Finally wrapping up my thoughts about the Budd Boetticher Box Set.
I know I’m going on about them but this is an important body of work to me. Boetticher is an important director who makes films that not only help me to understand the movie making process but also give dense glimpses into the make up of people and the different perceptions people have of each other and of the world.
Besides they’re great fun and Boetticher is a great story teller. I still think fun is a vital part of any great work of art, any masterpiece and just as important as variant views of the world.
And sometimes thinking about these stories brings insight and sometimes its just a way to avoid, if only for a little while, the steady stream of upsets that come into your life.
Its like William Blake and Kenneth Patchen new the “real” world we all live in but saw worlds beyond that, worlds just as real but not as easily obtainable. Movie maker Anthony Mann saw the world but barely noticed the people. For him mankind was just a natural part of environment, twisted and shaped by emotional forces as powerful as the winds and water that carve mountains and canyons. John Ford saw people as caricatures that were burnished by their environment; men who lived in the spectacular landscapes became capable of spectacular things, but they were always in battle. Peace was a thing to be strived for but it was seldom granted except to those people on the fringe who were really just spear carriers in the great framework of life.
Budd Boetticher didn’t understand the real world. His midnight admissions to mental institutions prove that. He understood the stage and he understood people. The world for him was vacuum where men drifted occasionally stumbling across love but most often just drifting waiting for a place to cling to, to hold and belong to.
The twenty first century has gone even further than the twentieth in isolating people from their environment. People exist and live in a place they create in their minds. Boetticher’s insights into people seem even more valid today, at least to me, than they did back in the late 50’s.
Understanding people, especially people in extremis is important. Personal communication is drifting and rage is seizing to many people’s hearts. Icy rage, killing rage too much of the time. When cowards are being foisted as hero’s, when groups are being idolized instead of people its time to reassess and to grasp at understanding.
I think Boetticher supplies some of those keys. I think its important to understand his movies so that we can have a cleaner view of the guy sitting next to us. Understanding can bring contempt as well as love. Both emotions need a real basis for growing other than to be mired in surfaces and glitz.
You have to start somewhere.
I’ve been asked to explain a couple of terms: low menemic and high menemic. Northrop Frye, a Canadian literary critic coined the phrases in his “Anatomy of Criticism”. He thought characters in novels could either be classified as low menemic – average people, the normal guy trying to just get by in this life; high menemic – the superior man, a character with all the tools to not only survive but to conquer, control and dominate any situation; and finally the mythic character – the man emboldened with near supernatural powers, he cuts a swath through the world near invulnerable.
The terms are pretty commonplace in criticism nowadays and are especially apt when discussing movies and genre films specifically.
After Van Cleef (Frank) makes his calm reasoned speech understanding what Brigade is doing the film quietly shifts. We leave the light dusty browns of the desert for foliage and greenery; the first
As they enter the grove the arena is dominated by a large lightening stripped tree with two cross like branches. “A hanging tree,” Roberts proclaims it. He makes some off the cuff “gallows” jokes and is gruffly rebuffed by Brigade, “You talk too much.”
Steele still doesn’t like any of these men but she’s grown to accept them. She’s still grieving her husband but, as Roberts put it, “She’s a woman that needs a man.” The men begin to turn to her for a softness that wasn’t one of their needs in the desert, only a need now when they’re in the shade of trees and greenery.
Roberts begins by saying, “Mrs Lane, I’d be obliged to look after you when we hit Santa Cruz.” He then proceeds to tell her about his place up in the Secos, he repeats the story about the bible salesman explaining the word Amnesty to him and how after he gets Billy away from Brigade how he plans to start a new life.
Steele is horrified at the idea of Roberts killing Brigade to get Billy. Even more horrified that Brigade is trading Billy’s life for money. Steele goes to Brigade and confronts him and tells him how Roberts plans to kill him for Billy. Brigade takes it nonchalantly until she begins to berate him for being a bounty hunter. Brigade erupts with a cold desolate fury.
