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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Made in 1962 MGM's RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is not only one of the last of
the great classic westerns but is significant in the respect that it
was the one and only time that two of Hollywood's most iconic western
stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea would appear together in the same
film. Also, unlike McCrea it turned out to be Scott's final movie.
McCrea, on the other hand, went on to appear in three or four more
movies all of little account and finishing with a thing called "Mustang
Country" in 1970. Both actors were very wealthy men by the time they
started filming RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY in 1961 especially McCrea who by
1950 had become a multi-millionaire through shrewd investments and
business interests. He would say of himself "I'm a businessman - acting
in motion pictures is my hobby". He also laid claim to having the
longest marriage in Hollywood. He was married to the actress Francis
Dee for 57 years until his death in 1990.
Also known as "Guns In The Afternoon" RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is again significant for being the first movie that brought notice, from critics and public alike, on a young director called Sam Peckinpah. Produced by Richard E. Lions for Metro RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY was nicely written for the screen by N.B. Stone Jr. and stunningly photographed in Cinemascope and Metrocolor by the great Lucien Ballard. The story concerns two retired lawmen (Scott & McCrea) who take on the job of transporting gold from a mining camp to the bank in town some distance away but one of them isn't too keen on bringing it to the bank which causes great tension and enmity between them. Then at the mining camp, with the gold all packed and ready to go, trouble erupts when they save a young bride (the resistible Mariette Hartley) from her ne'er do well husband (James Drury) and take her with them. But with his four errant brothers the irate husband sets out after them to retrieve his wife by any and every means. The picture comes to an explosive finish when the two old timers reconcile with each other and take on the gang in a well staged traditional style shootout in which the brothers perish along with one of the protagonists.
RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY has become something of a cult western and has awoken in a new generation an interest in past classics that starred either Scott or McCrea. Beautifully directed by Peckinpah it is regarded by many to be his finest western. With wonderful characterisations throughout the picture is notable for some outstanding portrayals from an excellent supporting cast particularly Edgar Buchanan as the perpetually hammered preacher, R.G. Armstrong (a perennial Peckinpah favourite) as the irascible father of the girl and Warren Oates in one of his early roles as the leering and creepy brother of the groom. And complimenting the proceedings is the engaging score by the little known composer George Bassman featuring a lingering and beguiling main theme that adds greatly to the lovely outdoor locations.
With splendid performances, a creditable screenplay, excellent production values and a memorable score RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY remains an unforgettable classic western. And lest we forget it also bids a fond farewell to two of the screens mightiest western icons - Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea.
Classic exchange from RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY:
Towards the end and just before the final confrontation with the gang McCrea suggests to Scott "Let's meet them head on - just like always". To which Scott, with a wry smile, responds "My sentiments exactly".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even for those who generally do not appreciate Westerns, 'Ride the High
Country' is an absorbing and moving piece of entertainment... For
Western buffs it is an item of study, with its accurate period detail
and the vistas of the California Sierras, near Mammoth Lakes... The
film firmly established Peckinpah as a director of unusual style, a man
with the ability to create strange images, often ugly ones in beautiful
settings, although his talent in staging scenes of violence is
Peckinpah's mining community in this film is memorable for its spirited and dangerous atmosphere, with its one true gold mine being the whorehouse... The madam is a cheerful nightmare, and hidden in a corner is a drunken judge (Edgar Buchanan), with a bottle of whiskey, who comes alive only to remind us that people change...
'Ride the High Country' gets additional poignancy from its choice of stars... They made so many Westerns over the years, and they had long been personal friends It was the happiest inspiration that got them together for this afterglow ride that resulted in two unforgettable performances But one wonders exact1y how they savor the situationthat after so much riding, over so many years, it has taken a late, almost afterthought ride, to place them securely among Western immortals It is, indeed, a happy finale to a pleasing career and a nostalgic reminder of the simple virtues and values of the more traditional Western heroes...
Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott had come to specialize in many fine westerns, set an admirable style in quiet heroism, always courageous, ever dignified, never vulgar... They ride this time together, ruminating over times that used to be... Both are heroic figures, having been noted lawmen, and yet they are now reduced to taking whatever comes their way in order to live...
