composed and exquisitely filmed. I dare you to find a better supporting cast. Sure, the four-hour epics by the Sir David Leans and Victor Flemings out there are great, but I'd rather see a simple story, brilliantly told than the gluttonous two-to-three-hour pieces of self-important crap you find these days. Let that be my epitaph.
I was so close to even giving this a perfect grade. It's honestly THAT good.
Budd Boetticher was such an interesting man,old-school American,creative,brash tough guy with a glint in his eye. And a great movie director,of course. Randolph Scott,in so many ways the heir to the William S Hart classic cowboy from the Silent movie era and a fine one in his own right. The best landscape God ever created for a Western outside of Monument Valley,the Alabama Hills of Lone Pine in California.(Both William S Harts old ranch house in north LA and Lone Pine are excellent stops for the Sagebrush Pilgrim out on the road...) Great writing by Burt Kennedy,fine acting by the likes of Pernell Roberts...I could go on but will add up and conclude: A terrific western,tight,adult with noir-like undertones makes this not only the best film in the Ranown cycle but one of the best westerns of the 50's(which I consider the Golden Age of the genre...)or indeed ever. And in just 73 minutes... "Ride Lonsome"...is pretty much perfect. T
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