Thursday, April 16, 2009
American Western Review
RIDE LONESOME (1959) D. Budd Boetticher Cast: Randolph Scott, Pernell Roberts, James Best, Karen Steele, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn
This is a film I came to late in life. I don't remember it ever being on tv in the bay area, and of course it's never had a video release here in the U.S. I kept hearing about the Boetticher/Scott westerns and finally got a couple from a friend over at the SWWB during my days of heavy trading. Of course I was blown away by it, even though it wasn't widescreen.
Scott plays Ben Brigade, a bounty hunter who captures Billy John (James Best) a young giggling killer with connections. The youngster sends word to his big brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) to come to his rescue and as Brigade is taking him handcuffed to Santa Cruz, where he killed a man, they encounter Boone (Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn in his first film role) at a waystation where Mrs. Lane, the station master's wife (the picturesque Steele) has been left alone. Brigade soon finds out that Boone and Whit are after Billy John too, not for bounty but for the amnesty promised for his capture. The two men have spent time on the wrong side of the law and want to go straight.
A simple premise and the film which features intermittant action turns into a fascinating character study. The two outlaws are immensely likeable as is Brigade, of course. Mrs. Lane, and we the viewers, can't imagine them squaring off over the valuable prisoner, but as they near Santa Cruz and Frank and the boys are gaining on them we gradually begin to understand Brigade's motivations and the superb climax is set up.
Brigade is luring big brother Frank to the hanging tree where years before he had hanged Brigade's wife. Frank is a different man now; a man can change, but Brigade's desire for revenge hasn't changed. He will hang Billy John from the same tree unless Frank stops him. Van Cleef is very good in a small role. You sense his new-found decency, but he can't change the past, and he can't let his young brother hang.
This sets up the memorable final shot, second only to the final shot of THE SEARCHERS in my opinion, Brigade standing alone before the blazing hanging tree as the music swells and the camera follows the smoke up to the empty sky and THE END appears.
This is one of those films that I fall into every time it's on. I don't want to watch it, it's just something I have to do. Now that I have the dvd I'll pop it in just intending to watch bits and pieces but invariably watch the whole darn thing. It's that good and compact, a pleasure to watch, and probably my second favorite American western!