Having spent numerous hours watching all of the films featured in this three-part article on a series of seven movies known as the ‘Ranown’ cycle, I’ve decided to reference a well-informed essay by film critic Richard T. Jameson in the introduction in order to set the scene, so over to you Mr. Jameson.
“The ‘Ranown cycle’ is the designation critics have awarded a remarkable series of low-budget Westerns from the late Fifties, starring Randolph Scott and directed by Budd Boetticher: “Seven Men from Now” (1956), “The Tall T” (1957), ”Decision at Sundown” (1957), “Buchanan Rides Alone” (1958), “Ride Lonesome” (1959), “Westbound” (1959) and “Comanche Station” 1960.
An acronym derived from Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown, ‘Ranown’ is not quite synonymous with Scott-Brown Productions, the partnership responsible for a line of bread-and-butter Westerns extending back to the late Forties.
Moreover, “Seven Men from Now”, the film that brought Scott and Boetticher together – therefore qualifying as the first installment in the cycle – did not involve Brown, but was made under the auspices of John Wayne’s company, Batjac. To muddy the waters further, “Westbound”, the sixth of the seven movies that Scott and Boetticher made in close succession, was strictly a contract job for Warner Brothers.“
Burt Kennedy, later to become a director in his own right, penned four of the screenplays with Charles Lang contributing scripts for two and Bernie Giler one.
As you will discover in the extremely detailed reviews that follow, the stories were quite similar from one film to the next with each movie featuring an amazing array of acting talent including names such as Lee Marvin, Richard Boone, James Coburn, Gail Russell, Claude Akins, Lee Van Cleef and Henry Silva to mention just a few.
The ‘Ranown’ films have gained in critical popularity over the years as has the six films Scott made with director Andre DeToth a year or two before commencing his run with Boetticher, but that’s another article for another time.
Seven Men From Now (1956)
Batjac Productions, Dir: Budd Boetticher, Screenplay: Burt Kennedy, colour, 78m
Cast: Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed, John Larch, Don ‘Red’ Barry
As already mentioned, “Seven Men from Now” is actually a Batjac production, the initial intention being that John Wayne would take on the lead role. He passed and did “The Searchers” instead, but when he approached Scott to take over the lead role the actor insisted they use Boetticher as director. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s an unusually dark beginning with Randolph Scott as Ben ridge appearing unexpectedly from out of the darkness, busting in on a couple of men sheltering from a storm and availing himself of some of their hot coffee.
Within minutes Ridge has killed both of them, although we’re not sure why until later.
The following day Ridge chances upon a married couple making their way out west, John Greer (Walter Reed) and his wife Annie (Gail Russell), and helps them pull their wagon from the mud.
Ridge stays with them, intending to help the couple find their way to the border at Flora Vista. From out of the wilderness appear two men, Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and Clete (Don ‘Red’ Barry’) who have been following Ridge and the Greers at a distance.
Along the way, a cavalry patrol, headed up by Lt. Collins (Stuart Whitman), warns Ridge and his companions to turn back as the Chiricahua tribe are on the warpath but they ignore the advice and keep on the trail to Flora Vista.
Arriving at a relay station in the middle of nowhere Ridge encounters Bill and Clete and it soon becomes clear Ridge and Bill have met before. The history between the two of them makes for a number of entertaining exchanges, in particular
[Ridge] “I’d hate to have to kill you”
[Bill] “I’d hate to have you try”
Gail Russell as the female interest Annie Greer certainly stirs up a lot of interest as far as Bill is concerned. He starts spilling the beans about a hold-up at the Wells Fargo office in Silver City, which resulted in a woman working there being gunned down.
He tells Annie the murdered woman was the sheriff’s wife, and Ridge was the sheriff.
It eventually comes out that, prior to the holdup, Ridge had lost his job and his pride stopped him from taking on the lesser role as deputy to the new sheriff. This meant his wife had to take on a job which lead to her working at the Wells Fargo office the day of the robbery.
