Monday, September 17, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)

In recent years I've thoroughly enjoyed becoming familiar with the films made by the team of Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher. Of the half dozen films seen to date, all have been interesting, and two of the movies, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) and RIDE LONESOME (1959), I rank among my very favorite Westerns. I also particularly liked COMANCHE STATION (1960).

Tonight it was time to catch up with the only film by this partnership I'd not yet seen, BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE. And in all honesty, I have to say this one was pretty lame. (Sorry, Randy!) I'd rank it not only at the bottom of the seven Scott-Boetticher films, but below a number of films Scott made with other directors.

Scott's title character rides into Agrytown, California, just across the border from Mexico. The town is run by several members of the venial Agry family, and before Buchanan knows what's happened he's been robbed and framed for murder, with a hanging imminent. The rest of the movie depicts how Buchanan gets out of the fixes he repeatedly gets into.

The movie has a number of problems, chief among them being that virtually all of the supporting characters are incredibly boring, even downright unpleasant. Craig Stevens' ambiguous character, a sort of "fixer" for the Agrys, has potential, but it's never really fulfilled until the final scene, and Buchanan's fellow Texan, Pecos (L.Q. Jones), has a couple of good moments, but his character is snuffed out too soon. Juan de la Vega (Manuel Rojas) never really explains his actions so again the audience is left with a poorly motivated character for whom we're nonetheless supposed to feel some sympathy. Otherwise, the characters are all a motley lot of losers.

The other "Ranown" films were generally distinguished by interesting villains who were at times surprisingly charming; no one will ever forget Lee Marvin in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, Richard Boone in THE TALL T, or Pernell Roberts' wonderful antihero in RIDE LONESOME. However, one more look at Peter Whitney's Amos would have sent me off the deep end. What a repulsive fellow. Tol Avery and Barry Kelley's larcenous characters fare little better. They have no motivations, nothing whatsoever to distinguish them as unique; they're incredibly uninteresting characters with far too much screen time.

Another issue is that Scott's Buchanan, while a genial fellow, lacks smarts, which is not what one expects from a Randolph Scott hero. There's just no excuse for leaving a bunch of bad guys loosely tied up with their horses at the ready, and Buchanan and his allies pay the price. Why didn't they at least drive the horses off? Buchanan just seems to go in circles -- he's free, he's caught, he's free, he's caught, he's free, he's caught...  Yawn.

The Old Tucson setting is fairly colorless, which is somewhat ironic as just yesterday I wrote about one of my favorite TV Westerns, which makes excellent use of the same environment. Moreover, there's a shot of Craig Stevens talking to someone in the saloon doorway with the most amazingly phony painted backdrop in the background, which seems to be of some tall brick buildings -- certainly not a match for the dusty main street of Agrytown!

Posters prominently feature the name of actress Jennifer Holden, but she only had a bit part. The picture suffers from the lack of a significant female role, especially as most of the male characters are such duds.

One of Boetticher's favorite screenwriters, Charles Lang, wrote the screenplay; another Boetticher favorite, Burt Kennedy, is said to have worked on polishing it, but there just wasn't much to be done with this repetitive mess, which runs for 78 long minutes. The film is based on a Jonas Ward novel, THE NAME'S BUCHANAN.

Given how much I admire him, I feel somewhat disloyal criticizing a Randolph Scott film this strongly, but I really don't know what they were thinking on this one!

BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE is part of the otherwise excellent DVD set The Films of Budd Boetticher.

Additional reviews of Scott-Boetticher films: THE TALL T (1957), DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957), and WESTBOUND (1959).

13 Comments:

Blogger dfordoom said...

The only Budd Boetticher movie I've seen so far is Seven Men From Now which was terrific. I'm keen to explore more of his movies.

2:08 AM  
OpenID livius1 said...

This is certainly one of the weaker Scott/Boetticher efforts. Personally, I rate it on about the same level as Decision at Sundown, but I think, despite its inherent weaknesses, it's still head and shoulders above Westbound.