One is a man of moral rectitude who believes in fulfilling his obligations, 'doing the job' just like in his old days as lawman... The other out to make one last haul in order to retire with a measure of comfort... But both are old-timers striving to make ends meet in a changing West where they no longer belong...
They are clearly past itMcCrea goes into a washroom so that he will not be seen putting on spectacles in order to read a contract; Scott asks his captor to cut him loose for the night, offering only one reason: 'I don't sleep so good anymore.' Both sleep in long combs and pause on a tiring journey to bathe their aching feet in a cold stream... And in the end they defend the old values against the new with pride, dignity, never forgotten their skill with six-guns...
'Ride the High Country' had a number of interesting sub-plots and characters and an earthy but tasteful approach to sex... Its strength, however, lay in the sincere and moving portrayals of its two major stars, and in the beauty and poignancy of its final scene...
The basic theme of the movie is strong, moving and valid, but, above all, it is the elegiac feel that makes it such a memorable motion picturethe serious thoughts of two veterans about 'how it was.'
These are men with tired feet, caught up in the turn of the times... They are still there in the afterglow period of Western history... It's a long way back now to 'High Noon,' and the sun of 'Red River,' 'Shane,' 'Johnny Guitar,' and 'The Searchers' has left the sky forever...
Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea will probably be remembered as the top
"B" western stars in movies. But their last film "Ride the High
Country" stands as an "A" western and a very good one too.
Perhaps they owe this final chance to director Sam Peckinpah who turns the story into a splendid film in its genre shot in beautiful outdoor sceneries, with very well managed action scenes, a credible script, great settings and a fine musical score too.
Two moments are particularly outstanding in my opinion: the sort of "Fellinesc" sequence at the wedding with all those bizarre characters and the final showdown where Scott and McCrea face the mean Hammond brothers (John Anderson, James Drury and Warren Oates) in the "old fashioned way".
A well deserved "A" product for both actors -that amused and thrilled us western fans- through their long careers in the genre.
"In simple terms, Ride the High Country was about salvation and loneliness"
- Sam Peckinpah
Both in their 60s at the time, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott summed up their careers in Sam Peckinpah's second film, Ride the High Country. After two hundred films between them, this was Scott's final film and McCrea's second to last. The film was shot in only twenty-six days and played mostly as bottom filler for double bills. It was only after winning first prize at the Cannes Film Festival that it began to be appreciated for the true classic it is. Set in the early days of the century, the days of the cowpoke are giving way to the modern modes of transportation and communication. People like lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea), with a reputation for fierce integrity may be obsolete in the New West but his dignity and strength of character make him a hero worthy of admiration.
The film is both a lament for the passing of the Old West and a gentle celebration of humanity's search for friendship, honor, and trust. Both men feel they have somehow failed to live up to their standards and want one more chance to redeem their honor. Judd wants to recapture some measure of self-respect while Westrum looks for the material wealth that has always eluded him. As the film opens, Judd hires his ex-deputy Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) to help him transport a shipment of gold bullion down from the high Sierras, a job in which six prior attempts ended in failure. Against Judd's advice, they bring along a third man - a wild, womanizing youth named Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), who proves to them that he can handle himself in a fistfight.
Things get complicated when they spend the night at a farm run by puritanical Joshua Knudson (R.G. Armstrong) and Heck is taken with his beautiful daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley). Feeling thwarted by her possessive and moralizing father, Elsa runs away with the trio hoping to find a miner, Billy Hammond (James Drury) who has promised to marry her. As they ride up into the hills, the cinematography by Lucien Ballard reflects the beauty of the West as it has rarely been seen. When they arrive, things go from bad to worse for Elsa. Preceded by a marvelously comic horseback parade in which the boys sing When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, she is married to Billy in a saloon presided over by an inebriated judge.
Unfortunately, she has to be rescued by Judd after Billy Boy plans to share his bride with his four redneck brothers on their wedding night. The wedding scene is shown from Elsa's point of view and it is sympathetic and touching. On the way back with the gold, however, Gil turns on his old friend, plotting with Heck to steal the gold. In a famous exchange, Gil asks Judd, `Pardner, you know what's on the back of a poor man when he dies? The clothes of pride. Is that all you want?' To this Judd replies `All I want is to enter my house justified.' When the travelers encounter the Hammond boys waiting to ambush them at the farm, both men must confront their deepest fears and their noblest truths.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For some reason, when "Ride the High Country" was released in 1962, MGM
didn't seem to know what to do with it. It received scant distribution
and was generally relegated to the bottom half of double bills or the
drive-in circuit. But in spite of that the fans came to discover the
genius of director Sam Peckinpah in what became his first film of note.
