Even those of us who have spent tens of thousands of hours watching movies have blind spots – important paths in film history that we have never explored or, perhaps even more embarrassingly, major films whose grandeur we have never really grasped. But being locked in is the perfect time to open doors. Here is a new section dedicated to bridge films. If you are not familiar with an essential director, I will recommend the perfect place to start. If you’ve always thought that a particular type of film wasn’t for you, the goal is to change that.
Let’s start with the great outdoors and a genre that has been repeated several times for the dead: the western, which undoubtedly lives in revisionist variations (“Unforgiven”, “Deadwood”) and the most enduring of all parodies, ” Blazing Saddles “. “When people say they hate westerns, I always think they imagine something like” Bonanza “or a movie like” Shane “. Without disrespecting” Shane “too much, the best westerns are rarely as clear in their boundaries of good and evil. They deal in moral gray areas; they take place while society is still in the process of establishing basic laws and codes of honor.
The western cycle that director Budd Boetticher directed with actor Randolph Scott from 1956 to 1960 is an excellent entry point.
They’re fast (all last less than 80 minutes), they are master classes in tight scripting and outstanding, and, although they can be watched in any order, they illustrate how the meaning of westerns often resides in theme and variation.
Film buffs wonder if the official cycle count should include the seven Boetticher-Scott collaborations or just six (excluding “Westbound”, a 1959 misfire that Boetticher had hastily signed). All except their final film are available on the main services.
“Seven men from now on” (1956): Rent or buy on Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.
“The big T” (1957): Rent or buy on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu.
“Decision at sunset” (1957): Post it on Tubi.
“Buchanan rides alone” (1958): Rent on Google Play, iTunes and Vudu; also available for purchase on these services as well as on Amazon.
“Ride Lonesome” (1959): Streaming on Flix Fling, or available for purchase or rental on this service as well as on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu.
“Westbound” (1959): Buy or rent on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu.
“Gare Comanche” (1960): Not yet available.
Hard to the bone, Boetticher’s films were B films in their time. These are not the most poetic westerns (for that, see “My Darling Clementine” or almost any other John Ford release). But they are perhaps the most archetypal, and watching them in succession almost takes you into the genre spectrum, from the portrait of a lawyer just to the darkest corners of revisionism. (Although more famous for westerns, Boetticher also produced superb blacks like “The Killer Is Loose”.)
One of the keys to cinema is simply to observe Scott, stoic towards the outside, whose accent and attitudes vary from one image to another. In “Seven Men From Now”, he plays a former sheriff tracking down the men who murdered his wife, killed in a job she took only because he refused to work as an assistant. Barely two films later, Scott’s case is less clearly justified in “Sunset Decision”, which points out that something is wrong with the main character by presenting him with a thatched face. The film takes the power of revenge away from the character of Scott, a boastful cuckold named Bart Allison, and gives it to the people of Sundown, who have their own reasons for chasing the villain (John Carroll) out of town.
As with all of Boetticher’s films, it is difficult not to marvel at the economy of storytelling which, in “Decision”, follows a large ensemble over a single day (a day which, yes, ends with a sunset). The depiction of stray city dwellers has a low gloom similar to Eugene O’Neill. A saloonkeeper sums up the atmosphere: “If you had kept a bar as long as I did, you wouldn’t expect as much from the human race.”
“Ride Lonesome”, with the wide screen panoramic views of CinemaScope, has the feeling of a highlight. Scott is Ben Brigade, a ruthless bounty hunter and (again) a dead woman avenger, but this time an abandoned border homemaker (Karen Steele) makes him wonder if his last bounty should be hanged. Narratively, the film follows a strategy introduced in “Seven Men From Now”, teaming up with the character of Scott with a natural enemy (the gold hunter Lee Marvin in “Seven Men”; Pernell Roberts and James Coburn as out -the law seeking amnesty in “Ride Lonesome”) for a common cause, postponing an inevitable showdown. Even with men in constant motion, the film plays like a dead end of feature film.
The intrigues, typically scripted by Burt Kennedy or Charles Lang (“The Tall T” comes from a story by Elmore Leonard), are almost Socratic in the way they overlap the complications. As others have suggested, Boetticher’s westerns are also unusually claustrophobic. They are used to isolating characters in campsites, stables, prison cells and clearings, thus reversing the possibility of escape and travel inherent in the genre. But that’s another way of saying that these films bring out the versatility of westerns. They are the opposite of wagon films.
You will sometimes have to bear racial attitudes worthy of cringe. The portrayal of Native Americans as wild horse-eaters and husband-slayers does not suit modern eyes, and the name of Henry Silva’s character in “The Tall T” is so offensive that it cannot be printed.
But Boetticher also won credit for his progressiveness, which can be seen in the misleading title “Buchanan Rides Alone”, which finds Scott, as a wandering Texan named Tom Buchanan, forging a friendship with a Mexican, Juan (Manuel Rojas) , whose father is widely regarded as a populist benefactor in Mexico. But Juan – and initially Buchanan – must be hanged for murder in a corrupt border town, headed by an independent family whose members include the sheriff and the judge.
If the central question of a western is how we live together in a just society, then Boetticher’s films play as a continuous and ever more in-depth argument.