Ride Lonesome (1959): One of The Best Ranown Westerns

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“You just don’t seem like the kind of man who would hunt a man for money.” 

“I am.”  

Ride Lonesome has a setup as obvious as it is simple, further indicating why the collaborations between Budd Boetticher and screenwriter Burt Kennedy were so plentiful. It comes with supplying a concrete premise with an intriguing overlay of character dynamics.

But you also need an inscrutable hero. Here a veteran bounty hunter has a man to bring in. The hero’s name is Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) and his quarry, Billy John (James Best), sits waiting for him. Brigade comes up to him nice and easy-like to take him into custody.

It’s right then Billy John grins and lets him know his cronies are spread out in the rocks up above. He’s trapped. If he turns his back and walks away, there’s nothing more to it or else he commits himself to what he started along with probable death. Right here in a moment of immeasurable tension, we see Randolph Scott at his capable, laconic best. He’s totally inexorable and nobody’s gonna get him to back down. 

As the story progresses Santa Cruz becomes a kind of MacGuffin, as Alfred Hitchcock would call it. It’s where Brigade plans to take Billy John to be strung up. In case there was any doubt, he gets out of this opening scrape alive and with his prisoner still intact. So they mosey their way along the gorgeous craggy tundra of the West toward their destination. 

On their journey, they happen on a stagecoach outpost. It’s important for introducing three more of the film’s key players. Two of them are little better than bandits (Pernell Roberts and James Coburn), the third is a woman (Karen Steele) waiting for her husband to return with some much-needed provisions. She’s wary of her uninvited guests and not too pleased to have two more strangers passing through. 

With these newest additions, we have the requisite menagerie to give the story a renewed outlook because what are the Ranown westerns but character pieces with higher stakes than what meets the eye? Foes can come in many forms: a gang of outlaws, self-serving amnesty seekers, and who ruled the land before all others but the Native American population — out for blood to avenge the affronts to their cultural hunting grounds. 

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It makes for some of the most engrossing stand-offs and conflicts on multiple planes of contention. People are constantly being caught between other people. What makes it delicious is how it’s not totally vindictive. Some of these people form relationships and still feel compelled to kill one another for their own purposes. At least they stand prepared to and our hero is no different. 

Mrs. Lane drifts around with hardly any stake anymore with her husband murdered. She can’t understand why Roberts would want to save Scott’s life in one minute and hours later be meditating on killing him. They need him until the time is right, and then they have to take him down — as simple as that. 

It’s loose cannons like him giving this movie a new kind of dramatic depth. Because there are no longer any straightforward roads. Everything feels ambiguous.  We gravitate toward Scott as some kind of moral center because his pedigree in films tells us as much. Maybe we can sense the decency in him. Otherwise, his career path and his generally callous nature don’t do him many favors. But it’s a tribute to the picture. 

On a side note, it always astounds me how they were able to scrounge up such a stellar group of players for these westerns. Take stock of everyone for a moment. Of course, you have Randolph Scott but then Pernell Roberts, James Coburn, and Lee Van Cleef. That’s pretty remarkable for a low-budget flick.

Lee Van Cleef doesn’t have much to do aside from being a threat, and he’s good at this, prepared to search the bounty hunty out and reclaim his brother. Their meeting is inevitable. Roberts is chummy yet opportunistic, subverting his Bonanza infallible eldest brother on horseback in an agreeable way. Coburn plays a dimwitted second fiddle as he hasn’t quite ascended to the aloof heights of Britt in The Magnificent Seven. All in due time. Karen Steele doesn’t normally get much acknowledgment, as her career was mostly relegated to the small screen — you can’t quite call Ride Lonesome the big time — nevertheless, she is a stalwart in her own right and strikingly beautiful.  

 But we must remember, Brigade and his uneasy alliance still have a prisoner to get to Santa Cruz with Van Cleef’s Frank fast approaching for a showdown. It’s almost like the bounty hunter wants them to catch up…The question: Why? For that matter, if he gets out of one scrape, he still has two more guns to get past. He’s rapidly running out of time. 

The script quickly flips the inevitable on its head and instead of feeling like we’re subjected to the usual rhythms of the West or left hanging, so to speak, there is this sense of satiation. All loose ends are tied off, and the resultant humor comes with a sigh of relief. If there’s this touch of lightness, then the resolution is equally about making peace with the past as so evocatively captured in the final shots — an image that so easily becomes emblazoned in one’s mind. Brigade sets his specters ablaze ready to step out of the ashes a new man.

Ride Lonesome does its job well, and it’s such a delectable, economical delight. If it’s not the best of the Ranown cycle, it’s darn near the top and remains a classic reminder of why the Ranown westerns have maintained a pull on many of the genre’s aficionados. It’s a marvel that so much can be accomplished and so much emotion can be mined in a movie that clocks in nicely at under 75 minutes. 

4/5 Stars

Comanche Station (1960)

Comanche_Station_FilmPosterComanche Station opens with a man who willfully goes into Comanche territory. We don’t quite know why at first, but through haggling and bartering he’s able to save a captured white woman. It doesn’t come out until much later but it turns out that Jefferson Cody’s (Randolph Scott) own wife was captured by Comanche well nigh 10 years ago and he has never stopped looking.