It doesn't have the graphic violence of his later films, but it does have Peckinpah's emerging talent for character driven stories and the breathtaking color photography of the legendary Lucien Ballard. It also has two veteran stars in the leads and several of what would become the "Sam Peckinpah Stock Company" in the supporting roles.
Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea had similar careers. Both started out as leading men in the 1930s and had moved on to medium budget westerns in the late 40s. Both had essentially retired in 1960 but were lured back with an opportunity to work together for the first time. In this film they basically play older versions of the characters they had played through the 40s and 50s.
Former lawman Steve Judd (McCrea) rides into town amid a celebration which he mistakenly thinks is for him. It turns out that the townsfolk are watching a camel race against horses and he is told to "Get out of the way old man". Judd has come to take a job with the local bank to transport gold from the mine in the high country to the bank.
Judd happens upon an old ex-lawman acquaintance Gil Westrum (Scott) running a side show sharpshooting show. Folling his meeting with the bankers, (Percy Helton and Byron Foulger in a delightful bit), he convinces Westrum and his young partner Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) to hire on and accompany him. Westrum and Longtree plan to take the gold with or without Judd's cooperation for themselves.
Along the way they stop overnight at the farm of a bible quoting farmer named Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong) who just happens to have a comely young daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley). Elsa and Heck are attracted to each other but Elsa tells him that she is engaged to a miner in the camp the party is headed for. When her father beats her for consorting with Heck, Elsa follows the party and joins up with them for the trip to the mining camp.
At the camp Heck takes Elsa to the Hammond Brothers claim where she is united with her fiancé Billy Hammond (James Drury). Billy also has four drooling brothers: Elder (John Anderson), Henry (Warren Oates), Sylvus (L.Q. Jones) and Jimmy (John Davis Chandler). In a hilarious sequence, the brothers grab Henry and throw him into a water trough because he refuses to bathe.
In spite of her nervousness, Elsa agrees to proceed with the marriage, so she and the Hammonds ride into the camp to be married. It turns out the marriage is to be held in a brothel run by Kate (Jenie Jackson) and performed by a drunken sot of a judge, Judge Tolliver (Edgar Buchannan).
After the ceremony Billy's brothers try to sample their brother's new bride's charms, but she is rescued by Judd and taken away to be returned to her father. The Hammonds pursue them and ambush the party on the trail. After a fight where two of the brothers die, the rest flee. Along the way Westrum tries to overpower Judd and take the gold but is foiled. He later manages to escape and return to the scene of the conflict and get himself the horse and gun of one of the slain Hammonds.
Later Judd, Heck and Elsa arrive at the farm and are met by the three surviving Hammond Brothers and...............
For Scott, this was his final film. McCrea essentially retired too but did appear in a few independent film involving his son Jody. For Peckinpah, he was just getting started.
After a slow start, this film has grown to become a classic western, one that appears on many top 10 all time lists.
After a time working as director and writer of Western TV Series, Sam
Peckinpah started his career on film with "The Deadly Companions",a
romantic Western that seemed like an extension of his work on TV;
however, his next film, "Ride the High Country", was an completely
different beast, it was a deep meditation on the long-lived Western
genre that introduced themes that would become Peckinpah's obsessions
and signature: the end of an era and the quest for redemption and
meaning in life. This raw masterpiece faced a cold reception when it
premiered, but gained a tremendous success overseas (winning the
Belgium Film Festival), demonstrating to the world that this newcomer
was here to stay.
Former lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is now an aging man, and is hired to transport gold from a mining community through a dangerous territory. As he has the need to hire assistants, he finds his old friend and former partner Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and hires him and Westrum's young protegé, Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) to assist him. However, Steve doesn't know that his two assistants are planning to steal the gold, with or without Steve's help. Things will get complicated when the trio is forced to help a young woman named Elsa (Mariette Hartley) to escape from her fianceé and his criminal brothers.
