Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Ride Lonesome (1959) at UCLA

Last weekend I enjoyed attending the opening night of UCLA's current series celebrating the career of director Budd Boetticher. I saw two of Boetticher's films with Randolph Scott that evening: an old favorite, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), and a film that was new to me, DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957).

Most of the Boetticher-Scott collaborations, known collectively as the Ranown films, are being shown in the series. I hadn't originally planned to return to UCLA this weekend for the double bill of RIDE LONESOME (1959) and COMANCHE STATION (1960), but I was encouraged to do so by my friend Blake Lucas, and I'm so glad I did. I've had many great experiences seeing films in theaters this year, but tonight certainly ranks as one of the best evenings yet.

I loved both of tonight's films and thought that RIDE LONESOME, in particular, was one of the best Westerns I've ever seen, and I've seen plenty -- though not nearly as many as Blake! RIDE LONESOME was utter perfection in terms of script, performances, pacing, and conclusion, and it was a genuine thrill to discover this film for the very first time. I'm sure I'll be revisiting it on multiple occasions in the future.

The film follows the typical Boetticher-Scott Western formula, focusing on a small group of people under stressful conditions, dealing with conflicts amongst each other as well as attacks from outside forces.

Ben Brigade (Scott) is a bounty hunter bringing in a killer, Billy John (James Best), for a reward. Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) and his sidekick Wid (James Coburn, in his first movie role) are one-time criminals who want to turn Billy John in themselves in exchange for amnesty, so they can live a peaceful ranching life. These men find Carrie Lane (Karen Steele) all alone at a stagecoach stop, waiting for the return of her husband, the station manager. Meanwhile Mescalero Indians are on the attack...

RIDE LONESOME is a perfectly constructed movie without a wasted moment in its 73 minutes, and it's a great example of how less can be more. Despite the short running time, the director, screenwriter Burt Kennedy, and the cast combine to create fascinating, memorable characters in a gripping story. Randolph Scott is seen at his very finest as the man with a tragic past whose stoic determination to bring in Billy John unexpectedly proves to be part of a much larger plan.

Roberts' Sam is one of the best characters in the Ranown films, a charmer who consistently comes through to help Ben despite their wary relationship. The film makes one wonder what might have been for Roberts if he hadn't ended up trapped on the Ponderosa....and if he'd had a reputation as a more congenial colleague on the set.

A scene between Sam and Wid near the end is both funny and unexpectedly touching, with Coburn's Wid uttering a line that made me simultaneously laugh and tear up.  The climactic confrontation between Sam and Ben provided the perfect payoff to the film, which then moved to an even higher level with the film's unforgettable closing shot. There was an audible exclamation of approval from the audience as the movie faded to a close, sort of a group "Wow, what a movie!" along with the applause.

This was the third of Karen Steele's films for Boetticher, following DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957) and WESTBOUND (1959). She's good as the feisty, comely frontier woman who evokes longing in the men, especially Sam.  Lee Van Cleef makes a big impression in a small role as Billy John's brother, Frank.

It was fantastic seeing these CinemaScope films on the big screen in UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater. As deeply as I appreciate my home viewing collection, there is simply no movie experience quite like seeing a beautifully projected widescreen film on a huge screen, a pleasure I also experienced last weekend with SOUTH PACIFIC (1958).

This film is available on DVD in the Films of Budd Boetticher collection; extras include an introduction by Martin Scorsese and a commentary track by Jeremy Arnold. It can be rented from Netflix. The film has also had a release on VHS.

2018 Update: RIDE LONESOME is now available on Blu-ray from Indicator.

RIDE LONESOME is most highly recommended.


Blogger DKoren said...

Awesome. That sounds just amazing to see big screen. I've only seen this one on DVD, but it's my second favorite Randolph Scott movie. If I had had a family reunion, I would have been there with you!!

7:37 AM  

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