Click images for desktop size: "Untitled" by Clarence Carter
The main problem with "Decision at Sundown" was that the whole movie was set in a town.
Civilization for Boetticher is best represented when it is shown as a roughly held together series of
shacks that bend but determinedly refuse to buckle under the desert winds.
Its odd that Boetticher can take a crew into the desert and we always feel centered and easily understand our location in relation to the rest of the world, but when he moves into towns its disorienting and confusing.
In "Buchanan Rides Alone" its hard to keep even the relationship of the hotel, saloon straight. And its relationship to the judge's home is an absolute mystery. Sometimes you can walk there but most of the time you have to take a horse.
It seems that Boetticher is making a strong statement about our relationship to cities and towns.
In "Buchanan Rides Alone" the town of Agry is a border town. A bridge with a hand painted sign (and no border guards) details the imaginary line between countries. Scott crosses the line into Agry. He is smiling, jovial clearly happy to be back in the USA. But for all his genial demeanour he wears the crossed bandoliers of the Mexican Revolutionary. He smiles but resists orders from the corpulent aggro sheriff.
You can see him resisting anger, insisting to himself that he's going to keep his happy mood at nearly any cost. In total its a brilliant economical way of introducing a character.
The story itself is a bit quizzical and too complicated for what's involved, filled with elections, trials, familial squabbles and far too many people!
It can't be discounted completely. For one thing there is a remarkable portrayal of Mexicans. They
Click images for desktop size: "Surf" by Unknown
are presented as being as smart and courageous as the Americans and far more honest. Its a handsome portrait of the people and surprising in a film of this era where the only good foreigners were the base totally submissive ones. Foreigners who had any ambition were normally criminals or spies, an enemy.
Ranown must have realized they had some problems and they got Burt Kennedy to doctor the script. His hand shows in a couple of fascinating ways.
During the Scott's trial the sheriff (who has his eyes on stealing the $2,000 dollar "stake Scott was carrying to buy his dream ranch) asks him, "So you're just another hard case drifter willing to kill for money?" Scott's laconic answer id "You could say that."
Kennedy's other obvious contribution is the character of Pecos, beautifully played by L.Q. Jones. Pecos is fascinating, easy going, amoral, amiable and loyal - to a point.
He's attracted to Scott because they're both from West Texas. He admires Scott's ability to speak with unabashed love for West Texas.
After the trial the sheriff has the innocent Scott escorted out of town by two gunmen who's job is to murder Scott. As they ride along Scott conceals his gloom over his impending death by waxing euphoric on the beauty of West Texas.
Pecos apologizes for having to murder Scott. Scott accepts the apology.
At the river bank the other gunman forces Scott to dismount and unsaddle his horse. Pecos asks the other gunman if there's anyway to avoid having to do this killing. He's told no, they have to do the "job".
Scott stands with his hands at his side and his back to his executioners. A shot rings out and Scott collapses. After a moment Pecos walks up to Scott and kicks Scott's boots. "You ain't dead," he says.
The shot that Scott figured had ended his life was from Pecos shooting his partner in the head.
They try and bury the dead gunman but the hole they dug fills up with water so Pecos straps the body high up in a tree.
Click images for desktop size: "Dangerous Curves" by 3D Fiction
Before Scott can gather up and take off Pecos starts to deliver a eulogy to his victim. Its darkly macabre and very funny. Scott keeps waiting for it to end his eyes growing larger as he listens to Pecos. He says "Amen" to end the unbalanced "tribute" and the explanation to the deadman that Pecos just couldn't allow a fellow West Texan to die.
As they ride along Scott offers Pecos a partnership in his dream ranch. He tells Pecos he's riding back to Agry to get his stake that the sheriff stole. He assures Pecos that even if he doesn't follow him into town he's still going to be his partner in the ranch.
Amazingly for movies but actually pretty sanely, Pecos agrees to wait for him then! He lets the hero ride off to fight the bad guys alone and has no qualms or issues about it!
If he'd stayed alive for the entire movie Pecos could have given the film a needed lift.
When you have talent it shows up most when you try and learn from your mistakes. Randolph Scott
was talking about retiring. Ranown decided to make a masterpiece. They succeeded.
When I was 11 I'd outgrown Captain Spaceman's Cartoon show. Channel 13 started showing 90 minute movies after school, "After School Theater" or something. It's where I learned to love Corman flics like "Teenage Caveman" et al. One week they were doing a
Click images for desktop size: "Robin" by DC Comics
Western week. I remember seeing a mash up of "Cisco Kid" episodes disguised as a movie, even a Roy Roger's thing. The care that they selected these films was apparent. Its where I first saw the movie, "The Man From Laramie" Anthony Mann's revenge film where Jimmy Stewart gets a bullet in his hand: Crucifixion with hot lead. The only thing I got out of that film was a long living fear of having my body desecrated and a fascination with anatomy. I figured a bullet through the hand was far worse than death. Jimmy Stewart was a good enough actor to convince me I was right. The next day they showed "Ride Lonesome".
