Cast & Crew
Lee Van Cleef
When bounty hunter Ben Brigade finds killer Billy John hiding in some rocks along a ridge, he prepares to take Billy to the town of Santa Cruz, where he is wanted for murder. From the hills above, Charlie, one of Billy's gang, fires at Brigade, prompting the bounty hunter to warn that he will kill Billy unless Charlie desists. Billy then instructs Charlie to notify his brother Frank, a notorious outlaw, that he has been apprehended by Brigade. After Charlie and the rest of the gang ride off, Brigade takes Billy prisoner and heads for Santa Cruz. Along the trail, they come upon an eerily deserted stagecoach way station. After a voice from inside the station orders Brigade to drop his gun, outlaw Sam Boone comes to the door and greets Brigade. Carrie Lane, the absent station master's wife, then emerges from the doorway holding a shotgun and orders the men to leave. As a stagecoach approaches in the distance, Brigade suspects that Boone and his impressionable partner Wid have come to rob the coach. His train of thought is interrupted when the stage careens out of control and crashes into the corral, revealing that the driver and passengers have been massacred by Indians. After burying the dead, Brigade and the others hole up at the station, waiting for the Indians to attack. When Carrie, whose husband left to round up some horses scattered by the Indians, voices her concern about him, Brigade snorts that he was a fool to leave her. Boone then tells Brigade that his and Wid's goal was not to rob the stage, but to capture Billy, because whomever turns Billy in will be granted amnesty for all past crimes. Boone explains that he has already bought a ranch in preparation for his new life on the right side of the law. In the morning, they saddle up and Brigade orders Carrie to ride with them to pick up her husband. Just then, a band of Indians appears on the horizon and Brigade rides out to meet the chief. Upon returning to the station, Brigade explains that the chief wants Carrie for his squaw and has offered to trade a horse for her. Insisting that they play along with the Indians, Brigade escorts Carrie to the chief, but when he offers a horse in trade, she recognizes the horse as belonging to her husband and screams, prompting the Indians to turn away and ride off. After the group heads out, the Indians appear in the distance, and Brigade gives the order to ride for cover at an adobe shack over the rise. Upon reaching the hut, they try to hold off the Indians, and when the chief comes for Carrie, she blasts him with her shotgun, sending the others scurrying. Meanwhile, Frank and his gang reach the way station and, finding it deserted, follow Brigade's tracks. After Brigade declares that they will spend the night at the shack, Boone begins to believe that the bounty hunter wants Frank to catch up to them. Nervous about an armed confrontation with Frank, Wid suggests ceding Billy to Brigade and riding off, but Boone, whose longing for amnesty outweighs his fear of Frank, insists on staying. As Brigade nurses a traumatized horse, Carrie comments that he does not seem like "someone who would hurt a man for money." In the morning, Billy, who, the night before, had filched a rifle from Boone's saddlebags, shoves the weapon into Brigade's belly. Boone then informs Billy that the weapon is empty and threatens to shoot him unless he drops it. Once Billy relinquishes the weapon, Boone picks it up and fires. After the traumatized horse recovers, the group heads for Santa Cruz. When Boone offers to pay Brigade the price on Billy's head if he will hand over the outlaw, Brigade refuses, prompting Boone to warn that violence will result from his decision because he is bent on taking Billy in to win amnesty. Upon reaching the shack, Frank is puzzled that Brigade has not bothered to conceal his tracks and finally realizes that Brigade wants Frank to catch up to him so that he can avenge a past offense. As Brigade and the others pass a hanging tree, Brigade becomes irritable and orders them to camp at a nearby riverbed. Knowing that they are a day's ride from Santa Cruz, Boone tells Carrie that he will look out for her and warns her that Brigade will never reach town alive. While Brigade stares at the hanging tree, Carrie voices her disgust over killing for money. Brigade then confides that he is not interested in taking Billy in but in catching Frank. Brigade explains that when he was sheriff of Santa Cruz, he arrested Frank for murder. Once Frank was released from jail, he kidnapped Brigade's wife and hanged her from the tree. Soon after, dust kicked up along the trail signals Frank's imminent arrival. Having overheard Brigade tell the story of his wife's murder, Boone offers to cover Brigade in his confrontation with Frank. After ordering Billy to mount his horse, Brigade slips a noose around Billy's neck and leads him to the hanging tree. When Frank arrives, Brigade challenges him to stop the hanging. Frank charges Brigade, guns blazing, causing Billy's horse to bolt and leave Billy swinging from the tree. After killing Frank, Brigade shoots Billy down from the tree while Boone and Wid chase off the rest of the gang. Brigade then pushes Billy toward Boone and challenges him to "come and get him." As Boone prepares to draw his gun against Brigade, Brigade turns Billy over to him and warns Boone to keep his promise about "going straight." After the others ride off toward Santa Cruz, Brigade sets the tree on fire.
