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In the 1974 Mel Brooks Western parody Blazing Saddles, there is a running gag that has very much to do with the star of Return of the Badmen (1948). Whenever someone in the town of Rockridge mentions the name of "Randolph Scott," a heavenly choir breaks out into a rapturous melody, praising the actor's name as if he were the holy of holies. Randolph Scott nearly inspired such praise from fans of the Western. Having appeared in dozens of high and low grade Western productions in a career that spanned five decades, Scott played the sort of laconic hero you could depend on in even the most dire of situations. His resolute toughness in a world gone bad was an attractive antidote to the B Western heroics of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, who always won out over the villains but never seemed to get dirty doing it.
Scott got very dirty battling a bevy of Western villains in Return of the Badmen. The success of 1947's Badman's Territory prompted RKO Radio to produce a sequel of sorts, with Scott returning as the lead hero. The RKO production was more than just a sequel though. Return of the Badmen was symptomatic of a popular story contrivance in Hollywood picture making in the forties, one that crossed genre lines. The idea of a "super Western," with a hero facing off against an inordinate number of villains in a single movie, actually took root in the horror picture. When horror film producers began to lose the audience's attention, their first move was to offer two monsters for the price of one, as in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), then later three or four monsters in House of Frankenstein (1944). Western filmmakers followed this same logic by throwing figures like Jesse James, Belle Starr, the Dalton Gang and others into an organized crime wave that sweeps the Old West, until a lawman like Randolph Scott can stop it. Rather than relying on a simple plot contrivance, Return of the Badmen goes one step further and creates real tension between Randolph Scott's marshal and Robert Ryan's Sundance Kid.
Return of the Badmen posted a huge profit, spawning another "all-star villain" western from RKO in 1951 called Best of the Badmen, this time starring Robert Ryan as a former Union soldier exacting revenge on Robert Preston with help from the James and Younger gangs.
Producer:Jack J. Gross, Nat Holt
Screenplay:Charles O'Neal, Jack Natteford (story), Luci Ward (story)
Cinematography:J. Roy Hunt
Music:Mort Greene, Harry Revel, Paul Sawtell
Art Direction:Ralph Berger, Albert S. D'Agostino
Cast:Randolph Scott (Vance), Robert Ryan (Sundance Kid), Anne Jeffreys (Cheyenne), George Gabby Hayes (John Pettit), Jacqueline White (Madge Allen), Steve Brodie (Cole Younger), Tom Keene (Jim Younger), Robert Bray (John Younger).
BW-91m. Closed Captioning.
by Scott McGee