Since then Ridge has been tracking down the seven men responsible for his wife’s death. Bill and Clete have been following Ridge’s trail of the dead on the supposition that when he finally tracks down the seven men, now reduced to five after having taken out the first two at the beginning of the film, he’ll also find the stolen Wells Fargo money of twenty-thousand dollars, money Bill and Clete then intend to take from Ridge.
As they continue their journey to the Flora Vista a stranger appears chased by a group of Chiricahua warriors.
As Ridge goes to retrieve the stranger’s horse Bill guns the man down in the back, telling Ridge the man was aiming to kill him, thus saving his life. It also means the seven men on Ridge’s list are now down to four.
The constant goading of Annie’s meek and mild-mannered husband eventually erupts into violence, Ridge punching Bill in the face for belittling Mr. Greer in front of his wife.
Bill and Clete take their leave and ride ahead into Flora Vista where they meet up with Payte Bodine (John Larch). It’s obvious he and his three colleagues are the remaining four men Ridge is looking for.
During the course of striking an agreement with Bill that he’ll pay for any information he has regarding the whereabouts of Ridge, Bodine lets on he and his boys are waiting for the arrival of a wagon carrying the spoils of the Wells Fargo robbery, the very wagon owned by the Greer’s.
Back on the trail Ridge takes his leave of the Greer’s, but not before Annie tries to give him a goodbye kiss. Ridge is then drygulched by two of Bodine’s men and is shot in the leg but he gets the better of them, making five men down and two to go.
The Greers find Ridge lying unconscious and tend to his wounds. John Greer eventually confesses to his wife that they’ve been carrying the Wells Fargo cash stolen back in Silver City. Ridge then miraculously gains consciousness and takes the box of cash in order to lure the rest of the bad guys out to him where he can take them down.
Before Greer’s leave for Flora Vista, the husband insists he was unaware that the money had been stolen by the men responsible for killing Ridge’s wife. Ridge replies “If I thought it were any different I’d have killed you”
Upon reaching town Greer assumes he’ll find a sheriff to help sort everything out but for all of his altruism he still ends up being shot in the back by Bodine for having left the money with Ridge.
Even Bill is left admiring the dead man he once thought was too weak for a woman such as Annie, who is left to grieve over her murdered husband.
Bodine and the one surviving crony go after the money box, Ridge having left it out in plain sight. In quick succession, both men are dispatched at the end of a gun, but not a gun belonging to Ridge. It’s Bill and Clete doing the shooting, Bill then taking out his own partner who dies still with his cigarette clamped between his lips.
It’s now down to the inevitable clash between Ridge and Bill, with Ridge naturally winning the showdown and killing the man who once saved his life. Back at Flora Vista Ridge
says goodbye to Mrs. Greer who decides to hang around on the chance he might ride back that way later on down the line.
The Tall T
(1957) Scott-Brown Productions, Dir: Budd Boetticher, Screenplay: Burt Kennedy, colour, 78m
Cast: Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Sullivan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Skip Homeier, Henry Silva
Based upon a short story by Elmore Leonard, “The Tall T” finds Randy in a lighter frame of mind than in “Seven Men from Now”, although the comedic tone disappears quite quickly once villain Frank Usher, played by a malevolent Richard Boone, makes his appearance.
The dark beginning of the previous film is replaced by a more traditional Western movie opening in which Scott, as rancher Pat Brennan, emerges from out of the wilderness very much in the style of “Hondo” and “Shane”, even being greeted by a young boy, Jeff, as he approaches the stagecoach station run by Jeff’s father, Hank.
Within the space of a very short time, Brennan rides into town to get Jeff some candy, strikes a bet with his former employer that he can ride a wild bull, loses the bet and his horse and is left to walk back to the station with a heavy saddle slung over his shoulder.
The local stagecoach driver Rintoon (Arthur Hunnicutt), offers Brennan a lift although one of his passengers, the husband of the newly married couple going off to their honeymoon, insists Brennan is banished from sitting inside the coach, just as Paul Newman was treated in “Hombre”, another Elmore Leonard story.
