Ride Lonesome (1959, directed by Budd Boetticher)


In the western Ride Lonesome, Randolph Scott plays Ben Brigade. Brigade is a bounty hunter. The only thing that really differentiates him from the outlaws that he captures is that he gets paid for what he does. When Brigade arrests a young outlaw named Billy John (James Best), he gives Billy just enough time to send word to his older brother, Frank (Lee Van Cleef). And when Brigade starts to lead Billy John back to the town of Santa Cruz, he takes his time and fails to cover his tracks, almost as if he is intentionally making time for Frank to eventually catch up to him. Along the way, Brigade meets up with three others, a woman named Carrie (Karen Steele) and two outlaws named Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn). Carrie is searching for her husband while Boone and Whit want to arrest Billy John themselves so that they can turn him in and get a pardon for their own crimes.

Ride Lonesome is one of the best of the many films that Randolph Scott made with director Budd Boetticher.  Boetticher specialized in making fast-paced westerns that had deceptively simple plots.  Nobody in a Boetticher western was totally good or totally bad and that’s certainly the case with Ride Lonesome, which may seem like a typical western but which is actually a character study of 6 very different people.  Brigade is often only the hero by default and his actions are often as ruthless as those of the men who are tracking him.  It’s only after he meets and gets to know Carrie that he starts to seriously consider that his plans could lead to innocent people getting hurt. Billy John may be a wanted killer but, underneath his bravado, he’s just someone trying to live up to his brother’s example.  Meanwhile, Boone and Whit may be outlaws but they turn out to be the most morally upright characters in the film.  Ride Lonesome takes a serious look at frontier justice and suggests that maybe black-and-white morality isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Needless to say, the cast is great.  Randolph Scott was one of the great western heroes and Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Cleef, and James Best all turn in memorable performances.  Best of all is James Coburn, making his film debut and showing that, even at the start of his career, he was already the epitome of cool.  Ride Lonesome is one of the best of of the Boetticher/Scott westerns and a true classic of the genre.

 

Ten Wanted Men (1955, directed by Bruce Humberstone)


Arizona rancher Wick Campbell (Richard Boone) is angered when he discovers that one of his servants, Maria (Donna Martell), would rather marry Howie Stewart (Skip Homeier) than be with Wick.  Wick has had a long rivalry with Howie and his older brothers, John (Randolph Scott) and Adam (Lester Matthews).  Determined to get rid of the Stewarts and to have Maria for himself, Wick hires notorious gunfighter Frank Scavo (Leo Gordon) to take over the town and defeat the Stewarts, one way or another.

Ten Wanted Men (the title refers to Scavo’s gang) is an above average Randolph Scott western.  Scott was one of the best of the western heroes because he always seemed so authentic whenever he rode a horse, shot a gun, or even just put on a cowboy hat.  Scott was also an underrated actor and, as he got older, he became Hollywood’s go-to choice whenever they needed a strong, silent lead for a western.  That’s the role that he plays in Ten Wanted Men, as the patriarch of the Stewart family.  He’s instinctively fair but he will do whatever has to be done to protect his brothers.

Wick Campbell is John Stewart’s opposite, an oily rancher who hires other men to bully his enemies and who abuses his servant in a way that the Stewarts never would consider.  Though Richard Boone became best known for playing the hero on Have Gun–Will Travel, Wick is the type of cowardly villain who everyone will be happy to see get exactly what he deserves.  As played by Leo Gordon, Frank Scavo is a brutish outlaw and, unlike Wick, he doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

Ten Wanted Men is a good western.  The plot may not be surprising but the gunfights are exciting and Randolph Scott is as ideal a hero as always.  Fans of the genre will enjoy it.

