Saturday, April 02, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Riding Shotgun (1954)

Randolph Scott tied for the actor whose work I saw most in 2015, yet there are still a significant number of Scott Westerns I've not seen.

One such Scott film was RIDING SHOTGUN (1954), which Colin wrote about last week at Riding the High Country. I was intrigued by his review and the ensuing discussion, particularly as the movie costars Wayne Morris, seen by me in several films in February and March.

As it turned out, I enjoyed RIDING SHOTGUN a lot -- in fact, I think more than Colin; my thoughts fell more in line with those of Blake Lucas, who commented following Colin's review. I thought it was a very well-done film, and I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed it more than the Scott-Boetticher film DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957), in which Scott played another man bent on revenge.

Larry Delong (Scott) has been riding shotgun on stagecoaches for years, hunting for Dan Marady (James Millican), who murdered Larry's sister and nephew in a stagecoach holdup.

Larry is tricked into leaving his job on a stagecoach, and when it's robbed and the passengers are killed or injured, local townspeople jump to the conclusion that Larry is part of the gang.

Larry spends much of the film holed up in a ramshackle cantina, simultaneously fending off citizens intent on lynching him and trying to figure out how he'll handle Marady and his gang (including Charles Buchinsky, aka Charles Bronson) when they show up to raid the town.

The only townspeople intent on helping Larry are Orissa (Joan Weldon of THEM!), the doctor (James Bell), and possibly Deputy Tub Murphy (Morris). Tub initially seems a bit cowardly and preoccupied by food, but it just might be that Tub is smarter than everyone thinks.

The movie is only 73 minutes long and could have stood a few more minutes to more fully flesh out some characters and relationships, such as Larry's barely hinted-at romance with Orissa, but there's quite a bit of "good stuff" in this film, starting with Scott as an angst-ridden hero. Scott's Larry foreshadows the even darker shadings he would display to such effect a few years later in the aforementioned DECISION AT SUNDOWN.

At the same time, I loved the way Larry prevented Marady and his gang from racing out of town on horseback, which added a note of humor to his grim situation.

Morris is fun as Tub; with a pillow stuffed under his shirt to appear more portly, he's obsessed with food, even taking time out for pie during a gunfight. However, it seemed to me that Tub also used his known penchant for food as a clever delaying tactic; he was one man against a mob, and as he kept taking time out from the townspeople's demands, he bought Larry more time until help would arrive in the form of the sheriff.

Morris's Tub also had a great moment when a cowpoke was trying to rile the townspeople into storming the cantina to go after Larry, and Tub walks up to the man and hands him a gun, in essence saying "I dare you, idiot!"

Incidentally, there's a blooper in Leonard Maltin's CLASSIC FILM GUIDE saying that Morris is a "striking presence" as a man intent on lynching Scott. According to IMDb, that character was played by Vic Perrin.

The supporting cast included Joe Sawyer, who funnily enough I saw this week as a similarly slimy type in a film made 18 years earlier, SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR (1936). Frank Ferguson turns up for one scene as a townsman. Also in the film are Fritz Feld, John Baer, and Paul Picerni.

RIDING SHOTGUN was directed by Andre De Toth (RAMROD) and shot in WarnerColor by Bert Glennon. There are some clever shots of Scott and Morris making good use of the cantina mirror.

RIDING SHOTGUN is available as part of a Randolph Scott Triple Feature DVD set along with THE MAN BEHIND THE GUN (1953) and THUNDER OVER THE PLAINS (1953). It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

All in all, RIDING SHOTGUN is a solid and very enjoyable Randolph Scott Western.

A reminder for Randolph Scott fans: there's a new six-film set of his movies due out this week!


Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

I'm with you and Blake, I think it's a good one too! It also has a higher "enjoyment" factor for me than DECISION AT SUNDOWN, even though that film was extremely well done, and contains (in my opinion) one of Scott's best performances.

Tub was a very interesting character, and a nice change of pace from the common fat-equals-stupid rule onscreen. He was smarter than most everyone else in town, and could 'keep his head, when all about him were losing theirs, and blaming it on him.'

If you've seen the first season of LAWMAN, you might have noticed that Warner Brothers remade/reworked this story as an episode entitled (what else?) "Riding Shotgun." Allen Case played Larry DeLong, and Paul Fix played a character renamed "Pop" Marraday.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

You just have to love a character named Tub! (LOL). Seriously, I know I commented in discussion with Colin that I responded well to both Morris and the character.

Yes, I am more with you on this than with Colin. I enjoyed it a lot the one time I saw it and am keen to get back to it now. I feel bound to say though that although I agree it's good, I would rate DECISION AT SUNDOWN higher--it's not one of the very best of the Boettichers but that's a high bar; it lacks the humor of the ones I'd call great, but it's taut and compelling and dramatically provocative and as Maricatrin observed, Scott's own performance is one of his very best.

Meantime, Laura, sometime you're going to be watching James Millican in something and will say to yourself "It's time that I caught up with RED SUNDOWN."

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link and name check, and I'm pleased that I put you in the mood to watch the film.
You clearly had more fun with it than I did, and I enjoyed your reference to the similarity , on some level anyway, to Decision at Sundown, which I wasn't crazy about either as it happens - it's been some time since I watched that one though so it may be due a revisit.


7:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Love hearing everyone's thoughts on this enjoyable Western!