Rintoon tells Brennan that the plain looking bride, Doretta Mims (Maureen O’Sullivan), is unaware that her new husband Willard (John Hubbard), has only married her for her fortune, Doretta’s father being a very rich man.
They pull up at the station but instead of finding Hank and little Jeff, they stumble upon Frank Usher and his equally despicable companions Billy Jack (Skip Homeier), and Chink (Henry Silva).
Chink demonstrates his penchant for cold-blooded murder by killing Rintoon when the driver goes for his gun. To make matters worse both Hank and Jeff have also been dispatched and thrown down the drinking well where the body of Rintoon soon joins them.
Frank confesses he and the boys were actually waiting to hold up the scheduled coach instead but then luck comes their way when the mealy-mouthed husband ingratiates himself with Frank by telling him his new wife has a rich father.
Frank lets Mimms go to meet the father and demand a $50,000 dollar ransom for the release of his daughter. The rest of the group then abandon the stage station and hide out near an old cabin until Mimms returns.
Brennan bides his time, which isn’t easy, as he starts to realise how much of a sadist Frank actually is, laughing when Mrs. Mimms burns her hand on a hot coffee pot and when Brennan hits his head on the top of a door jam.
Frank then reveals to the wife that her husband has offered to help arrange a ransom payment from her father.
Frank reveals his true colours when Mimms comes back to reveal the ransom is going to be paid and then gets shot in the back for his efforts by Chink. Despite her distress, the distraught wife also realises she married a bad’un who didn’t really love her.
Cooped up under guard together in the cabin, Brennan makes his feelings known towards Mrs. Mimms who returns her affections in kind, although at one point he warns her “I’m not going to get shot in the belly just because you feel sorry for yourself” A hard man indeed.
Before riding off to get the ransom money Frank confesses to Brennan that the only reason he’s still alive is because Frank has taken a liking to him.
Chink starts to get nervous about the possibility of him and Billy Jack getting double-crossed by their boss so he rides off after Frank. This gives Brennan and Mrs. Mimms the opportunity to jump Billy, she using her feminine wiles to lure him into the cabin where he and Frank tussle, Billy succumbing to death by a shotgun blast to the face.
Chink hears the shot, rides back to the cabin and meets his demise courtesy of Brennan.
Frank returns to find Chink and Billy Jack dead, pointing out to Brennan that if it hadn’t been for him Brennan would also have found himself dumped down the well along with Hank, Jeff and Rintoon.
Frank hands over the ransom money then rides away but, as Brennan told Mrs. Mimms earlier, “Some things a man can’t ride round”, so he doubles back to kill Brennan and receives a blast of lead for his troubles.
Stuck out in the middle of nowhere without horses to get them to the nearest town, the two survivors walk arm-in-arm towards some kind of future together, Brennan telling the ex-Mrs Mimms, “Come on. It’s gonna be a nice day”.
There are a couple of similarities between “Seven Men from Now” and “The Tall T”, notably the fact that Scott’s character finds himself caught in a fraught situation between a married couple, the husbands in each film meeting an untimely death before the final reel.
The relationship between Brennan and Frank in “The Tall T” also mirrors that of Ridge and Bill Masters in the earlier film, right down to the point where Randy is forced to kill a man who has previously saved his life.
Considering we’re discussing what is essentially a series of B movies, “The Tall T” is particularly impressive and considered by some critics as being the best of the ‘Ranown’ efforts.
Having said that, there are another five films to go so don’t make up your mind on that particular question until you’ve read parts two and three of our article.
Randolph Scott / ‘Ranown cycle’ Westerns Part 2
Welcome to the second part of our in-depth review on the Randolph Scott / ‘Ranown cycle’ Westerns. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at three of the entries in the series, with two of them considered to be genuine bona fide Randy Scott classics. We think so anyway.