Lee Van Cleef
Boyd "red" Morgan
Harry Joe Brown
Charles Lawton Jr.
Emil Oster Jr.
Frank A. Tuttle
Homer Van Pelt
The plot is a variation of that in two of the team's earlier films, Seven Men from Now (1956) and Decision at Sundown (1957), with Scott's laconic character (here named Ben Brigade) seeking revenge for the death of his wife. Ben's plan is to capture inept outlaw Billy John (James Best) and use him as a lure to attract Billy John's brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef), who years earlier killed Ben's wife. Soon joining the duo are a newly widowed stationmaster's wife named Mrs. Lane (Karen Steele) and two outlaws, Sam and Whit (Pernell Roberts and James Coburn), who have been looking for Billy John themselves so as to attain amnesty for their past crimes. As this group makes its way across a magnificently desolate landscape of rock formations and sand dunes, the characters interact in every possible combination, trying their best to connive, to bargain, to outwit the others. Plot is second to character here, and the five main characters are richly drawn to say the least, elevating a simple, inexpensive little movie -- barely over an hour in length -- into something truly remarkable and memorable.
Audiences love these Boetticher/Scott westerns whenever they get the chance to see them. Ride Lonesome in particular is a very well balanced movie, with just enough action, suspense and gunplay mixed with outstanding humor, tender character moments, and an intelligent story that culminates in something resembling Greek tragedy. From the very first scene, Ride Lonesome establishes a pattern of suspenseful drama broken up by humor. It happens over and over again through the film and is a pleasing way for the story to be constructed. The climactic imagery dealing with Ben finally ridding himself of his vengeance and bitterness is powerful stuff, and the outcome of his constant back-and-forth sparring with Pernell Roberts' Sam is wonderfully unpredictable. Without giving it away here, let's just say that Boetticher had to fight the Columbia studio brass pretty hard to get the ending he wanted involving the Sam and Whit characters. When the executives saw it (and more importantly when they saw the audience reaction to it), they agreed that he had been right.
Boetticher and his ace cameraman Charles Lawton, Jr., shot Ride Lonesome in the "Alabama Hills" of Lone Pine, Calif., Boetticher's favorite location. It was Boetticher's first foray into CinemaScope, though Lawton was already a pro at the format. They frame the barren landscape beautifully, with the wide image serving to stress the emptiness of the place and the "loneliness" of the story. Lone Pine has been a popular location for movies over the years, with such classics as Gunga Din (1939), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Gunfighter (1950) and High Sierra (1941) all shot there.
One of Boetticher's most notable trademarks in Ride Lonesome is the way the hero and villain are positioned in the frame. (The film actually has three villains -- Pernell Roberts, James Best, and Lee Van Cleef -- but the main one, the one whom Scott spars with the most, is Roberts.) Boetticher once said that the only thing separating his heroes and villains was circumstance. The fact that they had grown up in different environments was the lone reason for their different outcomes in life, and in all other ways they were equals. He shows this by constantly giving them equal weight in the frame, whether they are riding side by side or just sitting by a fire drinking coffee -- always trying to verbally outmaneuver the other. Very rarely does one carry more weight in the frame than the other.
Another Boetticher trademark worth looking out for is the attention paid to horses. Boetticher was a genuine horseman who kept a stable of Spanish horses till the day he died, and his love of the animal is always on display in his movies. Few other westerns find so many ways to work in moments of washing, tending to, or somehow caring for horses. In Ride Lonesome, a sick horse even becomes an important plot point.
One of the Ride Lonesome's credits reads: "A Ranown Production." "Ranown" is an amalgamation of "Randolph Scott" and "Harry Joe Brown," who had their own production company for many years (previously called Scott-Brown Productions). Brown was a real Hollywood veteran who had been around since the silent era as writer, actor, director, cinematographer, singer, and finally producer. He and Scott produced 14 movies together -- all westerns for Columbia, and all starring Scott. After Boetticher's success with Seven Men from Now, released by Warner Brothers, Scott and Brown took Boetticher into their fold to make three more films. But after the third, Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), the studio tried to fire Harry Joe Brown. Boetticher and Scott announced they would not make any further westerns unless Brown was brought back. In an indication of how successful these little films were, they won their case, signing a 2-picture deal with Harry Joe Brown as executive producer and Boetticher as producer/director. They named this partnership "Ranown," which is why the term appears on this film and again on Comanche Station (1960).