Maricatrin, I agree, while I enjoyed this more, I really admired Scott's performance in DECISION AT SUNDOWN. It was incredibly raw. I hadn't put together that the plot was reused in LAWMAN and need to take a fresh look -- thanks for that!

Blake, the last few weeks seem to be turning me into a Wayne Morris fan. This was a nifty part to look at alongside roles in films like THE DESPERADO and SIERRA PASSAGE.

I was also reflecting that it's rather sad that both Morris and Millican died far too young. RED SUNDOWN is in my "hot stack" right next to the TV, and one of these days is going to get bumped from the stack into the DVD player! :)

Colin, delighted to give you credit for a very pleasant time -- it's fun that although you weren't all that sure about the film, the way you described its elements nonetheless intrigued me and made me want to watch. (And, as you say, a Scott Western is always worthwhile.) DECISION AT SUNDOWN is one I'd also like to look at again one day and see what I think the second time around.

Best wishes,

8:05 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Two reviews of 'RIDING SHOTGUN' in one week - Randy Scott Heaven! LOL

It's great that reading Colin's review and the fun subsequent discussion made you pull it out of your stack and watch, Laura. Seems to me like a great celebratory way to end a heavy work week!

Now, I'd like to add another voice to Blake's hint that you really need to pull 'RED SUNDOWN' out of the stack soon!! A really fine little western that features the finest role I've ever seen for James Millican (and it is a Calhoun starrer directed by Jack Arnold to boot).

Maricatrin and I are also nagging you to pull Dix's fine 'THE KANSAN' out too. Don't think you will be disappointed. Come to think of it, I can't remember seeing a comment from Blake on Richard Dix any time. I feel sure he must be familiar with his series of westerns?

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I just add my recommendation for Red Sundown to those of Blake and Jerry above. If you have a copy to hand Laura, don't hesitate - I can almost guarantee you'll like it.


7:20 AM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

Laura, "incredibly raw" is a good way to put it... I tend to regard Scott as one of the most self-possessed and reassuring of actors, so I really was not expecting such a gut-wrenching performance from him.

Blake, I wouldn't say RIDING SHOTGUN was a better film than DECISION AT SUNDOWN, just higher on the "personal enjoyment" scale:-) I was quite impressed by DECISION (even more so because I had really never heard anything about it, good or bad), but it's not the first film I reach for when I need a Randolph Scott "fix."

I'll join the pile on, I love RED SUNDOWN too! And it contains James Millican's defining role. It and DAWN AT SOCORRO might be my two favorite Rory Calhoun westerns... but he did a lot of good ones.

'KANSAN,' 'RED SUNDOWN,' 'KANSAN,' 'RED SUNDOWN,' ... the commenters are getting restless tonight... (lol)

7:48 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

A quirky picture which I enjoy more as time goes on. I mentioned on Colin's site that I've always been particularly impressed with the lived-in look of the costuming. I've never been able to find a credit for that work.

I'm of two minds regarding the narration. It is not necessary to the film, but on the other hand I kinda like having Randy talk to me.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Jerry, it seems like I may have put in a positive word for Richard Dix at some point, but maybe not. If not, I will just say he's an actor I especially like, always glad to see him, and have seen him in a lot of movies, though not too many Westerns. I haven't seen THE KANSAN yet--it's definitely on my want to see list.

HELL'S HIGHWAY, which Laura recently reviewed, was one of Dix's strongest roles I believe. That is one tough movie, but it's one I very much like.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm really delighted this film and post have sparked so much conversation, both over at Colin's and again here.

Jerry, it really was a great way to wind down after the week I'd had LOL. Delighted you've enjoyed the "Scott talk"!

Love the strong recommendations from you all for THE KANSAN and RED SUNDOWN. I'm going to try to see both of them very soon -- one perhaps *very* soon! Thank you all!!

Caftan Woman, "quirky" is a good way to put it, especially things like the Morris character or the cantina owner's wife with many children. Good description of the "lived in" look. In fact I honestly looked at Joan Weldon's dress and wondered if I'd seen another actress wear it in another Western (which often happened ), that qualifies as "lived in" too! LOL.

Blake, thanks for adding your thoughts re HELL'S HIGHWAY. The more I think about it, the more glad I am I saw it, even though it was a tough watch -- Dix really impressed me. (PS Be glad to lend you THE KANSAN sometime! Besides watching RED SUNDOWN and THE KANSAN, one of my other near goals is to watch my way through the great little stack you lent me so we can trade back when next we meet!!)

Thank you all again for the wonderful "movie talk"!

Best wishes,

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Count me in as another who's keen to view The Kansan now that it's been brought to my attention. I love these unexpected recommendations.


1:14 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I'll look forward to a review of 'THE KANSAN' then, with some follow-up discussion between the 'usual suspects' (see all above LOL).
Blake, I feel sure you would find something to enjoy in each of the westerns Dix filmed 1940-43. They were all produced by Harry Sherman, a favourite film man for me. In addition to the 54 Hopalong Cassidy films he produced (1935-44) he also made a host of 'specials', mostly with Richard Dix but also some others, finishing up with two classics, 'RAMROD' and 'FOUR FACES WEST'. Quite a CV!!!

2:34 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm now midway through THE KANSAN! Unfortunately TCM's print is pretty weak -- I see the only DVD out there is Alpha so this is probably as good as it gets. Still very much an enjoyable film! Should have a post up within the next 24 hours. :)

Definitely a great CV with RAMROD and FOUR FACES WEST, two McCrea faves!!

Best wishes,

5:21 PM  

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