Now this, on the other hand, was just flatout amazing. Even the color + academy ratio combo couldn’t keep it from being one of most visually lovely westerns I’ve seen. Maybe not as great as the visuals in Day of the Outlaw, but I would argue that this is going for something completely different. Of course, even if the visuals were poor, this film would still have the presence of Randolph Scott to save it. This may very well be my favorite performance of his, though I still have three more “ranown” westerns to see. Anyway, he’s absolutely amazing in this.
Like in Boetticher’s Decision at Sundown, Scott spends most of his time unjustly cornered by the residents of the town. Here, he’s trapped into the lowest bar in town after attempting to warn the residents of the approaching danger, a gang led by his nemesis, Dan Marrady. The townsfolk assume he’s trying to pull a trick and they quickly turn against him. He resists arrest, which leads to the inevitable discussion of a mob to do the work. He holds out, with the hope he’ll get the opportunity to kill Marrady and prove his innocence.
Such a simple straight-forward story told within the limited scope of 74 minutes – an ideal structure for a western. It sounds kind of silly, but there’s simply no bullshit here. A lot of people make think there is since the story’s foundation is laid out within the first fifteen minutes, but had all that stuff been stretched out for the whole film than that would have been padding. Once De Toth establishes his character, it’s all them, no intrusions on their interactions. Technically, Scott’s voiceover could be labeled as an interruption, but his bits come might close to being genuinely poetic, despite the fact that they are used as exposition.
That is a good way to explain why the film is so great to begin with. Sure, it is a “genre” film and its intention was probably to make a quick buck, but it is also legit art. Could I explain why exactly? No, because that would either be too dull and what it makes this film, and De Toth’s cinema in general, art is something in one’s subconcious. This probably sounds a bit preposterous, especially for a 74 minute “B” western. It is, but Riding Shotgun is one of the greatest cinematic achievements for American cinema in the 1950s.