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Randolph Scott - 8/19
Remind Me
,Riding Shotgun

Riding Shotgun

The question for the viewer to resolve after seeing this western is whether it's meant to be a straightforward entry into the genre (or as the New York Times review put it, "as ordinary as they come") or an intentional take-off on familiar themes, settings, and styles. The Hollywood Reporter review of the picture upon its release called it the latest of the "off-beat satires which get chuckles out of kidding themselves," a sentiment echoed by other critics who found it to be tongue-in-cheek and questioned whether it was a "hoax" or an honest-to-goodness western. Variety also raised the issue by suggesting its success would depend on "whether the spectator regards it as a satire on westerns or a giddyap drama with a multitude of unintentional laughs." You may well not laugh at all, but it's interesting to ponder what these reviewers saw in it at the time.

Stalwart western star Randolph Scott actually rides shotgun (i.e., the armed guard sitting next to the driver of a stagecoach) for only a small part of the movie, adapted from the story "Riding Solo" by Kenneth Perkins. Taking the job in order to trap a ruthless gang of killers, he is tricked by them into leaving his post. Hogtied away from the stage, he frees himself and heads into town, only to find the coach has been robbed, its driver killed, and several passengers critically injured. The townspeople believe he was part of the gang and won't accept his explanation--"hate makes a man careless"--for why he left his post. He spends the rest of the movie fending off rumblings by the cowardly citizens to lynch him while trying to clear his name and stop the gang from killing and robbing more. His only allies are a kindly doctor and his girlfriend. If parts of this sound a little like High Noon (1952), that would explain why some observers feel Riding Shotgun (1954), like the earlier Gary Cooper movie, was a thinly veiled commentary on the anti-communist witch hunts and Hollywood blacklist of the time. Then again, a number of analysts have seen that same commentary in many movies of the 1950s.

Although he started in contemporary dramas and comedies in the early 1930s, Scott is most closely associated with the western, with very good reason. He appeared in about two dozen westerns up to 1947. After taking a break with the movie Christmas Eve (1947), he returned to the saddle with Albuquerque (1948) and worked exclusively in the genre for the remainder of his career. Riding Shotgun falls roughly in the middle of the 36 westerns he made between 1948 and his last, Ride the High Country (1962).

Scott's best westerns are usually considered to be the eight he made with Budd Boetticher, and he also had six hits in the genre with Ray Enright. Here, he works for the fifth time (of six total) with André De Toth, a Hungarian surprisingly at home on the range in the dozen or so westerns he made, half of them with Scott. The director was also known for some stylish film noir work--Dark Waters (1944), Pitfall (1948)--and for what is often considered the best example of the 3D trend of the 1950s, House of Wax (1953), ironic considering he had lost an eye early in life and so was unable to see in three dimensions. Late in his career, De Toth found work directing for such TV westerns as Zane Grey Theater, Maverick, and The Westerner.

De Toth brings an interesting visual sense to the picture, showing the town of Deepwater, where most of the action takes place, from a number of interesting angles and stagings of crowds. The look of the film is amply aided by cinematographer Bert Glennon, who knew a thing or two about filming westerns, having been the director of photography on several John Ford films, including Stagecoach (1939), which earned him an Academy Award nomination. Glennon gets some interesting shots in this picture through windows and doorways and makes good use of a large mirror behind the bar of the town saloon, adding something of a noir aspect characteristic of De Toth's 1940s work. Director and cinematographer worked together a total of four times, including an earlier Randolph Scott western, Thunder Over the Plains (1953), the noir thriller Crime Wave (1954), and the aforementioned House of Wax.

Viewers will no doubt recognize one of the picture's bad guys early in his career, when he was still known as Charles Buchinsky. After two more films, he would change his name to the more marquee-friendly Charles Bronson.

Producer: Ted Sherdeman
Director: Andre de Toth
Screenplay: Tom Blackburn (screenplay); Kenneth Perkins (story)
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: David Buttolph
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr
Cast: Randolph Scott (Larry Delong), Wayne Morris (Deputy Sheriff Tub Murphy), Joan Weldon (Orissa Flynn), Joe Sawyer (Tom Biggert), James Millican (Dan Marady), Charles Buchinsky (Pinto), James Bell (Doc Winkler), Fritz Feld (Fritz), Richard Garrick (Walters), Victor Perrin (Bar-M Rider with Lynching Rope).

by Rob Nixon



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