This was Pernell Roberts' third feature film, and his charisma and talent are already very much apparent. He brings a great deal of humor and credibility to the role, looking very natural in a western costume and on a horse. Roberts would later find his biggest fame on television with his starring roles in Bonanza and Trapper John, MD.
Karen Steele was a former model who had had a few bit parts since the early 1950s, including a small role in Marty (1955). When Boetticher met her on the advice of his agent in 1957, he immediately cast her in Decision at Sundown and then Westbound (1959), followed by Ride Lonesome. During this time they had a stormy affair, which finally came to an end after their fourth collaboration, the gangster drama The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960). The Barbie-doll-looking Steele may not be the most realistic kind of woman to find living in the middle of nowhere in the old west, but Boetticher and writer Kennedy intelligently use her heightened sexuality as part of the story, having other characters comment on and joke about her stunning looks - which helps make the audience accept her as real.
James Best, who seems to be having the time of his life playing the dim-witted Billy, had appeared in two earlier pictures directed by Boetticher when they were both under contract to Universal: The Cimarron Kid (1952) and Seminole (1953). Much later, Best found fame as Roscoe P. Coltrane in the hit TV series The Dukes of Hazzard.
Making his film debut in Ride Lonesome was James Coburn. Everyone could see he had a bright future. According to Boetticher's memoir When in Disgrace, on the third night of the shoot Randolph Scott asked Boetticher and Kennedy over dinner, "Who's the skinny young fella in the red underwear I played that scene with today?" "His name is James Coburn," they replied. "Well, I like his style. Why don't you two dream up some new lyrics for him?"
It was because of this exchange that one of the most delightful scenes in the film came about, the one in which Pernell Roberts tells Coburn how much he likes him and then invites him to be his business partner, prompting Coburn's surprised and joyous reaction. The scene never fails to generate a laugh, and as Boetticher later wrote, it makes Coburn so lovable that audiences "just want to hug the guy." Boetticher sent this edited scene to director John Sturges when Sturges was looking to cast The Magnificent Seven (1960). Coburn, of course, got the part.
Producer: Budd Boetticher; Randolph Scott (uncredited)
Director: Budd Boetticher
Screenplay: Burt Kennedy
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Cast: Randolph Scott (Ben Brigade), Karen Steele (Mrs. Carrie Lane), Pernell Roberts (Sam Boone), James Best (Billy John), Lee Van Cleef (Frank), James Coburn (Whit)
C-73m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Films of Budd Boetticher Box Set
Budd Boetticher first directed Randolph Scott on Seven Men From Now, a western made for John Wayne's production company, Batjac, written by first-time screenwriter Burt Kennedy. It was a lean script with sparing but rich dialogue and Boetticher's direction matched the writing. Scott was so impressed with the film and pleased with Boetticher's direction that he approached Boetticher to direct for his own Scott-Brown Productions. For their first production together, Scott acquired a property that screenwriter Burt Kennedy had developed for Batjac, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story The Captives. " I had found the short story," Kennedy recalled in an interview. "Duke's company bought it and I was under contract and I wrote the script." It was a perfect match for Scott's persona and the film, renamed The Tall T, was the first of five films Boetticher directed for Scott and partner Harry Joe Brown.
Scott stars as struggling rancher Pat Brennan, a likable fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Richard Boone is his villain counterpart Frank Usher, the charismatic and ruthlessly charming leader of a small gang of homicidal punks who hijack the stage that has picked up the laconic cowboy. It's supposed to be a shipment of silver but instead they find aging newlywed Doretta Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan), the "homely" heir to a mining fortune, and her conniving, cowardly husband John Hubbard, who sells her out to save his own skin. The heist turns into a kidnapping, but Usher unexpectedly lets the unnecessary Brennan live. He likes Brennan; he's a man in contract to his gang members, who are merely boys (and stunted, shallow ones at that), a realist not afraid to admit he's scared yet never showing it in his face, and the one person in Usher's (admittedly limited) social circle he can confide in.
