Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ride the High Country

Ride the High Country is one of my favorite westerns. I sometimes think you have to be around my age, or even older, to appreciate the movie fully because it's not about just the characters on the screen. For me, it's also about what Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea bring with them to the story, the hundred Saturday afternoons I spent in little shoebox theaters watching those two in western movies, most of them in black and white. The elegaic tone of the whole thing works better because of that. This was the last movie Scott ever made. McCrea made a couple of others, but maybe he shouldn't have.

Two old lawmen who've out-lived their time sign on to bring a gold shipment down from a mine. It's the first job in a long time for Steve Judd (McRea). Gil Westrum (Scott) has been working as a Buffalo Bill knock-off in a carnival. His plan is to steal the gold with the help of his young partner, and he hopes to talk McRea into going along. Judd's too upright to do any such thing, of course, and in the end, so is Westrum, just as anybody who grew up watching them would know. When Scott comes riding up for the final showdown with the sorry Hammond brothers, I always feel like applauding.

There's a lot more going on in the movie than the plot, and I love the little touches in the opening scene when Judd thinks the townspeople are there to see him and not some race with a camel. And the scene where he wants to read his contract in private so he can use his glasses. And just about any scene where Scott's telling his young partner about Judd. And any scene where McCrea and Scott are together.
Sometimes I tend to forget that both those men were actors, and good ones. Every time I watch this movie, I'm reminded of that, and they were never better than here, at least not as far as I'm concerned.

I first saw this movie more than 40 years ago. Judy and I were dating, and I took her to see it. We've both loved it ever since.

5 comments:

  1. I sure agree, Bill. This is one of the most elegaic movies of any kind I've ever seen. And notable in more ways than one. It was the last important traditional western. It was the end of a Hollywood era that these two men represented. And I think in a profound way it was a commentary (intended or not) on the passing of the America that you, Judy and I grew up in. At the time this first appeared, the civil rights movement was beginning to have real power, we were committing even more troops to Viet Nam and JFK would soon enough be murdered. As much as the film is a celebration of what was, it is a also dirge for what can never be again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm a few years younger than you, Bill, and I haven't seen many westerns in shoebox theaters. But I'm a huge fan of Ride The High Country. It was a great way for Scott to bow out, and it's probably Sam Peckinpah's best film.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think Ed nailed it. And Vince, thanks, but I know you're a lot more than a few years younger than I am. You're right about the movie, though.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I wish I'd seen in on the big screen. But I agree that it's a great movie and a great story about the decline of the Old West.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree with Vince's assessment that Ride the High Country is Peckinpah's best--I was never a Peckinpah fan, agreeing with Howard Hawks' gripe that he could kill 40 men in the time Sam took to kill one. I've decided that the ideal way for me to shuffle off this mortal coil is to go out just like Joel McCrea did at the film's end, with my best friend backing me up all the way.

    ReplyDelete