Ride Lonesome (1959)

5 11 2008

I suppose I’ve been building up to this with a lot of my most recent Western viewings seeing as how they all featured Randolph Scott. Unsurprisingly, this is definitely the best one I’ve watched as of late, and quite possibly my favorite of the “ranown” westerns. There’s nothing that really separates this from Boetticher’s other westerns with Scott, but for whatever reason, it feels the most complete. It is almost the perfect introduction into Boetticher’s work, my only reservation would be in that every subsequent film would understandably pail in comparison.

I don’t mean to sound harsh when I say this, but it is somewhat of a (small) miracle that this film is as great as it is. If any director could be accused of recycling a story, it’s Boetticher. There’s nothing specific in the narrative that ties it to Seven Men from Now or Comanche Station, but the whole setup and “feel” is pretty uncanny. It doesn’t help that the story, (initially) involving a bounty hunter taking someone in is the sort of thing I’ve seen one too many times. Obviously, Mann’s masterpiece, The Naked Spur comes to mind, but Boetticher does manage to separate his film from the crowd of other extremely similar setups.

The most obvious element to help him “pull away” would be the breathtaking cinematography that is just as vast and open as it is rigorous and formal. It sounds like a reach, but I couldn’t help but think of Mikio Naruse’s efforts from the late 1950s and early 1960s while watching this. Boetticher has to overcome the conventions of the whole shot/reverse shot setup within the expanded space of cinemascope just as Naruse did. They both succeed, despite my own initial skepticism, and make their respective films feel as controlled as their less talkative efforts.

That’s not to say Ride Lonesome is a chatty relationship film. I would argue that it is a film about relationships, but with very sparse and deadpan comedic dialogue. A perfect example of the film’s simple and straight-forward dialogue would be Karen Steele’s attempt to question the profession of Scott’s character. “You don’t seem like the kind of man who would hunt people for money” she says, to which he quickly responds, “I am.” It was actually at this specific moment that I realized just how important dialogue (or lack thereof) is important in westerns as well as how great Burt Kennedy was at bringing that perfect tone to the dialogue in Boetticher’s films.

Ride Lonesome does have its own set of characters to make it at least superficially different from Mann’s The Naked Spur. Scott’s prisoner is played by James Best here, and he has very little flair to add to the film. Robert Ryan was far more charismatic in Mann’s film, but the way Boetticher downplays Best’s role is sort of brilliant. He’s a criminal, alright, but not remotely charming. One gets the sense that it is a constant struggle for Scott’s character to resist killing Best. It eliminates a slightly theatrical lining that’s found in even my favorite westerns. Sure, Robert Ryan’s character in The Naked Spur is more likely to initially impress people, but I like how Best is occassionally treated so poorly by everyone else. That’s not really an acting accomplishment, just a narrative related one. The film as a whole, though, is a great accomplishment in every possible category.

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One response

5 11 2008
blah

“I like how Best is occasionally treated so poorly by everyone else.”

“You must be Billy John.”
“So?”
“I heard a lot about you… you ain’t near as small as I thought you’d be.”

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