Decision at Sundown (1957) Scott-Brown Productions
Dir: Budd Boetticher, Screenplay: Charles Lang, colour, 77m
Cast: Randolph Scott, John Carroll, Karen Steele, Valerie French, Noah Beery Jr., John Archer
You’re left to wonder what kind of character Randy is at the beginning of this one seeing as it starts with him, as passenger Bart Allison, fixes to rob the stage he’s riding.
The stagecoach drivers and the other occupants of the coach feel a whole lot better when they realise the man with the gun has just hitched a ride in order to meet up with his faithful sidekick Sam, played by Noah Beery Jr., but for a minute there it looked like Randy / Bart was walking the wrong side of the law.
Bart and Sam mosey on down to the town of Sundown where Bart visits the barbershop, getting into a discussion about a woman named Lucy Summerton, played by Karen Steele, who is set to marry Tate Kimbourough, played by John Carroll, a man Bart states as being ‘rotten’.
All of this upsets the customer in the barbershop who happens to be Lucy’s father, the familiar theme of not very nice men marrying above their station raising its ugly head once more.
It’s now obvious from this point on that Bart isn’t just in town to congratulate the lucky bridegroom.
Meanwhile, the swine that is Tate Kimbrough argues with his girlfriend Ruby (Valerie French), who insists on attending the wedding even though she thought Tate and her were an item.
He acquiesces to Ruby’s request but then notches up the swine quotient a few more notches by telling her she can’t sit in the front pew. At the same time, Bart and Sam go to get their horses settled and get into conversation with the local doctor, Doc Storrow (John Archer), who mistakes the pair for friends of Kimbrough.
He tells them that ‘Some folks around here figure that Sundown doesn’t need any more of Tate Kimbrough’s friends” to which an unimpressed Bart threateningly replies “We ain’t interested in what some folks around here figure”.
They make their way over to the local saloon where Bart refuses to take a free drink paid for by Kimbrough. Sheriff Hansen (Andrew Duggan) drops the money Bart insists on paying for the drinks with into the nearest spittoon. Holy Rio Bravo.
The tension is broken when Ruby saunters down the stairs, dressed to kill, and wanders out of the saloon to attend the wedding.
The sheriff, who is obviously in cahoots with Kimbrough, refuses Bart’s suggestion that he retrieve the money he dropped into the spittoon, thus setting up a confrontation between the two of them further on down the line.
Bart attends the ceremony and when the preacher asks if there is any who objects to bride and groom marrying he speaks up, pulls his gun and tells Kimbrough to “Think back to Sabine Pass and a girl called Mary”.
The confused groom professes he’s never met Bart before, with Lucy adding she won’t let Bart stop the wedding, prompting him to inform her that if the wedding goes ahead she’ll be a widow by sundown.
Bart compensates the preacher for doing him out of his wedding payment, suggesting he use it instead for Kimbrough’s funeral instead. He leaves the confused wedding guests without further elaboration.
Bart and Sam make a run for it as the sheriff and assorted townsfolk start shooting at them. They make a dash for the stables and hole up inside as the bullets start flying in their direction.
Due to the fracas in the church, Lucy takes a powder and the wedding is temporarily postponed, Kimbrough warning Lucy’s father to make sure she’s back at the church in one hour.
He also tells the sheriff to sort out Bart and Sam before the wedding is due to proceed.
Back at the stable one of the sheriff’s men tries to get into the stable and is then dragged in by Sam at the end of a hook.
Doc Storrow then turns up to get his medicine bag and is commandeered by Bart to fix up the deputy’s wounded arm. It’s at this point that Bart realises Doc isn’t all that enamoured of Kimbrough himself.
When Doc asks Bart who Mary was Sam informs him she was Bart’s wife, which brings the conversation to an abrupt end, a confused Sam telling his friend he didn’t realise Bart wanted to kill Kimbrough because of his dead wife.
