Tuesday, November 15, 2005

THE TALL T (1957) - Budd Boetticher

This is the first Budd Boetticher film I’ve seen, and I have to admit I’m only mildly impressed. I happened upon a couple of Boetticher articles after his death a few years ago which basically painted him out to be one of those misunderstood geniuses, forever being re-edited by the studios while battling inner demons. Supposedly, he’d made a few classic westerns with Randolph Scott, had a colorful history as a bullfighter in Mexico, along with a few stints in jails and insane asylums. In other words, he sounded like a pretty interesting dude -- someone who could bring some hardcore life experience to the table.
Well, The Tall T does have some fine western pedigree. A script by Elmore Leonard and Burt Kennedy. Randolph Scott in the lead and nice supporting cast rounded out by baddie-extraordinaire Henry Silva. But I have to admit, other than a few more killings than usual and one mighty-fine bull-riding scene, it didn’t play that much different than a better-than-average episode of Gunsmoke, or maybe a decent Rifleman.

The story is a standard kidnapping and revenge yarn. Scott plays a rancher who’s lost his horse in a bet and hitches a ride on a stagecoach with a newlywed couple to the next outpost where his friends live, only to find it taken over by three bandits. Turns out, they shot Scott’s friends dead and dropped them in a well (even a young boy!) and now plan to hold the rich newlywed couple for ransom. Most of the movie plays out the tension between Scott and the lead baddie as they are held captive and await the return of the ransom money. It’s a fair amount of tension, although an actor less wooden than Scott could have probably made it work more to his advantage, not to mention the love interest that’s supposed to develop between him and the new bride.

Supposedly, Boetticher is known and praised for his “deceptively simplistic” approach to complex subjects, almost to the point of archetype. And I think he usually gets a fair shake for his compositions too.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I picked up on either in The Tall T. The story just seemed simply “simple” and my VHS copy, though slightly cropped, didn’t offer anything more than the enjoyably normal western vistas. Maybe I’ll give him one more film before I reach a verdict…Seven Men from Now or perhaps Ride Lonesome. This time, I'll hold out for the DVD.

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