My review of The Films of Budd Boetticher DVD box set is on the Turner Classic Movies website.
The films of Budd Boetticher have been criminally unavailable on home video. As of October, 2008, only four of his 35 features were available on DVD. That alone makes The Films of Budd Boetticher, a box set of five westerns directed by Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, an important release. That they represent some of the greatest American westerns of the fifties makes the set essential.
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.
Read the complete review of the set (and the subsequent four films in the collection) here.