Wednesday, May 4, 2016


"I dwell in possibility
A fairer house than prose
More numerous of windows
Superior of doors
Of chambers as the cedars
Impregnable of eye"

- Emily Dickinson

Bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) catches up with his prey -- young shoot-`em-in-the-back outlaw Billy John (James Best). On their return toward Santa Cruz, Brigade and Billy run into Brigade acquaintance Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Boone's sidekick (James Coburn), two men also planning on taking in Billy John – in Boone’s case for the promised amnesty. Also met with is a lovely, slender, recently widowed blonde woman (Karen Steele), who becomes an object of love for the four men. Toward Santa Cruz, being pursued by five killers led by Billy John’s older brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef), Brigade’s route becomes the slowest, most open and circuitous possible, as it becomes clear Brigade’s real motive is not grabbing the bounty on Billy John’s head, but the inevitable confrontation with brother Frank -– the man who hanged Ben Brigade’s young wife.

Gruesome as the story can sound, Boetticher and Scott’s Ride Lonesome (1959) is one of the warmest, gentlest, most intimate and tender of great genre movies. And one of the strangest. It is built on seven sequences, alternating day-and-night: a very wide, always outdoors (there are no interiors) chamber piece. Charles Lawton Jr. and Henri Jaffa's color scheme flips from a faded daylight of sun, bone, silver, scarlet, smoke, rust to a Tintoretto darkness of vibrant chestnut, deep blacks and browns, fire. The movie is 72-minutes long. Yet what other movie takes its time as intensely and deeply as does this one?

Here, in a 3-and-a-half minute shot, Ride Lonesome breaks all bounds.

Roberts as Boone and the sweet, gangly Coburn move together in a loving and kind friendship. All the night scenes are luminous, as if in secret: very dark with still camera, forcing us to become part of words, tone, gestures. The characters in Brigade's group have their one-on-one with each other, usually at night. (Opposed to brother Frank's four horsemen who run away at first sight of their boss's blood.) The most likeable character in the story is the shackled young outlaw. And we want Billy John to be taken in by Boone: we want Boone and young Witt to have their place and their chance to begin again.

Director Boetticher's intimate chain has smaller links, reminiscent of Ozu pillow-shots, brief pauses where nothing happens except the beauty and tenderness of the pauses themselves. (Embraced by Heinz Roemheld's delicate, Sketches of Spain-like score.)

Randolph Scott, in his calm focus on the coming meeting with Frank, acts as the tender germ in the living plasma of the picture. We realize his love for Karen Steele by his choice to tear himself open and tell her of his kidnapped, raped, and hanged young wife. It sets us up for a fully satisfying and realized emotional and thematic closure -- one of the best endings we'll ever see.