The rest of the picture is a tight character drama of shifting relationships as Brennan uses his wiles and wits to isolate and kill the individual gang members, who have already murdered the stage driver (Arthur Hunnicutt in a small but memorable role) and a stagecoach station manager and his young son. Usher is the greatest of the charming antagonists that Boetticher and Kennedy love so much and Boone is brilliant in the role: quiet in his command, both alert and relaxed, ready to jerk to attention. He expertly, pitilessly runs the show, and his easy body language couldn't be more different from the stiff, self-conscious carriage of Scott, or from the insolent, lazy lean of the punk gunman Henry Silva. The language is equally defining. Scott, true to form, gets all the arch clichés in tough, terse bites and he delivers them in his usual flat tenor, but the two illiterate gunmen played by Silva and Skip Homeier speak in a kind of frontier poetry of simple words and offbeat grammar that communicates immaturity, lack of education, and petty yet impassioned dreams with an unexpected sensitivity. Violent as they are, these boys are full of life and feeling. But they live a violent lifestyle that catches up with them. The violence of The Tall T is not explicit but it is brutal and a little grotesque. There's nothing neat or gentle about dying in this cycle of films.
Shot on location in Lone Pine, a popular location for western productions a few hours north of Los Angeles, it was a low budget production shot on an 18-day schedule. Boetticher shot it sparingly, so that there was only one way to put the film together, a lesson he learned from directing in the studio assembly-line at Universal. "It was cut on the set," he described in a 1989 interview. "(The editor) couldn't eliminate anything because there wasn't anything to eliminate. He just pieced the thing together. And that was the movie." One of the film's most memorable moments was originally an accident that Boetticher incorporated into the film. Scott steps out of the shack in the morning and whacks his head on the low-hanging roof jutting over the doorway, prompting Usher to burst out laughing. "That's the kind of thing that you do," explained Boetticher in an interview. "All the funny stuff, that's not in the script." It also marks one of the defining moments of Scott's character, who is stoic but definitely vulnerable and decidedly human.
Burt Kennedy was still under contract to Batjac so Charles Lang wrote the next couple of films in the Boetticher and Scott collaboration. Decision at Sundown, based on a story by Vernon L. Fluharty, leaves the desert for a town setting, where a bitter Scott arrives to kill the man who ran off with his wife. It's an odd and intriguing little picture and Scott makes one of his most memorable entrances he holds up a coach from the inside, then steps off to let it go its own way but neither Boetticher nor Scott are in their element in the culture of the town setting. In Buchanan Rides Alone, Scott switches from grim to affable and easy-going as a momentarily wealthy cowboy (Scott) who wanders into the corrupt bordertown of Agryville and runs afoul of the amoral, backstabbing Agry family that runs the town. It's a genuine black comedy with a thoroughly mercenary cast of characters who keep double-crossing one another as they scheme to steal Scott's hard-earned money and the ransom charged for a Mexican prisoner, the son of a wealthy rancher across the border. Boetticher was dissatisfied with Lang's script and called Kennedy for an uncredited rewrite, keeping him on the set for the whole shoot as they ad-libbed the production, which was shot in Arizona to capture the parched desert landscape of the Mexican-American border region.
Boetticher became a producer for his last two films for Scott (the production banner was changed from Scott-Brown to Ranown) and Kennedy, whose contract at Batjac had expired, wrote magnificent original scripts that echoed the strengths of Seven Men From Now. Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station are a pair of films with almost identical plots but essential, elegant differences. Scott plays self-imposed outcasts with a past and a mission, and his journeys becomes wound up with a woman he saves/escorts and a collection of mercenary outlaws who invite themselves along as riding companions and competitors: both after the same thing and neither ready to back down. Yet these men that would see each other dead will save each other's lives before the final showdown.
In Ride Lonesome, the men are Boone and Wid (Pernell Roberts and James Coburn, in his film debut), outlaws who want to start fresh. Bringing in wanted man Billy John (James Best at his punk kid best) will give them amnesty, but Scott's driven bounty hunter Brigade has already captured him and he's on a mission of vengeance against Billy John's ruthless criminal brother (Lee Van Cleef, who brings an oily charm to the role). In Comanche Station, Scott's nemesis is Ben Lane (Claude Akins), a smiling snake of a outlaw who wants the reward that Scott's Jefferson Cody is due for rescuing a white woman (Nancy Gates) from Indian captivity.