Written by another veteran of Western TV series, N.B. Stone Jr. (who without a doubt worked with Peckinpah in "The Rifleman"), "Ride The High Country" is a clear step forward in the evolution of the Western as a film genre. As one of the first "revisionist" westerns, it shows a meditation on the genre and how two aging men become outdated by their world and suddenly obsolete. Through powerful lines of dialog and a slowly and carefully constructed plot, the film shows Peckinpah's favorite themes like honor, loyalty, redemption and the destruction of the West (both the historical one and the Western genre) for the first time in one of the most moving Westerns ever. As many have pointed out, one doesn't need to like Westerns to appreciate this film, as it's basic theme of humanity facing change is an immortal one.
Peckinpah's love for the genre is quite obvious and lead to an awesome use of the genre's elements. Starting with a great camera-work that stands as a heir of John Ford's, exchanging Ford's Monument Valley for the beauty nature of Inyo National Forest in California. Forecasting the Spaghetti Western revolution, Peckinpah's realistic Western makes its first appearance, and even when it's considerably less raw than the violent world of "The Wild Bunch", it's a step ahead of the classic Western. In many ways this was not only the beginning of Peckinpah's career, but also of the revisionism in Westerns and the evolution that would change the genre forever.
The inspired casting of Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in the lead roles is simply brilliant, as no one else but this former legends of classic Western films could embody the meaning of their characters, two old men that easily could had been the future of the many lawmen these two actor played in their lives. It was Scott's last film before retiring, and really it couldn't been a better closure for a career. Newcomers Mariette Hartley and Ron Starr represent the new West, too naive and ignorant of the past that precedes them; and both actor's performances are top-notch, although Starr is definitely the weakest link in the cast.
It's hard to believe that this movie almost was a failure in the U.S., but fortunately now it is receiving the attention it rightfully deserves. The natural landscape and the contrast of the new and the old make a great visual composition, almost as the missing link between the classic golden age of Ford and Wayne, and its modern counterparts. The film has few minor flaws, such as the average performance of some members of the cast, but nothing really annoying. Modern viewers may feel it moves too slow, but that slow pace actually enhances the feeling of that slow but steady change that suddenly caught the characters.
"Ride the High Country" is not a very famous film, but it really deserves a wider audience, not only because it introduced us to Peckinpah's film-making, but also because of its deep meditation on the Western genre and its wonderful immortal theme of mankind facing change. All in all, this film is a very recommended one, and I dare to say it's Peckinpah's first raw masterpiece. 9/10
great movie for those who love cowboys and the great fading solitude of the high country, not to mention for us old guys, a chance to reflect, as they did, on how short life truly is and that it can end so quickly. The religious references were a nice touch since now days it is too hot of an issue to include but then, life was less complicated. I liked how there was the indication that changes were coming for this old cowboy, cars, police etc. and how he was becoming a dinosaur. Good interaction also between the old cowboys and the young spunky hotshot kid. Just a lot of good reflection for an old lover of the west and days gone by and hopefully you will also think aboutyour time here on earth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like John Wayne in The Shootist, Joel McCrea as Steven Judd rides into
town a tired and tuckered old man. He's a former lawman who in his
youth enjoyed some prestige. There's no Social Security for him, no
company pension, he has to keep working and he takes it where he finds
it. In this case it's being a guard for some gold from a distant mining
He recruits an old friend Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum who now makes a living as a carnival sideshow act and another younger man from the carnival, Ron Starr.
The three of them set out for the mining camp and accept the hospitality of puritan farmer R.G. Armstrong who has a spirited daughter, Mariette Hartley.
Joel McCrea was probably the biggest out and out movie hero, he never appeared on screen as anything less than an honorable man. Sam Peckinpah originally wanted him for the Gil Westrum part, but McCrea insisted it had to be Judd for him so Peckinpah reversed the casting.
Good thing too because while McCrea is never less than honorable, Randolph Scott's western heroes always had an edge to them. He more easily fit into the Westrum character, the former lawman who is now cynical and contemplating going against the code he lived by.
And that's what Ride the High Country is all about, how you live your life and can you look yourself in the mirror every day and feel justified as McCrea so eloquently put it.
One of the fascinating things I find about Ride the High Country is that there are two morally upright people, McCrea and Armstrong. It's no big trick to stay morally upright as Armstrong has, shut off from the world and its temptations on his farm. McCrea however lives in the world and faces the same temptations every day. Those same temptations that Scott is thinking about giving into.
