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Ride Lonesome

26 Oct

Ride Lonesome – directed by Budd Boetticher. Western. 73 minutes Color 1959.

★★★★★

The Story: A bounty hunter must bring in a murderer and encounters mortal danger inside and outside his posse.

~

Randolph Scott was for decades one of the most popular stars in Hollywood, and towards the end of his long career he made seven excellent films with Boetticher, of which this is the next to last and one of the best.

Scott came from a well-to-do Virginia and North Carolina family, and made a great fortune from films. He exuded the demeanor of a Southern gentleman too well bred to surrender to the admissions of the actor, but in time he loosened up internally and became an object of riveting registration. He is 61 when he makes this picture; his face has become marbleized; he is a national monument; he is stalwart, shrewd, and physically flexible when on horse; watch his body move. He is careful about what he laughs at, but contains a droll humor. When he is on screen all attention goes his way because he works the moral drift. Probity leads him. And that leads everyone else. Unlike Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, he is never hollow; he is without bombast. Burt Kennedy wrote this script, as he did for other of Scott’s best pictures, and knew Scott’s instrument and wrote fine music for it.

This is a trek movie. Like Stagecoach and many another it involves a long, tense, journey.

Accompanying Scott is the weak-minded young prisoner Scott has captured. But two other men go too, both interested in killing Scott so they can bring in the prisoner themselves and collect their own reward. They are interesting, because their reward would be amnesty from their past crimes and because they are played by James Coburn in his film debut, as a young lunkhead who idolizes the other one, played by the redoubtable Pernell Roberts. Roberts was the best Petruchio I have seen; he did it at The Phoenix in New York on Second Avenue back when. He had the kind of masculinity and big theater presence and great voice you found in Robert Preston. The fifth wheel in this posse is played by Karen Steele (Boetticher’s mistress at the time), an actress in whom our interest is stifled by her pyramid titties, immaculate beauty parlor appearance, and stiffness. Lee Van Cleef is, of course, the arch villain tracking them down.

The precision of the film gives us the story in all its timeless conventions and necessary taciturnity, and the director has given it to us in the spectacle of the taciturnity of the rocks amid which it is shot. It is sensational to look at. It would be wonderful to see this picture on the big screen, it must have been marvelous to witness it there at the time of its release. It’s still good to see it now.

 
 
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