Even as a kid I was blown away. Even watching it on a B&W TV couldn't detract from the power. Two people who were no more than icons (Scott and Karen Steele), a crazy bad guy (James Best), A bastion of evil (Lee Van Cleef) and two guys I thought were really funny (Parnell Roberts and James Coburn).
Throw in some Indians and a plot that was merely "3 guys and a girl get chased by Indians and bad guys while they take another bad guy to jail, was primal enough to reach through to the lizard brain in any of us.
It was pretty shocking to see the movie again, some 20 years later, and see that things weren't quite that simple.
You can make a pretty good argument for Boetticher being a genius in the fact that he constructed a movie that could reach out and impact a child and an adult. Its not that easy to do with out maudlin
Click images for desktop size: "Candy" by Unknown
pandering ala Disney. Nor is it a simple thing to inject such complex dreams into minds and dreams of people without making the process opaque and annoying.
I watched the movie a few times off of a VHS tape I made from some late night broadcast. It wasn't available anyway else. Seeing the DVD in an excellent reproduction of the Cinerama process was illuminating. With Scott's impending retirement from movies they clearly went all out.
The movie opens with Scott hunting Billy John. James Best is superb here. He'd match this performance with his equally superb performance a couple of years later in Sam Fuller's "Shock Corridor". It leaves me nonplussed that he wouldn't gain fame or recognition until he played the moronic sheriff in the "Dukes of Hazard" TV series.
Billy John is aware that Scott (as Ben Brigade) is close by. He continues to sip his coffee and sits easy and relaxed.
We know he's the bad guy. All characters in Boetticher movies are organic. They look like they were grown in the earth and locked in there until they felt the need to roam around the stones and bones of the desert. Boetticher villains are vain, created not by nature but by man. Richard Boone affected a silken peacock green scarf, Chink a fiery red shirt etc. In low budget productions these are considered options. In the equally sparse world these movies inhabit they are bright beacons.
Billy wears natural dusty gray but affects a long eagles feather that droops down the back. In this world something natural being worn for a sense of élan is more depraved than silken scarves.
(Its interesting to note that you can still go to Western Costume and find, Glen Ford hats, John Wayne hats, etc. It was commonplace for stars to effect one style of hat and then use it as a symbol for their entire career. Scott wasn't allowed this. He always wore a distinctly different style. I once worked with a director who thought that any scene could be saved by having the actor wear a "silly hat". He swiped the concept from Preston Surges. Boetticher seems to use the inverse of the principal in his costume choices. In "Ride Lonesome" Brigade wears a more standard wide brimmed Stetson.)
Billy shot a man in Santa Cruz; shot him in the back.
Billy is calm. He's prepared an ambush for Brigade. Three of his buddies are hiding in the sandstone rock ready to blow him apart. Brigade defuses the trap by the simple measure of assuring Billy that
Click images for desktop size: "Desert Blooms" by Unknown
before they get him he will surely cut Billy down before he dies. Its no bluff.
In that one moment its apparent there's a radical change here. Previously Scott played nothing but low menemic characters, normal men pushed by circumstance to be something more than they ever intended to be. The confrontation with Billy establishes as a high menemic character, the man of will and talent.
It also sets up expectations of Billy's character, something of a coward, something of a rattlesnake, someone easily led.
Brigade starts the long task of dragging Billy back to Santa Cruz to be hanged. He lets Billy ride free, except for a pair of heavy handcuffs. Billy spends the time reminding Brigade of his brother, the dangerous brother Frank who is, no doubt, tailing them now rushing to catch up and free him.
They stop at a stage way station. Suddenly Brigade is ambushed! Billy is sure it is his brother Frank
but it turns out to be someone Brigade knows; the outlaws Sam and Whit. (Roberts and Coburn).
Surprisingly Roberts is every bit the physical match for Brigade, broad shouldered, tall and moves with an athletic grace. Whit is tall, gawky but clearly efficient within his strictly limited range.
There is a tense moment when Roberts gathers up Brigades rifle. He's garrulous and chatters about meeting him out here.
Brigade listens, introduces Billy. Roberts says, "I heard of you. You're not as small as I figured you'd be."
Brigade says, "A man needs a reason to ride this Country, Boone." Stating his question as a fact.
Robert's response is equally laconic. "That he does. Can see what yours is." and then he casually tosses Brigade back his rifle.
Suddenly Karen Steele steps out of the Stage House yelling at the men to clear out! To punctuate her sincerity she fires her rifle sending a bullet uncomfortably close to the group. They scarcely react.
It pleases me that during the filming Steele and Boetticher were in love. In the movie she's the other icon, the tough blonde who should have been born in the noir 40's. She's soft, not brittle but strong and capable. She lives her life without a plan but lives it to the extreme.