Kimbrough impresses upon Lucy’s father the need to try and persuade Bart and Sam to leave town peacefully, although it’s obvious Kimbrough will make sure they don’t make it out in one piece.
Old man Summerton agrees and tells the besieged men they should get out of town, sweetening the deal by offering them five hundred dollars to skedaddle. He ends up doing the skedaddling when Bart informs him he ought not to be selling his daughter to a man like Kimbrough.
Lucy confronts her fiancé, wanting to know why Bart Allison wants to kill him. Kimbrough, having confessed he knew Bart’s wife Mary, figures Bart doesn’t understand women the way he does. Lucy refuses to resume the wedding ceremony then rides down to the stables to talk with Bart.
Lucy’s suggestion that no man can take another man’s wife away from him unless she wants to be taken curtails the conversation somewhat, Bart forcibly ejecting her out through the stable door.
Things go from bad to worse when Sam tells Bart that his wife was the woman he thought she was, and that Kimbrough wasn’t the first man to avail himself of Mary’s charms.
This earns Sam a punch in the face and ejection from the stable as well, but not before he tells Bart he’s going to get something to eat and then return to help Bart out of the situation he’s gotten them both into.
After dropping in to the nearest hostelry for a much-needed meal, Sam is joined by the Doc who asks him about Mary. Sam tells him that Mary killed herself after having realised she was pregnant with Kimbrough’s child whilst Bart was away fighting in the Civil War.
He then decides to go back to the stable and tell Bat to stop hankering after a woman who was no good for him but ends up being shot in the back and killed by the deputy he’d wounded earlier.
Whilst a distraught Bart mourns the death of his friend the Doc addresses the townsfolk in the saloon, telling them they need to get back their self-respect and wrest control of the town from Kimbrough.
Despite a warning from Kimbrough to stop stirring things up the Doc’s message finally gets through, a group of the locals forcing the sheriff to take on Bart by himself.
This enables Bart to finally face down the sheriff, plugging the corrupt lawman in the street but wounding his hand in the process. It’s then the turn for Kimbrough to take his chance against Bart but just as the two men approach each other from different ends of the street a shot rings out and Kimbrough falls wounded to the ground.
Ruby shoots him in order to save the man she loves from being killed by Bart.
The film ends on a very bitter note with Bart leaving town full of remorse for the death of his friend Sam, whilst the inhabitants rejoice at having finally been freed from Kimbrough’s hold over them the day that Bart Allison spent in Sundown.
Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) Scott-Brown Productions,
Dir: Budd Boetticher, Screenplay: Charles Lang, colour, 80m
Cast: Randolph Scott, Craig Stevens, Barry Kelley, Tol Avery, Peter Whitney, L.Q. Jones
Shot at the Old Tucson Film Studios.
Randy, as Tom Buchanan, rides into the town of Agry where he’s greeted by the local sheriff Lew Agry (Barry Kelley) so straight away we just know Randy is going to get embroiled in some kind of conflict of interest melodrama before too long.
The sheriff tells Buchanan “I wouldn’t linger in Agry town if I were you”, only to receive the reply “I ain’t gonna linger no place til’ I get back to where I belong”.
The whole town is run by Agry’s, pre-echoing ‘Blazing Saddles” where everyone in town was called Johnson, a film in which coincidentally the townsfolk of Rock Ridge revere Randolph Scott.
Upon finding out the hotel owner Simon (Peter Whitney) is also an Agry and brother to both the sheriff and Simon Agry, who happens to be running for Senator, Buchannan remarks “Looks like you got mighty high connections”.
Entering the saloon to get a steak he ends up in a confrontation with yet another Agry, Roy, a drunk who threatens to kill Buchanan after he is forced to punch Roy’s lights out.
I don’t think you can be blamed for finally realising less than ten minutes into the film that we’re in the land of winsome comedy, with a helping of chuckles to go.
