The best of the Scott/Boetticher films
Ride Lonesome, is that rare B-film, one that eclipses in a wink most of its bigger budgeted brethren. The return of scripter Burt Kennedy (who had not done the two previous Scott/Boetticher films) to the Ranown company (founded by Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown), the close group harmony, resulted in an obviously glorious reunion for all concerned.
Shot entirely outdoors, like “The Tall T,” we have large open spaces, but a tightly confined group. This time the bounty isn’t gold or money – it’s outlaw Billy John (James Best). Former sheriff Ben Brigade has captured him, counting on Billy John’s brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) to come get him. Brigade has a score to settle, the murder of his wife, and he intends to settle it at a tree that holds relevance to both lawman and outlaw. Scott is joined by two minor lawbreakers, in whose hope of amnesty provided by the turning over of Billy John to authorities, provides the alliance of adversaries so common to the Boetticher films. Pernell Roberts, the more worldly and intelligent of the two, like Brigade, is looking for personal redemption, and the hope of his own ranch once he settles down. He acts a big brother to the less intelligent, and basically decent, James Coburn, in his filmic debut, is a long way from his more forceful character that would surface in later westerns of Sturges and Peckinpah. Karen Steele is on hand again (she was in “Decision at Sundown”), the group finds her alone in a way station, threatened by the Indians who killed her husband. She serves as conscience and libido stimulator, and her breathtaking appearance is highlighted in what is one of the film’s most humorous moments (“I said her eyes”).
So, avoiding the Indians on their trail, and the threat of Frank’s gang, Brigade leads the group to the inevitable showdown at the hanging tree that will determine the fate of the group, and the individual futures of each.
Ranown, Boetticher and Kennedy had one more film to go, the actor was slowing down – after years of averaging three per year, there were just two releases in both 1957 and 1958, Ride Lonesome was the only film for 1959, and 1960’s Comanche Station would be the sole film for Scott until 1962’s valedictory film known as Ride the High Country.