Tonight's marvelous Budd Boetticher - Randolph Scott double bill at UCLA started with RIDE LONESOME (1959) and continued with COMANCHE STATION, another outstanding widescreen Western directed by Boetticher and written by Burt Kennedy. Both movies were filmed in CinemaScope by Charles Lawton Jr.
RIDE LONESOME was my favorite of the pair -- indeed, I thought it one of the best Westerns I'd ever seen -- but COMANCHE STATION was likewise an excellent film which is a "must" for fans of Westerns in general and Randolph Scott in particular. It's another study of a group of travelers in the dangerous West, clocking in at a brisk 74 minutes.
As the film begins, Jefferson Cody (Scott) bargains with Indians for the release of Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), who was recently kidnapped by the tribe.
As Cody attempts to deliver Mrs. Lowe back to her husband, they meet up with a trio of outlaws, Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his sidekicks Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust). Indians are on the warpath so there's safety in numbers as the group travels together, although Ben lets Frank and Dobie know that he isn't planning for Cody or Mrs. Lowe to make it to the end of their journey.
In some ways this film was reminiscent of the first Scott-Boetticher-Kennedy teaming, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956). There's a scene in which Ben tells Cody and Mrs. Lowe a "story" over coffee which comes close to copying a scene with Lee Marvin on a rainy night in the covered wagon in the earlier film.
Bits of dialogue also echo earlier Kennedy scripts, but instead of seeming to be merely a copycat, COMANCHE STATION seems to be elaborating on and exploring established themes. This is particularly seen with Scott once again playing a man strongly motivated by a past tragedy; perhaps aiding Mrs. Lowe will help him gain some measure of peace regarding his past loss, though it seems likely he'll continue to wander the West. The film's conclusion is deeply moving.
Akins is another in a long line of colorful villains in this series of films, although I think the relatively innocent, not-too-smart Frank and Dobie were even more interesting, as they struggle to come to grips with what it might take for them to "amount to something" in life. Homeier was a one-time child actor in films such as BOYS' RANCH (1946); his acting career stretched for close to four decades.
Although she is not very well known these days, Nancy Gates was a busy working actress in the '50s. She starred with Sterling Hayden and Frank Sinatra in the excellent suspense film SUDDENLY (1954), screened this year at the Noir City Festival in Hollywood. She also starred in TOP OF THE WORLD (1955) and THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY (1959), both reviewed here within the past year. Nancy Gates retired from acting in the mid '60s and is now 86.
Like SEVEN MEN FROM NOW and RIDE LONESOME, COMANCHE STATION was shot on location at Lone Pine, California. In fact, the climax of the film takes place in the same area where Scott and Lee Marvin shoot it out at the end of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956).
COMANCHE STATION is available on DVD in the Films of Budd Boetticher collection. Extras include an introduction by Clint Eastwood and a commentary by director Taylor Hackford. It can be rented from Netflix.
This title has also had a release on VHS.