Apparently, everything from the hotel to the whisky and steak in Agry all cost ten dollars, Buchanan giving the saloon girl a ten-dollar look as he passes by. Into the saloon walks Abe Carbo (Craig ‘Peter Gunn’ Stevens), an enforcer employed by the sheriff.
Within minutes violence erupts when a Mexican by the name of Juan (Manuel Rojas) runs into the saloon and kills Roy, Buchanan then getting involved in the fracas and arrested along with Juan.
Carbo rides out to see Judge Simon Agry (Tol Avery) to tell him his son Roy has been shot and that, seeing as there was apparently no love lost between the Judge and his dead son, he needs to intervene before Buchanan and Juan are hung, arguing that a lynching would cost the judge a lot of votes seeing as he’s running for Senator.
The pair of them get back into town just in the nick of time, the Judge declaring the two lynches should get a fair trial, although his ulterior motive is to try and extract mucho dinara from Juan’s father to save his son’s life.
The night before their trial Buchanan finds out that Juan is the son of a well-regarded Mexican land-owner and that Juan had shot Roy Agry for sexually assaulting his sister, something Juan warning Buchanan not to tell anyone else about.
During the trial the following day Buchanan gets to have his say, affirming he had nothing to do with the death of Roy Agry and had never met Juan before. The jury acquits him but Juan is sentenced to be hung later that day.
Buchanan goes to see Juan in jail to say goodbye and is then run out of town, but not before he accuses the sheriff of stealing the two-thousand-dollar grubstake Buchanan had earned back in Mexico and was fixing to use to set up his own ranch.
The hotel owner Simon overhears the exchange, outraged that his brother the sheriff had told him Buchanan only had five hundred dollars on him. Buchanan leaves with the warning “I’ll be back”, which just goes to prove yet again there’s nothing original when it comes to catchphrases in the movies.
Carbo takes Simon out to see the judge to explain why the sheriff has arranged for Buchanan to be escorted from Agry by two deputies, suspecting that they have been instructed to kill Buchanan so that he can’t accuse the sheriff of having stolen his money.
A while later a Mexican by the name of Esteban Gomez (Joe De Santis) calls in to see the judge to make an offer on behalf of Juan’s father for his son’s life. The judge tells him he will postpone the hanging for forty-eight hours if he can come up with fifty-thousand dollars, a demand overheard by Simon Agry.
Luckily for Buchanan one of the two men escorting him from Agry is Pecos Hill (L.Q. Jones), a fellow West Texican with whom Buchanan when he initially hit town.
Pecos tells his friend that he don’t ‘cotton under this job”, referring to the fact that the sheriff has instructed him and his co-rider Lafe escorts to kill Buchanan, who admonishes Pecos with the words “a man oughtn’t do a job he don’t cotton to Pecos”, yet another memorable turn of phrase that affirms the unaccredited hand of Burt Kennedy in the script.
When the time comes Pecos chooses not to murder a man in cold blood, shooting Lafe instead. Pecos assuages his guilt by burying Lafe in a tree so that his body won’t be eaten by coyotes and such before reciting a prayer that, to his mind anyway, justifies him shooting his friend dead instead of killing another man from West Texas.
In exchange for not shooting him instead, Buchanan offers half of his stake in the ranch to Pecos that he intends to set up once he gets his money back from sheriff Agry.
Back in town the idiot that is Amos, in exchange for ten thousand dollars, tells Lew, his corrupt brother of a sheriff, that Judge Agry will soon be in receipt of fifty thousand dollars for not hanging Juan.
Lew takes Juan from the jail and tells three of his men to hide out at a shack a few miles away in order to intercept the ransom money.
By sheer coincidence this also happens to be the abode that Buchanan and Pecos have chosen to use as a way station for the night, Pecos intending to stay there whilst Buchanan tries to get his money back from the sheriff.
When the three deputies arrive with Juan they end up hog-tied whilst Buchanan tries to figure out what to do once sheriff Agry arrives to oversee the exchange of Juan for the ransom money.