He used to be the sheriff of Santa Cruz. One day he threw Billy’s brother, Frank, into prison. Frank swore to get even. The day came when Frank was released. His wife pleaded with Brigade to leave Santa Cruz, to go someplace with her and to start a fresh. While Brigade was out of town Frank came and kidnapped his wife. Frank hung her on the hanging tree.
Not surprisingly Steele is unprepared for this shocking story. Brigade ends any comfort with a chilly, “Goodnight, Mrs Lane.” Unknown to him is that Roberts was in the bushes and overheard the entire conversation. It clearly impacts the bad man but its unclear in what way.
He talks with Whit (James Coburn). Whit wants to plan how to kill Brigade and snatch Billy. “Brigade ain’t a man you can take head on,” he says.
“It wouldn’t be right to do him any other way,” Roberts replies, “Don’t worry. When the time comes I’ll take care of it.”
Then in one of the movies most memorable scenes Whit asks Roberts. “I was thinking, I sure would be obliged if I could come work for you at your place.”
What happens next is purely predictable but satisfying all the more for that. People sometimes need to have things go the way we want them to. After all the tales of carnage and the tension building up to a carnage promised conclusion we need to see affection turn right.
“Work for me! You ain’t working for me Whit!”
Defensively Whit protests, “I don’t know much but I can scratch at the dirt and I slop hogs real good . . .”
“Whit, how long you and I been riding together?”
“I don’t know,” Whit pauses, “About two years I reckon.”
“More like five! Why do you think that is?” Roberts asks.
With a shrug Whit answers, “Guess your kind of used to it.”
“No Whit, I like you.” “Really?” Whit answers surprised.
“You ain’t working for me Whit. We’re partners. Right down the middle. Now go keep an eye on Billy. I got thinking to do.”
This scene in all its simplicity is the one that everyone who has ever seen the film always remember. Its nearly sad that we are most moved by a man begrudgingly admitting to friendship.
Come the dawn Roberts sends Whit to the rise to watch for Frank and his men. He then confronts Brigade. Roberts tells him he overheard his conversation with Mrs Lane. He tells him that Whit and he will back his play with Frank but when its over it won’t make a difference. He’s going to go right over Brigade to get Billy and get that amnesty.
Brigade is stoic and dismissive.
Its worth noting, Whit goes to look for Frank. He stands in some odd otherworldly place. The rear of his horse stands in the green comfort while he gazes out at the burning deadly desert. He watches a dust cloud appear and turns and rides back hard to the embracing coolness of the trees and the grass, shouting Frank’s coming.
The group prepares. Roberts and Whit hide in the bushes. Whit is giving the “chore” of protecting Steele.
Brigade tosses a rope over the branch of the hanging tree . . .
When Frank enters the arena he sees his brother on a horse with his neck in a noose. Brigade stands next to the horse, totally exposed, a rifle in his hand.
Nastily Brigade explains the situation to Frank. Frank understands and says, “If that horse spooks you’ll kill him!”
Brigade responds, “If his neck don’t snap you’ll have time to cut him down.”
“This ain’t right, Brigade. What happened between us was so long ago I near forgot about it!”
Brigade gives one of the scariest responses in movie history, “A man can do that.” When a man suspends his humanity or denies it, when he places himself below a level there’s nothing left to do.
Frank charges firing wildly. Billy’s horse spooks and Billy is swinging, gasping from the tree while Brigade calmly raises his rifle and blows Frank out of the saddle.
Frank’s men start to followup the charge but retreat under a withering hail of fire from Roberts and Whit. When they retreat Brigade pulls out his six gun and shoots a single shot to cut the rope. Billy collapses still alive.
While Brigade inspects his prisoner Roberts comes thundering up on his black horse he dismounts on the run making you wonder what he’s running from or to.
“I come for Billy,” he says.
Brigade says in the same dead humanity denying voice, “Come get him.”
Brigade stands perfectly erect while Roberts advances, his hand ready to draw. Suddenly Brigade turns his back to Roberts, turns back and tosses him the keys to Billy’s handcuffs.
