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Man in the Saddle

Man in the Saddle(1951)

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teaser Man in the Saddle (1951)

When he joined forces with producer Harry Joe Brown in the late 1940s to form the production company Ranown, Randolph Scott transformed himself from a second-string star, with a hodgepodge of leading man roles interspersed with action pictures to his credit, into one of the biggest box office attractions of the 1950s. He became an indelible icon of the Western, a genre in which he worked exclusively until he retired a very wealthy man in the early 1960s.

Man in the Saddle (1951) was the first of six Westerns Scott filmed with director Andre De Toth, and if they are not as fondly remembered or critically acclaimed as the seven movies Scott made with director Budd Boetticher later in the decade, they nevertheless served to establish him in the genre and boost his popularity.

The story casts Scott as a peaceful farmer and rancher who has to resort to violence to defend himself and his property against a powerful and ruthless land baron. In the process Scott's character, Owen Merritt, is caught between two women, the ambitious Laurie Bidwell (Joan Leslie) and the down-to-earth Nan Melotte (Ellen Drew).

The Scott Westerns proved to be a boon for De Toth as well. The Hungarian-born director made his first film in America in 1943 and released only a handful of pictures before his first oater, Ramrod (1947). The Scott Westerns helped establish him as an expert at tough, hard-edged action pictures, whether set in the West or the world of urban crime. He also had a penchant for realistically portrayed violence in his movies.

In addition to his six pictures with Scott, praised for injecting adult storylines and complex characterizations into the Western, De Toth is best known for his noir melodrama Guest in the House (1944); the aviation adventure Slattery's Hurricane (1949), which featured his wife at the time, Veronica Lake; and the 3-D horror film House of Wax (1953).

In later years, De Toth wrote humorously about his professional relationship with Scott, who he described as a "blue-book millionaire...with a hobby which he thought was acting." Of producer Brown, he noted his heavy drinking, "mundane taste" and "nickel-and-dime" approach to his job. De Toth claimed neither Brown nor Scott read scripts (They preferred to spend their time with the Wall Street Journal) so they rarely argued with him over story points. "They were both gentlemen, nice people," he said.

The screenplay for Man in the Saddle is based on a novel by Ernest Haycox, one of the 20th century's most important writers in the Western genre. Through his dozens of stories and novels (many of them were first serialized in popular magazines), Haycox helped to bring the genre into the mainstream of American fiction and pioneered many styles and themes that have now become conventions of the form, adding a deeper sense of realism and historical detail. Films adapted from his work include all three versions of Stagecoach (1939, 1966, 1986), Union Pacific (1939), and Abilene Town (1946), which also starred Randolph Scott.

Man in the Saddle also helped launch the career of singer Tennessee Ernie Ford who appears in a small role and sings the theme song.

Director: Andre De Toth
Producer: Harry Joe Brown
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet, based on the novel by Ernest Haycox
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Editing: Charles Nelson
Art Direction: George Brooks
Original Music: George Duning
Cast: Randolph Scott (Owen Merritt), Joan Leslie (Laurie Bidwell), Ellen Drew (Nan Melotte), Alexander Knox (Will Isham), John Russell (Hugh Clagg).

by Rob Nixon

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