The plan doesn’t turn out to be a very good one, Buchanan deciding to escort Juan to the border and sending him home to his father with Pecos as an escort whilst Buchanan heads back to Agry.
The three deputies, however, manage to get free and follow behind in the dark, leaving Buchanan for later whilst they chase after and recapture Juan and kill Pecos for switching sides.
Oblivious to all of this, Estaban rides to see the judge with the ransom money but will not hand it over until he can see Juan is still alive. Carbo goes to Agry to get Juan but rides back empty-handed. Buchanan then turns up and forces the sheriff at gunpoint to give him back his money.
Meanwhile, the natives are getting restless, demanding that the hanging of Juan goes ahead seeing as they don’t seem to be able to get through the week without witnessing at least one lynching every seven days or so. Whilst the sheriff tries to calm the blood-thirsty pioneers down Buchanan finds Juan back at the jail, only to end up in a cell with him when the three deputies relieve him of his guns.
Amos, now a sorry combination of both town crier and village idiot runs over to see the judge, assuming his brother Lew is with him.
Carbo has already told the judge that Lew is double-crossing him over the ransom for Juan, a fact seemingly lost on Amos. Carbo roughs him up a bit but Amos is adamant he doesn’t know anything other than the fact that Juan is in the jail back in town.
The judge then finds the sheriff attempting to trick Estaban into handing over the ransom money to him, the judge arguing that if Estaban were to do that then the sheriff will go ahead and hang Juan anyway, the judge leaving out the bit where he would also do the same.
Carbo takes Estaban over to the jailhouse to show him Juan is still alive but everything starts to unravel so quickly after this it would take a long time to explain here.
It all comes to a head with a standoff with Buchanan holding a gun on the judge, offering to spare his life in return for the saddlebag containing the fifty-thousand dollar ransom that has somehow ended up being dropped in the street.
The judge goes for the bag but is gunned down by Lew who is then gunned down by the dying judge. At the end, there’s no girl for Buchanan to walk away with this time so Randy has to make do with Juan’s horse as a gift instead.
There’s a questionable moral at the end in which Carbo effectively inherits the town from the dead Agry’s which doesn’t quite sit well but apart from that it’s a satisfying entry in the Ranown collection.
On reflection, the film should have been sub-titled “Shootout at Rio Bravo” seeing as the movie was filmed at the famous Old Tucson studios. There were times when watching it you felt as though Chance, Dude, Colorado and Stumpy were going to magically appear and join in the action.
Ride Lonesome (1959) Scott-Brown Productions
Dir: Budd Boetticher, Screenplay: Burt Kennedy, colour, 73m
Cast: Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, James Best, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn
Bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) rides lonesome from out of the wilderness and straight into a tense confrontation with back-shootin’ killer Billy John (James Best) who relaxes with a cup of coffee whilst waiting for Brigade to appear.
Billy tells him “I figured it better to let you catch up and have it out ‘n over” but Brigade has walked into a trap, Billy’s companions waiting amongst the rocks to kill him the first chance they have.
Brigade convinces Billy he’ll die first no matter what happens, forcing the younger man to tell the boys to get before Brigade starts shooting. There’s four of them but they still skedaddle.
When Brigade goes to handcuff him Billy threatens retribution from his brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef), although Brigade doesn’t seem to be that bothered. Maybe if he’d seen Lee Van Cleef’s name in the cast list he might have thought differently.
Chancing upon a stagecoach way station a la “The Tall T”, Brigade and Billy encounter
Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Whit (a young and gangly-looking James Coburn) have decided to keep Carrie Lane (Karen Steele) company in the absence of her husband who is out in the boondocks trying to recapture a bunch of escaped horses.
Brigades appears to know Sam and Whit, and not in a good way. Just as Carrie tries to shoo all of them off at the point of a gun a stagecoach appears on the horizon and rides full pelt into the way station.
The driver has been run through with a lance and the passengers all dead, courtesy of the local chapter of the Mescalero tribe.
