MOD Movies: Budd Boetticher in the City

Despite the efforts of such fans as Clint Eastwood, who produced two documentaries on the director, and Martin Scorsese, Budd Boetticher is still a name known mainly to film historians and fans of classic westerns. Boetticher made some of the greatest, purest, most austere westerns of all time: Seven Men From Now (available from Paramount), The Tall T, Comanche Station and Ride Lonesome (the latter three in a box set from Sony and Scorsese’s The Film Foundation). But like any successful director of the era, Boetticher made a lot more than just westerns. Yes, he did direct three bullfighting dramas (talk about a specialized niche), but he made war pictures, adventures, youth dramas, mysteries and crime pictures. Two of his best crime films arrived almost simultaneously via MOD earlier this.

Between his big studio breakthrough at Universal (where he made nine pictures in two years, most of them westerns) and his first of seven pictures with Randolph Scott, Boetticher directed The Killer Is Loose (MGM Limited), a 1956 crime drama starring Joseph Cotten as a police detective whose wife (Rhonda Fleming) is targeted by an escaped criminal looking for payback. Wendell Corey is superb as the soft-spoken bank teller turned robber who becomes twisted by revenge and pretty much slips over the edge of sanity. Boetticher’s biggest strength is efficiency and restraint, creating a camaraderie in the police squad room and a sense history between Cotten and his partner (Michael Pate), and he’s at his best building tension through dialogue and stillness that builds to a sudden burst of action. When Corey takes his former sergeant (John Larch) hostage, he never looses that quiet, deliberate composure, calmly reasoning his way to murder and executing his sacrifice without hesitation. Boetticher punctuates the gunshot with one of the great images of explosive violence: a shattered milk bottle. The sudden explosion shatters the tension of the deliberately measured scene and the burst of white milk against Larch’s black suit gives the sound a striking visual dimension.

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‘The Films of Budd Boetticher Box Set’ on TCM

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.

Randolph Scott flags down viewers for "The Tall T"
Randolph Scott flags down viewers for "The Tall T"

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.

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DVD of the Week – The Films Of Budd Boetticher – Nov 4, 2008

Budd Boetticher, one of the most neglected of American auteurs, gets some much overdue respect with the marvelous box set The Films of Budd Boetticher, a collection of five features starring Randolph Scott and produced by Scott’s production company. The films are not exactly B-movies but they are lean productions, shot on 18-days schedules and small budgets, and not a one of them breaks 80 minutes. In a few of the most urban theaters they might have played bottom of a double bill, but most everywhere else these films were sold on the strength of star Randolph Scott and his track record as a reliable western star. Boetticher took the “limitations” of his stiff, craggy star and turned them into essential elements of his characters, a hard, inexpressive man at home on a horse and in the wilderness, a survivor with few words and no wasted actions. When he moved, it meant something.

The earliest film in the set, The Tall T (1957) is also one of the best and a genuine western classic, with a tiny central cast and vivid characters carved out of the rogues gallery, especially Richard Boone as the charming but ruthless gangleader. Burt Kennedy, who first worked with Budd Boetticher on Seven Men From Now, writes the perfectly tuned, beautifully austere script and Boetticher matches it with a style stripped of all flourish and focused in on the tensions and dynamics that play out in the hostage situation.

The set includes the offbeat black comedy Buchanan Rides Alone and the grim Decision at Sundown (all mastered to fit the 16×9 frame) along with his widescreen classics Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station, both scripted by Kennedy and set in the almost abstract nowhereland of the desert. The latter films, like The Tall T, are lean stories about men on the dangerous, inhospitable frontier, and they stand next to the greatest works of Anthony Mann and John Ford.

Read my DVD review on MSN here.

Also new this week is the cult sci-fi show The Starlost, famously created by Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova, who took their name of the project when they saw what the budget-starved Canadian project turned into. Or at least Ellison did, turning to the pseudonym “Cordwainer Bird” for creator and script credits. Bova’s name stuck as science adviser, much to his chagrin in a show that pointedly ignored all his science advice. Keir Dullea (of 2001 fame) stars as a kind of flower child peacenik who rebels against his repressive agrarian culture (a cross between an Amish village and a religious cult) and the dictatorial leader (guest star sterling Hayden) and discovers his enclosed society is really a sealed pod on a giant crewless space ark that has drifted off course. It’s sort of like Star Trek, except all the new life and new civilizations are discovered in the many sealed pods on this ship, which Dullea and his companions (Gay Rowan and Robin Ward) explore on a scavenger hunt to find the lost secrets of the science and engineering needed to put the ship back on course. The Canadian series was shot on videotape and filled with primitive video blue-screen effects, which are more endearing than convincing, and was shown in the U.S. on NBC in 1973 until it was cancelled. The four disc set features all 16 episodes, most of which have not been seen in syndication for decades. the DVD review is featured in the DVD column’s TV section.
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Budd Boetticher Week at Parallax View

In celebration of the release of The Films of Budd Boetticher, I’ve been revisiting the films and career of Budd Boetticher, a director I had the honor of meeting and interviewing. He died in 2001 just as his legacy was being rediscovered with a restoration of his largely MIA classic Seven Men From Now and revivals of his great “Ranown” films, five features directed by Boetticher for Randolph Scott’s production company, each starring Scott. Those five features are collected in the new box set.

At Parallax View I offer an introduction, an interview and an appreciation of the director and his career:

Budd Boetticher: An Introduction

Budd Boetticher and the Ranown Cycle: “What a director is supposed to do” (an interview with the director)

Budd Boetticher: A Career

Also, see Richard T. Jameson’s review of Seven Men From Now.

A review of the box set will headline my “DVD of the Week” feature tomorrow.

Budd Boetticher in his office, 1988
Budd Boetticher in his office (a converted stable), 1988. A practice bull in the background, bullfighting photos and posters on the wall. Photo by me.