Now she does not want 3 outlaws and a low life bounty hunter as her guests. She only wants the man she loves, the stationmaster to return from rounding up stray horses. She doesn't want him greeted by this motley crew.
Before there can be a serious confrontation the stage coach approaches. Roberts assures Brigade
Click images for desktop size: "The Helper" by Unknown
that they were not there to rob it. When the coach gets closer they see that the driver is dead, an Indian lance through his chest. The stage crashes into the corral but rights itself.
The men open the door and apparently everyone inside is dead. Surprisingly, while the men stare in silence, it's Billy who yells out to Steele, "Don't come out here! Ain't nothing for a woman to see!"
It strikes as discordant tone to have the bad guy be the only character who reacts to the woman's presence. It hurts us in our need to view Billy as merely scum.
Steele still wants the group to move out. She insists she is going to stay to wait for her husband's return. Until a group of Indians show up. They want to trade a horse for Steele . . . they play along with it until Steele discovers the horse they want to trade for her was the one her husband was riding when he left the station the day before.
Accepting her loss she agrees to travel with the stoic Brigade, his trophy and the two comical
outlaws. Travel with them back to a distant civilization, a civilization that seems to make them all uneasy.
They travel. Roberts rides with Brigade shattering at him non-stop. At one point he tells them why they were riding this forbidden territory. It appears that there is not only a bounty on Billy John. They are also offering unconditional amnesty to anyone who brings him in.
It seems Roberts already has a patch of land up around Secos. Its nothing now but he plans to "run some cattle and work the dirt" until it is "someplace that a man can belong to."
While they're talking on the far distant sand hills some figures converge and begin to trail the group. They tiny shadows seem to be ignored by Roberts and Brigade. Its just one of the ways Boetticher uses the Cinerama screen and its great depth of field. For the most part it is used to show the vast panorama and to frame the men with it in such a way that they seem to dwarf the
Click images for desktop size: "End Effected" by Envy
immensity of the world by force of will.
The indians weren't ignored. Brigade interrupts the conversation by telling Roberts there's an old adobe corral just over the next rise and they ride like demons to get into it while the tiny shadows start to converge on them resolving into a murderous pack of Indians.
The adobe corral is a cool set. A skeletal reminder of civilization conquered. The only thing that remains are the bricks that were made from the surrounding dirt. The four ride like demons to get to its thick walls while Brigade plays skirmisher and lays back firing efficiently into the onrushing Indians.
After beating back the Indian attack they settle in for the night. Brigade sets with his horse. Brigade is the only one Steele seems comfortable being around, She asks how his horse is doing. Brigade explains in a way that seems to be as much describing himself as the animals condition. "His leg
ain't broke. He just won't get up. He's got it in his head that its all over and he's just waiting to die."
"What can you do for him?" Steele asks.
"Not much. Sit with him. Let him now he's not alone and hope he'll realize he can get up if he wants to." Brigade answers.
Later the horse does finally stand but only after Brigade has given up hope. The horse stands because Roberts saves Brigades life from Billy. As a sardonic joke Roberts fires off a round from his rifle in response the horse almost leaps to its feet. Power of life coming not from loving attention but from negligent bad bahaviour?
Roberts also uses the stop over to wax lovingly, if pornographically, about the psychology and beauty of Steele. Whit looks at Steele with different eyes after Roberts Rhapsodic reveries.
They also wonder why they're traveling out in the open when they all know that Frank is in hot pursuit. "its like he wants Frank to catch up to us!"
Frank (Lee Van Cleef) has been in hot pursuit with three of his men. He's run his horses near to death, but when he reaches the adobe corral he suddenly realizes he can slow down. "I did Brigade a hurt once. He's not taking Billy to hang, he's using him to get me. Water the horses and lets get some sleep. There's no hurry now. He'll wait for me."
I'll try to finish up the analysis of the Budd Boetticher Box Set in my next post. This one seems to be getting long.
Click images for desktop size: "Brown" by Benoit Vanneuville
My back is better.
We picked up the new car on Saturday. Its pretty and seems to fit my friend well. Hoping it can reduce some of the tension that's been crawling up our spines and into our brains.
Only two things wrong with it so far. It was advertised as cruise controlled. Cruise Control is standard on it. But there's no cruise control!
Driving it home when I got out to open the gate saw a lot of white smoke coming from the wheel well. To me the smell and smoke meant a dragging brake! But there was no excessive heat from the brakes. I waited a half hour and checked again. Still no big heat or remnants of same. No sound like bad bearings or signs of the tire rubbing anything.
They checked the brakes before hand. Maybe they left something dangling. Its still under warranty so I'm waiting to call them to see if there's anything else to complain about.
I still plan to write them a letter of appreciation.
The puppies are all fine here.
One blast of negative news. My puppy's aunt was laid off today . . .
Makes me real happy that the Republican pigs did everything in their power to destroy the effectiveness of the Stimulus bill and then after gutting it still bragged about how they'd made it ineffective.