They return from the gold camp with Hartley who ran away and got married to a family of inbreds named Hammond who seem to think if one of them gets married, the bride is some kind of communal property. Of course the Hammonds chase after her and a pair of our most gallant cowboy heroes come to her rescue.
My personal opinion is that the most gallant screen death ever put on film is by Joel McCrea in this film. In a forgotten backwater of the west where few will see his sacrifice McCrea dies justified as he and Scott kill all of the Hammond brothers. Scott who was going to rob the gold tells McCrea he'll take the gold in. McCrea says he always knew that. And you believe it too because Randolph Scott says so. A cowboy hero gives his word. McCrea will enter heaven justified and you know that Scott will follow him as he said he would.
John Anderson, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates, James Drury, and John Davis Chandler are the Hammond brothers as scurvy a lot as you'll ever find. Edgar Buchanan plays the alcoholic judge who married Drury and Hartley and Percy Helton is the bank president who hires McCrea and company to bring back the gold. They all fill their roles well.
Randolph Scott made Ride the High Country his last film and resisted all kinds of offers to come back. Joel McCrea should have gone out on this one also, but he made a mistake and came back a few times, including one dreadful film with his son Jody, Cry Blood Apache.
This film should be seen and seen again for the moral lessons it teaches and for the summation of the film lives it embodies for two of our greatest film heroes.
Director: Sam Peckinpah, Script: NB Stone Jr. Cast: Randolph Scott
(Gill Westrum), Joel McCrea (Steve Judd), Mariette Hartley (Elsa
Knudsen), Ron Starr(Heck Longtree)
Many of Sam Peckinpah's westerns involve aging outlaws, cowboys or lawmen living in the late period west trying to deal with the disappearing frontier. In this early Peckinpah movie, the aging lawmen are Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. Randolph Scott plays the part of Steve Judd. Judd is hired to guard gold that is to be shipped from the nearby mine. He hires his old friend Gill Westrum and a young kid by the name of Heck(Ron Starr) to help him. Gill and Huck have other ideas. They want to steal the gold! Along the way, they meet a young women who Heck takes to right away. Trying to liberate herself from her strict and fundamentalist father, she gets involved with Bill Hammond. He is the leader of the Hammond brothers who work the mine. He is bad company. Gill, Steve and Huck save her from the abuse of Billy Hammond.
This film is part of the Sam Pechinpah collection box set that Warner released a few months back.(It can be purchased separately,but I highly recommend the box set.) People that are very familiar with western film in particular and the work of Peckinpah in general, probably already know how good this movie is. If you only know Peckinpah for The Wild Bunch, I highly recommend that you buy this DVD. This is a great film. One thing that sets it apart from many of his other films is the scenery. Most if his westerns are filmed in the southwestern U.S. or Mexico with wide open and barren desert landscapes. This movie was filmed in California's Sierra Nevadas at Inyo National Forest. Consequently, the scenery is beautiful.
Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea are legendary actors. This film is considered by many to be among their finest. I was very impressed by their performances. Gill turns against Steve when he tries to steal the gold but by films end they join forces along with Heck to do battle against the Hammond boys. This movie features a very early performance from Mariette Hartley. Although much younger, many will recognize her from the Polaroid and Celistial Seasonings Tea commercials. Peckinpah regulars LQ Jones and Warren Oats are also in this as two of the Hammond Brothers. This movie does have some violence but nothing compared to The wild Bunch. I believe this is Peckinpah's second feature film. It was released in 1962. You can see how his films changed with the times when one compares this with his works from the late sixties and seventies. This is one of my favourite Peckinpah films. Highly recommended!
How the AFI missed this as one the Top 100 Movies, I'll never know. In a film career of peaks and valleys, I think this is STILL Peckinpah's best work. It contains all of the themes from the Wild Bunch, Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner, and while it does not possess the depth or complexity of the Wild Bunch, in some ways it works even better. Every character rings true, the photography is superb, and the writing matches that. Just a great, great film, and without the violence, and sometime- bitterness associated with Peckinpah's works. It is Randolph Scott's last film, and Mariette Hartley's first. He is riveting, and she is charming.
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