The saved damsel Nancy Lowe gets the wrong impression about Cody believing the gruff figure was only in it for the money and that is far from the truth, as he intends to take her back to her husband out of harms way. That’s until they’re joined out on the trail by Ben Lane (Claude Atkins) and his two hired guns. Akins in fact takes on a role almost identical to Lee Marvin a few years before and he’s not quite as memorable. However, his two stooge sidekicks are more interesting, because although they are “outlaws” in a sense, we cannot help but like them for their buffoonery and conflicted morals.

Lane looks to ambush Cody and Mrs. Lowe so he can snag the reward, but Dobie will not take part. The shootout ensues between Cody and Lane. Afterwards the searcher leads the lady back to the arms of her husband. This final installment of Budd Boetticher’s Ranown Cycle shares some similarities to Seven Men From Now, but there is a totally different feel because the visuals are very different.

3.5/5 Stars

The Tall T (1957)

The_Tall_T_1957_PosterThe Tall T is a little different riff on the Budd Boetticher western, because it follows a former ranch hand named Pat Brennan who makes a stop at a local stagecoach way station to pay a visit to some locals before riding into the nearby town. Quickly we can see that Brennan is a little more jovial and still as tough as many of the other figures Scott has played.

He also is a first rate ranch hand, and yet after a bet with his old boss he loses his horse, because a bull throws him. Brennan attempts to catch a ride with a stagecoach with happens to be carrying two honeymooners, the timid Mrs. Mims and her stuffy husband. Reluctantly he is allowed to ride shotgun with the old time driver Rintoon (Arthur Hunnicutt) and it ends up being a regrettable decision. Mistaken for the regular stage, the four are hold up by three merciless outlaws looking for a big payoff.

They are led by Frank Usher (Richard Boone in a villainous turn), but the most deadly is Chink (Henry Silva), who seems eager to knockoff as many people as possible. And so a tense game of life and death ensues.  Rintoon attempts to fight back,  Mims agrees to go the cowardly route and ride off to try and attain ransom money. Brennan simply bides his time.

Unrest begins to build between the outlaws and Brennan takes his chance to save Mrs. Mims from the leering Billy Jack and bloodthirsty Chink. As the old story goes, the ringleader Usher is the only one left, but he has one last trick up his sleeve.

O’Sullivan’s role felt relatively minor, but it was quite fun to see Have Gun Will Travel’s Richard Boone opposite Randolph Scott. It made for a relatively interesting conflict.

3.5/5 Stars

Seven Men From Now (1956)

220px-Poster_of_the_movie_Seven_Men_from_NowAlong with Detour, Budd Boetticher’s Seven Men from Now is undoubtedly one of the greatest B-films I have seen to date. It rejuvenated the career of Randolph Scott who plays gruff sheriff Ben Stride. We are introduced to the often stoic man when he walks into a dimly lit cave during a torrential downpour. There he meets two strangers and demonstrates his skill with a gun for the first time.

For the rest of the film, he comes alongside a couple from the East, struggling to move westward with all their possessions carted on a wagon. The husband John Greer (Walter Reed), is a chipper man, but not a very adept pioneer. His kindly wife Annie (Gail Russell) loves him in spite of this ineptitude. He doesn’t say much, but Stride seems to like them both as well or at least, he knows they won’t make it very far without help. So after helping them get their wagon out of some thick mud, he sticks by their side.

They are eventually joined by Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and his accomplice Clete, who look to make some money in the wake of Stride. He willfully explains to the Greers how Stride used to be the sheriff in the town of Silver Springs, before his wife was killed by a group of bandits when they were robbing a Wells Fargo shipment. He made it his mission to track down the seven men who took part in the act. And so as an opportunistic schemer Masters is content with riding along with Stride until the opportune moment to score a big payoff.

In this way, he helps the Greers and Stride fend off some Apache and even puts a bullet through a man before Stride gets it. If we didn’t know better, we might think that Lee Marvin has gone to the good side for once. But that’s not so. He’s full of insinuations, flirtations, and veiled threats that somehow feel more ominous than a Vince Stone or Liberty Valance. It’s not just physical brutality but he is playing perhaps an even deadlier game of mental warfare. Against not only Stride, but Mrs. Greer, and her husband.

It’s around this point that Masters and Clete make a move. They alert Stride’s nemesis to his plans and just like that two men go and ambush the veteran sheriff. He knocks them both off after receiving a wounded leg that leaves him unconscious out in the canyon. Luckily the Greers come across him and John decides to take responsibility for what he has unknowingly done. He goes into town to face the music for the role he has ignorantly taken in this whole deadly affair. After discounting Greer as weak and spineless, Masters is finally forced to recant his previous statement.

What’s left is Ben Stride out in the canyon with the Wells Fargo shipment, but with two new bandits and Masters and Clete, it looks to be a bloody finale. After a bit of backstabbing, Ben Stride stands alone in the aftermath. He has completed his odyssey and he says goodbye to Ms. Greer with a new resolve to take on the role of deputy sheriff in Silver Springs. But it’s doubtful if that is the end of his story.

4/5 Stars