Frontier Marshal (1939, directed by Allan Dwan)


When Wyatt Earp (Randolph Scott) arrives in the town of Tombstone, he takes the law in his own hands by preventing a local outlaw named Indian Charlie (Charles Stevens) from destroying the saloon owned by Ben Carter (John Carradine).  For his trouble, Earp is beaten up by Carter’s men.  Earp, however, does get a  job as the town’s new marshal.

After some initial weariness, Wyatt befriends an alcoholic dentist and gunfighter named Doc Holliday (Cesar Romero).  While Earp keeps the peace in Tombstone, Doc is torn between two women, dancehall girl Jerry (Binnie Barnes) and his ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Nancy Kelly).

With Carter and his man planning on robbing a payroll train and also kidnapping frontier performer, Eddie Foy (played by the real Foy’s son, Eddie Foy, Jr.), it is only a matter of time before Earp takes on Carter at the legendary O.K. Corral.

Frontier Marshal was only the second sound film to be made about Wyatt Earp’s time in Tombstone and it was the first to use Earp’s name.  (In the first film version of the story, also called Frontier Marshal, Earp’s name was changed to Michael Wyatt.)  This was because Wyatt’s widow was offended by some of the material that was included in the biography that served as the basis for Frontier Marshal and threatened to sue anyone who wanted to make a movie out of it.  In order to get her permission to make the film, 20th Century Fox agreed that no reference would be made to Wyatt’s marriage in the film.  Mrs. Earp ended up suing anyways.  20th Century Fox settled.

As for the film, it’s in no way historically accurate and it pales in comparison to My Darling Clementine, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, and the Star Trek episode where Kirk, Spock, and McCoy thought they were in the old west.  It is, however, better than The Gunfighters episode of Dr. Who.  Randolph Scott is convincing as an upright and law-abiding Wyatt Earp, quite a contrast to the real Wyatt.  The movie though is stolen by Cesar Romero, who plays Doc Holliday as being pathologically self-destructive.  Cesar Romero is not necessarily the first name that comes to mind when you think of a great western actor but he’s very convincing here.  John Carradine is a perfect villain and keep an eye out for Lon Chaney, Jr. as one of his henchmen.  Unfortunately, the final gunfight feels rushed and, for all the build up, it isn’t as exciting as it should be.  Frontier Marshal will mostly be of interest to those curious to see how Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Tombstone and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral were portrayed in films before they became a sacrosanct part of the mythology of the Old West.

Frontier Marshal was later remade, as My Darling Clementine, by John Ford.  Ward Bond, who played Morgan Earp in Ford’s film, plays the original town marshal in Frontier Marshal.  Charles Stevens, who plays Indian Charlie in Frontier Marshal, was often falsely described by the Hollywood publicity mill as being the real-life grandson of Geronimo.  He also appeared in My Darling Clementine, once again playing the role of Indian Charlie.  It was one of the nearly 200 films he made before he died in 1964.

The Doolins of Oklahoma (1949, directed by Gordon Douglas)


Randolph Scott stars in The Doolins of Oklahoma, a fictionalized account of the career of the real-life western outlaw, Bill Doolin.

Doolin (played, naturally, by Randolph Scott) may have once rode with the fearsome Dalton Brothers but, according to this film, he was actually just an ordinary, salt of the Earth type who wanted to settle down with the right woman and lead a normal life. It looks like he might get that opportunity after the Daltons are killed and Doolin tires of leading his own gang of outlaws. Doolin settles in a Oklahoma town, takes a new name, and falls in love with Elaine (Virginia Hutton). But when both the members of his old gang and a veteran lawman (George Macready) show up in town, Doolin learns that the past cannot be escaped.

