Tall Man Riding
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In Mel Brooks' western spoof Blazing Saddles (1974), the town sheriff tries to convince the citizens to support him by saying, "You'd do it for Randolph Scott," after which they remove their hats, repeat his name reverently, and a heavenly chorus sings it. They then agree to go along with the sheriff's plans, as if invoking the actor's memory alone is enough to fill an entire community with hope and resolve. A comic turn, to be sure, but also confirmation of Scott's place in the western. No other actor, not even John Wayne, has been so closely identified with the genre, and with good reason. Of the 100+ movies he made in his 34-year career, more than half were westerns, the bulk of them made in the period between 1948 and 1962, when he worked exclusively in the genre.
Scott's best and most popular westerns were made with directors Budd Boetticher, André De Toth, and Ray Enright. In Tall Man Riding (1955), he worked with Lesley Selander for the only time. Its story deals with Scott's return to the town where he was publicly humiliated by a corrupt land baron who stole his property. Scott must navigate his way though untrustworthy characters, a slick lawyer, and numerous thugs to finally make his way into the arms of his true love, the land baron's daughter, played by Dorothy Malone. The plot, twisty-turny almost to the point of absurdity, was adapted from the novel by Norman A. Fox by Joseph Hoffman, who also wrote the Ray Enright-directed war films Gung Ho! (1943) and China Sky (1945), both starring Scott.
Lesley Selander's career started as an assistant director in the silent era and lasted through the late 1960s. His first directing job was the Buck Jones western Ride 'Em Cowboy (1936), starting his track record as one of the most prolific B-movie directors, particularly in the western genre. Selander became known for effective action sequences and a professional polish that many other B directors lacked. When the market for B westerns dried up in the late 1950s, he turned to television, working in several notable series, among them the similarly titled but unrelated The Tall Man, which purported to follow the adventures of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Scott's co-star, Dorothy Malone, had been around since the early 1940s but hadn't yet reached the peak of her career, which would include a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Written on the Wind (1956), the starring role in a show-biz biopic as John Barrymore's ill-fated daughter in Too Much, Too Soon (1958), and television stardom on the nighttime soap opera Peyton Place (1964-1968). Back here in the mid-1950s, however, she had to be content to follow this picture with a role as wealthy fiancée to Liberace in Sincerely Yours (1955).
A March 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Tall Man Riding would "possibly" be filmed in CinemaScope. There is no indication why that never came to be, except that Warners deemed it too slight for the widescreen process. In addition to scenes done in the studio at Warner Brothers and backlots at Universal, the picture was shot at three different ranches in southern California. Production took place in June and July 1954, but for some reason the picture was not released until a year later.
The year this film opened, 1955, Randolph Scott was the number one western star on the screen, according to Boxoffice magazine. The magazine also reported that the picture was doing well in key cities across the country, performing at normal or just below normal grosses in most locations, and doing above-average business in Denver. That wasn't enough, however, to put it into the 32 top hits of its exhibition period.
Producer: David Weisbart
Director: Lesley Selander
Screenplay: Joseph Hoffman (screenplay); Norman A. Fox (novel)
Cinematography: Wilfrid M.Cline
Art Direction: Stanley Fleischer
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Cast: Randolph Scott (Larry Madden), Dorothy Malone (Corinna Ordway), Peggie Castle (Reva (Pearlo's Palace Entertainer), William Ching (Rex Willard (as Bill Ching), John Baragrey (Cibo Pearlo), Robert Barrat (Tucker Ordway), John Dehner (Ames Luddington), Paul Richards (The Peso Kid), Lane Chandler (Hap Sutton), Mickey Simpson (Deputy Jeff Barclay).
by Rob Nixon