Roberts is google eyed. Brigade says in a voice that tries to sound friendly but can’t, “If you ever go against the law again it will be me comes looking for you.”
Laughing Roberts says, “I’ll remember that. I surely will.”
The two outlaws, Billy and Steele gather up to make the few hour ride to Santa Cruz. Steele’s future is undetermined, Billy’s future will be decided by an old west court and Whit and Robert’s have a dream.
Brigade has no future. He burns down the hanging tree, that hateful symbol.
From the top of the rise Roberts can’t see the fire but he sees the black smoke curling to the sky. He turns and rides with the group saying, “It figures.”
Scott should have retired after this. Ben Brigade was the pinnacle of his acting career. He used every power he had and made it into a memorable character it was the finest acting job he was capable of and the finest of his career.
“Ride Lonesome” was a big enough hit that Ranown rushed to do a follow-up, “Comanche Station”.
Maybe if I’d seen “Comanche Station” sometime removed from “Ride Lonesome” I’d have a different opinion of it.
It’s a good movie, good enough for anyone to be proud of. Unfortunately fresh off of seeing “Ride Lonesome” it seems like a redux, a rehash.
This time Scott is a man searching for his wife for the last ten years. She’s was captured by Comanches. Every time he hears of a white woman captive being offered for trade he heads to the hills with “two bucks worth of blankets and a winchester rifle” to rescue the woman. He’s constantly disappointed that it is not his wife.
On the mission he’s on this time he rescues Nancy Lowe, played by Nancy Gates.
The first night out she’s starts to escape the memory of her capture even trusting Scott far enough to ask if he thought her husband would still love her even after she’d been held captive by the Comanche.
Scott’s response is predictable, “If he’s man enough he will.”
They go to Comanche Station, the stage coach point where he runs into Claude Aikens, a scalp hunter, and Aikens two young gunmen. Scott had Aikens courtmartialed when they were in the Army together. Aikens clearly has a festering hatred for him. He also informs Scott and Gates that there is a $5,000 reward on Gates, offered by her husband. Dead or alive. Her husband wants her dead body so he could at least have closure and give her a proper burial.
Aikens and the gunmen plan to ride along with Scott, they need the extra gun because the Comanche are on the warpath in retaliation for some scalp hunters raiding their camp and killing the women and children. When its convenient they plan to kill Scott and the woman. The plan to kill the woman so she can’t bear witness to their murder of Scott.
The two young guns are an amalgamation of the two young guns in “The Tall T” and Robert’s and Coburn. Skip Homier plays essentially the same role in both films!
They are given some chances but they don’t ever explode like the other two films. Its satisfying but not mesmerizing.
Aikens is not as strong as other Boetticher villains. Aikens is a good actor and reaches as well as he did in Howard Hawk’s “Rio Bravo”. Aikens another guy who became a star playing a whacky sheriff, his turn came in “BJ and the Bear”! He’s competent and shows some promise but he doesn’t inspire fear or hatred. He’s just a bad guy.
Its actually a great film but it is not up to the greatness of the ones preceding it.
The ending is odd and seems to be going for some point I failed to see.
Aikens is bothered by the fact that a man would post a reward instead of hunting for his wife himself. Scott rebuffs him with, “if he’d done that, they’d both be dead.”
Aikens keeps at it though.
At the end when Scott finally delivers Gates it turns out she has a child and that her husband is blind.
There’s a decent biography on Boetticher to complete the box set. It didn’t teach me anything new but it might be informative for some just meeting his work.
Boetticher’s work is the thing. It is brilliant. Its sad that he never released another film except for “Legs Diamond” a movie I never really got. He wasted his life in his dream. He was trying to make a documentary biography about Carlos Suara, the great bullfighter. Aside from the fact that I don’t find men fighting cows entertaining the movie was doomed and afterwards irrevocably when Suara died in a car wreck. Boetticher spun out of control after that but for one great brief period he was amongst the best that ever was.