Ride Lonesome became Boetticher's first widescreen production and he settled into the CinemaScope format by shooting longer takes, often shooting complete traveling scenes in one long take using a dolly car. The films, shot in Boetticher's defining landscape of Lone Pine, chronicle long journeys, with pauses and stops along the way, which begin and end in the wilderness, and again the terrain is used to dramatic effect. Scott makes his entrance into each film walking through a sheer crevice, hemmed in by walls of rock on either side, and this barren image is the defining state of his world: barren deserts, rugged plains where the rocks jut out of the Earth instead of trees, and featureless valleys, all ringed by distant mountains that are as much fences as borders, trapping them in a domain far from civilization. Even when the films leaves the sun-parched desert for the green coolness of the forest, it's merely an oasis in the self-inflicted purgatory. Boetticher carefully paces the rhythm of landscape his parties travel through, which served the crew as well as the film; a stop-off in a shady grove or by a cool river was good for company morale during the shoot.
"A man needs a reason to ride this country. You gotta reason?" invariably Scott asks the men he meets in the nowhereland of the desert. More than a valid query, it's a telling one. These characters are driven by the past and can't stop talking of the future, but the films are viscerally in the moment, in the now, as if neither past nor future exist. When all is said and done, these final films are American frontier odysseys with tragic dimensions and Scott is like a mythic figure doomed to wander the deserts for eternity in his obsessive quests.
The films were very financially successful and largely ignored by critics at the time for the very elements that make them so great. These low budgets films are modest productions, unpretentious westerns pared down to their essentials, lean stories about men on the frontier living a life in a dangerous, inhospitable world. Years later these tight, taut, often savage little pictures were reassessed and recognized as classics of the genre. The five films were branded "the Ranown Cycle," which is technically incorrect but serves its purpose just fine, and the name has a certain frontier color to it.
All five films have been beautifully restored and remastered for DVD. The images are sharp and the color vivid. The film grain is evident in the darker scenes, which is appropriate and part of the film's texture. The earlier three films, which have been shown on TV in full-screen editions (when shown at all), have been mastered in their proper theatrical aspect ratio (adjusted to the 16x9 format of widescreen TVs). The CinemaScope films are beautifully mastered in the correct widescreen format and correct years of bad pan-&-scan TV prints.
Among the film's fans and supporters are Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, both of whom are involved in the DVD release. Martin Scorsese provides a marvelous video introduction to The Tall T (and, by extension, the entire series) and Ride Lonesome with a mixture of historical perspective and cinephile love of the films, but beware that he does include "spoilers." His introductions (and everyone else's) should probably be seen after the films. Clint Eastwood introduces Comanche Station, but an even greater contribution is the documentary Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That, a feature-length portrait of the director and his life and career produced by Eastwood and directed by Bruce Ricker. Ed Harris narrates the production, originally made for and shown on Turner Classic Movies, it's an excellent overview with rare interview footage with the director, who had died before the documentary was made. The documentary is on the first disc with The Tall T, accessed through the "Special Features" (a minor design flaw on the rather basic menus). Taylor Hackford provides the introductions to Decision at Sundown and Buchanan Rides Alone with more enthusiasm than insight and provides commentary on Comanche Station. More informative commentary tracks are offered by film historians Jeanine Basinger on The Tall T and Jeremy Arnold on Ride Lonesome. These film professors have a relaxed approach to their talks and provide both historical background and critical observations. The set is not lavish, but the supplements and the transfers are excellent. This is the presentation that these films deserve: lean, respectful, rich with information.
For more information about The Films of Budd Boetticher, visit Sony Pictures.To order The Films of Budd Boetticher, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker
The Films of Budd Boetticher Box Set
Although an August 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item puts Al Wyatt and Dick Farnsworth in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The Variety review misspells Pernell Roberts' name as "Parnell." According to an August 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, location filming was done in Lone Pine, CA. Ride Lonesome marked the motion picture debut of James Coburn (1928-2002).
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1983
Released in United States April 1994
Released in United States May 1989
Shown at Film Forum in New York City May 23 & 24, 1989.
Shown at USA Film Festival in Dallas April 21-28, 1994.
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States May 1989 (Shown at Film Forum in New York City May 23 & 24, 1989.)
Released in United States April 1994 (Shown at USA Film Festival in Dallas April 21-28, 1994.)
Released in United States 1983 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A "B-Movie" Marathon) April 13 - May 1, 1983.)