2:47 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I believe WEstbound to be fun and charming although it aims at nothing much than to be a pleasant time killer. Decision At Sundown and Buchanan Rides Alone have one thing in common: Both are written by Charles Lang. Don't think he was much. Toillustrate that all one needs to do is start screening film and television credits. If Budd liked him, that has to be personal.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your comments!

Colin, I seem to be in the minority in that I enjoyed WESTBOUND -- a more "traditional" cut-and-dried Western, to be sure, but I found it entertaining and the supporting characters much more appealing than in BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE.

I wasn't wild about DECISION AT SUNDOWN since it was such a downer plot, but I felt it had a lot more going for it than BUCHANAN, including a notably raw performance by Randolph Scott and excellent support from Noah Beery Jr. and John Carroll.

Fun to compare different "takes"!

Best wishes,
Laura

8:18 AM  
OpenID livius1 said...

Hi Laura,
I probably sound like I hate Westbound, don't I? :)
The thing is I don't dislike it as such. It's just when you see the names Boetticher and Scott up there on the screen the weight of expectation is greater, and I feel Westbound falls short.
Taken on its own merits, as a standard western, it works fine.

Colin

1:38 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Charles Lang is the common denominator. In Decision At Sundown Burt Kennedy came in as you mentioned. Not in Buchanan. If Budd liked Lang it was personal. Just have a look at the films he signed off on. And as an actor, even worse.

1:44 PM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

You make a great point by noting the absence of a strong female figure in Buchanan Rides Alone; the women in the Scott/Boetticher films play such vital roles. I think the female character in 7 Men From Now really nailed the film's dramatic tension, especially in interacting with Scott's character (plus the wonderful performance by Gail Russell in the part).

6:44 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Grand Old Movies:

You said it.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Except for WESTBOUND, which Budd Boetticher considered an assignment and not part of the Ranown cycle, I'm close to where you are in rating these for the other six, but I'd say BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE is best appreciated as a comedy, while the other five Ranowns, though they have a lot of humor (except, maybe, for DECISION AT SUNDOWN) are best appreciated as dramas and very moving in a way this one is not.

So I do like it, kind of as a variant or diversion from the others. It's true that it's disappointing there is not only no strong villain, unlike the others, but also no heroine--in the other movies, the heroines (Gail Russell, Nancy Gates, Maureen O'Sullivan especially) are, like the villains, memorable. But the movie as a whole is to me, witty and engaging and has its own individuality.

Burt Kennedy was definitely a great screenwriter, much more than Charles Lang, who was probably just given these opportunities as a friend of Budd (though Budd and Burt remained lifelong friends, and this is something I know first hand). It is definitely BUCHANAN that Burt worked on in addition to the four(best) Ranowns he wrote, and not DECISION. Burt wrote maybe a third of BUCHANAN but didn't want credit.

8:57 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Blake,

I must be wrong about this. Can barely imagine what Buchanan might have been like before Kennedy helped out.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi everyone,

I'm loving this discussion, as always!

The absence of a strong female role really is as glaring as the complete absence of a worthy villain. I've wondered in the last day if maybe I was just tired that evening, but then I think about the three actors playing the Agrys and think "Nah, I don't think it was me." LOL.

That said, I really enjoy reading about the opinions of fellow film fans whose opinions I value. Enjoyed Blake's take on it, and Toby weighs in with a little more on this film over at 50 Westerns -- be sure to follow his link.

Thanks to all!

Best wishes,
Laura

1:05 PM  
OpenID fiftieswesterns said...

Thanks a bunch for the link.

I have such a personal relationship with this film it's hard to step back and look at it for what it is.

One of my goals in life is to go to Old Tuscon and stand on that little bridge you see in this and Rio Bravo.

2:14 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I knew Charles Lang fairly well. My misfortune. I found him wanting ethically, artistically and personally. So, if there is work that is less than focused and insightful and ole Charles' name is on it, I tip my cap to him in a salute to bare competence. On his plus side, he was handsome as hell.

8:34 AM  

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