(director: Budd Boetticher; screenwriter: Burt Kennedy; cinematographer: Charles Lawton Jr.; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: Heinz Roemheld; cast: Randolph Scott (Ben Brigade), Karen Steele (Mrs. Carrie Lane), Pernell Roberts (Sam Boone), James Best (Billy John), Lee Van Cleef (Frank John), James Coburn (Wid); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Budd Boetticher; Columbia; 1959)
“Perhaps the best made B Western ever.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Perhaps the best made B Western ever. It’s directed with great skill by Budd Boetticher (“Comanche Station”/”The Tall T”) and has a classy script by Burt Kennedy. It marvelously captures the desolation of the Old West and the lonesome characters who try to survive its hard way of life. All the performances are excellent, and it does a masterful job showing the shifting loyalties and grand ambitions among the characters as they trek across the desert.It’s bleak but more optimistic than most other collaborations between star Randolph Scott and filmmaker Budd Boetticher, and it has a droll comedic touch that was satisfying.
Randolph Scott plays the aging stoic ex-sheriff of Santa Cruz, Ben Brigade, who is now a bounty hunter. He captures wanted killer Billy John (James Best) and must bring the young man across hostile Indian territory to hang in Santa Cruz. Billy warns that his sadistic outlaw older brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) will come after him. At a junction crossing where there’s a swing-stop station for the stagecoach, Ben is joined by the amiable outlaw Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) and his half-wit partner Wid (James Coburn, his screen debut). They have come to claim Billy, as the law is offering them amnesty if they bring in the killer. Sam has bought a small ranch in the hills and plans to go straight, if given the chance. The station master has left his pretty blonde wife Carrie Lane (Karen Steele) alone, while he went to chase down animals. Soon she learns the hostile Indians killed him and have slaughtered those on the stagecoach. Under Ben’s leadership they will successfully fight off the attacking Indians, as they all stick together and head for Santa Cruz. But when Ben rides in the open country, fails to cover his tracks and takes his time, Sam suspects that Ben wants Frank to catch up with him. When the party arrive at the site of a hanging tree, just outside of Santa Cruz, it’s revealed that Frank, when he was released from prison, hanged Ben’s wife in revenge for his arrest by her husband. It now becomes clear that Ben is not after the reward money, but wants revenge on Frank.
When Frank realizes that Ben is waiting for him, he tells his boys “it happened so long ago, I ‘most forgot.” It leads to an exciting showdown by the hanging tree, with Ben killing Frank and then rewarding Sam and Wid for their help by letting them take his prisoner to Santa Cruz. The young widow goes to Santa Cruz with the reformed criminal Sam, who has expressed an interest in marrying her. Fittingly, after Ben burns down the hanging tree he rides off alone to an unknown destination.
It all seemed elegiac.
REVIEWED ON 10/18/2006 GRADE: A