The plot of The Doolins of Oklahoma is nothing special, though it’s portrayal of the outlaws being more honorable than law enforcement may have been surprising in 1949. The main thing that distinguishes The Doolins of Oklahoma is the cast, which is full of western veterans like John Ireland, Noah Beery Jr., Charles Kemper, Frank Fenton, and Jock Mahoney. Not surprisingly Randolph Scott is ideally cast as a weary cowboy who just wants to settle down and live the rest of his life in peace. Scott is well-matched by MacReady, as the marshal who will not let anything stand in the way doing his duty as a member of law enforcement. Gordon Douglas directs crisply and energetically and every member of the main cast gets at least one big moment in which to distinguish themselves. The Doolins of Oklahoma may not be a groundbreaking film but it will be enjoyed by fans of the western genre.

 

Gunfighters (1947, directed by George Waggner)


Brazos Kane (Randolph Scott) is a legendary gunfighter who has more notches on his gunbelt then he can count.  His reputation is so fearsome that he can’t even enter a town without having to worry about someone drawing a gun on him in an attempt to make a name for themselves.  When he’s forced to shoot his own best friend when the latter tries to outdraw him, Brazos says that he’s had enough.  He tosses aside his guns and he heads to the home of his friend, Bob Tyrell.  Brazos says he’s going to retire from gunfighting and just “ride the range.”

When Brazos reaches Bob’s cabin, he discovers that Bob has been murdered.  When Brazos rides to the nearby Banner ranch to report the crime, he’s arrested and accused of shooting Bob.  When it’s pointed out that Brazos doesn’t have a gun, corrupt Deputy Yount (Grant Withers) says that Brazos most have tossed it in the creek after he shot Bob.

With the help of Bob’s employer, a rancher named Inslip (Charley Grapewin), Brazos narrowly avoids getting hung.  Both Yount and the sheriff (Charles Kemper) encourage Brazos to leave town but Brazos isn’t going anywhere until he gets justice for Bob.  His investigation leads to him getting involved with two sisters (Dorothy Hart and Barbara Britton) and a young cowhand named Johnny (John Miles), who wants to become a famous gunslinger.  It also leads Bob into conflict with Bard Macky (Bruce Cabot) and Hen Orcutt (Forrest Tucker), who are both determined to run Brazos out of town.  Brazos finds himself tempted to go back on his word and pick up his guns yet again.

Based on a novel by Zane Grey, Gunfighters is a surprisingly mature and multi-layered western.  Brazos’s refusal to carry a gun and his genuine dislike of violence makes him a far more interesting protagonist than the typical B-western hero and Randolph Scott, one of the best of the cowboy actors, is appropriately world-weary in the role.  The villains are also written and played with an unexpected amount of depth, with Bruce Cabot the stand-out as Bard Macky.

Gunfighters is full of good scenes.  The opening sequence, featuring the pivotal gunfight between Brazos and his best friend, is excellently directed and captures how quickly violence can erupt in the old west.  Later, when Brazos first meets Johnny, the younger man is engaged in target practice and talking about how a man named Brazos Kane murdered Johnny’s best friend.  Johnny is practicing so he can kill Brazos himself.  Without revealing his identity, Kane gives Johnny a few pointers on how to draw and aim his gun.  It’s only after Johnny has perfected the quick draw that Kane laconically introduces himself and explains that he had nothing to do with Bob’s death.  Later, in a powerfully acted scene, Kane explains to Johnny just what exactly it means to be a famous gunfighter and to know that everyone you see is a potential threat.

Directed by George Waggner, Gunfighters is an intelligent and well-acted western and one of Radolph Scott’s best.

Special Memorial Day Edition: Randolph Scott in GUNG HO! (Universal 1943)


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Duke Wayne wasn’t the only movie cowboy who fought WWII in Hollywood. Randolph Scott battled fascism in quite a few war dramas, and one of his best is 1943’s GUNG HO! (currently streaming on The Film Detective ). The rock-solid Mr. Scott plays tough-as-nails Col. Thorwald, an expert in guerilla warfare thanks to his experience with the Chinese army, who whips a diverse crew of Marines into fighting shape to launch the first American ground offensive against the Japanese on Makin Island.

Scott and his second-in-command, the versatile character actor J. Carrol Naish (playing a Marine of Greek descent this time around), gather up a motley crew of misfits and reprobates ala THE DIRTY DOZEN:  there’s battling stepbrothers Noah Beery Jr. and David Bruce (who’re also rivals for the affections of pretty Grace McDonald in a subplot), hillbilly farmboy Rod Cameron, murderous minister Alan Curtis , “no good kid” Harold…

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Yukon Gold: THE SPOILERS (Universal 1942)


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What’s this?? A “Northern” Western set in 1900 Alaska Gold Rush territory starring my two favorite cowboys, John Wayne and Randolph Scott ? With the ever-enticing Marlene Dietrich thrown in as a sexy saloon owner? Count me in! THE SPOILERS is a big, brawling, boisterous film loaded with romance, action, and, most importantly,  a sense of humor. It’s the kind of Hollywood entertainment epic that, as they say, “just don’t make ’em like that anymore”. I’ve never been quite sure who “they” are, but in regards to THE SPOILERS, they’re right – and more’s the pity!

Rex Beach’s popular 1906 novel had been filmed three times before (1914, 1923, 1930), and would be one more time after (in 1955), but with The Duke, Rugged Randy, and La Dietrich on board, this has got to be the best of the bunch. Even though audiences were more than familiar with the story…

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Smile When You Say That: Randolph Scott in BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE (Columbia 1958)


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The usually stoic Randolph Scott gets to show a sense of humor in BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE, his fourth collaboration with director Budd Boetticher. The humor comes from Burt Kennedy’s script, who did an uncredited rewrite of Charles Lang’s original, foreshadowing his own, later comic Westerns. The result is a good (not great) little film that’s not up to other Scott/Boetticher teamings , but still a gun notch above average.

This one finds Scott as the title character, crossing the border from Mexico to the unfriendly Agry Town, where it seems everyone’s an Agry, and they don’t cotton to strangers. Buchanan just wants to make a pit stop on his way back to West Texas, get himself a nice steak, a bottle of whiskey, and a good night’s sleep. But he runs into trouble at the saloon with young Roy Agry, who is gunned down by Juan de la Vega. Apparently…

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Lonely As The Night: Randolph Scott in COMANCHE STATION (Columbia 1960)


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COMANCHE STATION was the final entry in the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy series of Westerns, and in many ways a fitting ending. The loneliness of the Westerner is again a key theme as the film begins with the solitary figure of Scott as Jefferson Cody, riding across that rocky, barren, now mighty familiar Lone Pine terrain. He bargains with hostile Comanches for a captive white woman named Nancy Lowe, wife of a wealthy rancher. Stopping at Comanche Station, Cody and Mrs. Lowe encounter three men being chased by the tribe.

We learn one of these men is Ben Lane, a bounty hunter who shares a dark past with Cody. The two were formerly in the Army together, where then-Major Cody busted Lane out of the service for the slaughter of a village of friendly Indians. We also learn Mrs. Lowe’s husband is offering a five thousand dollar reward for her…

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Lonesome Cowboy: Randolph Scott in RIDE LONESOME (United Artists 1959)


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Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher  teamed again for RIDE LONESOME, their sixth of seven Westerns and fourth with writer Burt Kennedy. Scott’s a hard case bounty hunter bringing in a killer, joined in his trek by an old “acquaintance” with an agenda of his own. Everyone’s playing things close to the vest here, and the stark naked desert of Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills, with its vast emptiness, plays as big a part as the fine acting ensemble.

Ben Brigade (Scott) has captured the murderous Billy John and intends to bring him to justice in Santa Cruz. Coming to a waystation, he finds Sam Boone and his lanky young companion Whit, known outlaws who’ve heard the territorial governor is granting amnesty to whoever brings in Billy. Also at the station is Mrs. Crane, whose husband has been murdered by marauding Mescaleros. Sam’s interested in forming a partnership and taking Billy…

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