Sam and Whit bury the dead whilst Mescalero war smoke fills the sky off in the distance. Sam then informs Brigade that there’s an amnesty on offer to any outlaw who can deliver Billy to the authorities seeing as the outlaw is wanted for murder for having shot a man in the back in the town of Santa Cruz.
Sam wants to be able to hand Billy over to the law himself so that he and Whit can benefit from the amnesty, mysteriously acknowledging that Brigade is not actually taking Billy in for the murder in Santa Cruz.
All the same, he tells Brigade that he’s the only one standing between Sam and Whit’s chance of starting with a clean slate again.
The following day they all leave for Santa Cruz, Brigade ordering a reluctant Carrie to go with them seeing as her husband, in Brigade’s eyes anyway, ought not to have left her alone in the first place.
Even so, he suggests they take the longer trail to Santa Cruz in order to meet up with Mister Lane or ‘what’s left of him”. Before they can proceed the Mescaleros turn up offering a horse in exchange for Carrie Lane who promptly screams when she realises it belonged to her husband.
The Mescaleros decide to leave on account of their faux pas.
Not long after Brigade and the others hit the trail the Indians come back and try once more to kidnap Carrie but are soon driven off. In the meantime, Billy’s brother Frank arrives at the deserted way station with a bunch of assorted thugs before immediately riding off in pursuit of Brigade and the others.
Holed up in a crumbling adobe farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere for the night, Sam begins to suspect that Brigade actually wants Frank to catch up with them, possibly to make Sam and Whit not look too good in Frank’s eyes seeing as they’re riding with Brigade.
There’s a fairly tense moment when Billy gets the drop on Brigade, threatening to shoot him with Sam’s gun. Sam informs Billy the rifle isn’t loaded, promising to kill him if he pulls the trigger.
Billy throws the gun aside only to find out the rifle was loaded all along. Yet again Scott’s character finds himself obliged to someone, Sam in this case, for saving his life.
After a frank and open exchange of views, Sam makes it clear to Brigade that he may still have to kill him anyway if Brigade insists on surrendering Billy himself.
Pitching camp near a hanging tree the night before they aim to hit town, Brigade confesses to Carrie that he was once the sheriff of Santa Cruz.
He had a run in with Frank who took revenge by kidnapping then hanging Brigade’s wife from the very tree where they have camped. Brigade blamed himself for what happened to his wife, similar to the situation in “Seven Men from Now”.
He has made his way back to Santa Cruz as slowly as possible in the knowledge Frank will catch up to them. When that happens then Brigade intends to kill him for what he did to his wife. Both of them are unaware that Sam is standing in the shadows and has overheard their conversation.
Sam also hears Brigade repeat a line word for word from “The Tall T”, “There’s some things a man can’t ride around”, and why not? A piece of dialogue that good deserves a second airing.
When Frank and his boys finally arrive they’re greeted with the sight of Billy with a noose around his neck sat beneath the hanging tree.
Brigade then appears and threatens to hang Billy just as Frank had hung Brigade’s wife. Frank charges at Brigade who brings him down off his horse and then shoots him dead.
The noise of the gunplay spooks Billy’s horse which rides off leaving Billy swinging from the tree. Brigade shoots and severs the rope with a well-aimed shot.
After another tense moment where it looks as though Sam is going to have to kill Brigade in order to get his hands on Billy, Brigade hands Billy over with the comment “Better get Whit to catch up Billy’s horse unless you want him to walk to Santa Cruz”
Sam, Whit and Carrie ride off with Billy presumably to live happily ever after, apart from Billy of course who has an appointment in Santa Cruz with the hangman.
Brigade stays behind and burns the hanging tree down.
A somewhat gangly James Coburn’s turn as the hayseed that is Whit brings some welcome light relief to what is a rather grim entry in the cycle, similar in tone to “Seven Men from Now”. Having said that, “Ride Lonesome” is considered by many film critics to be one of the best of the Ranown films.
Randolph Scott / ‘Ranown cycle’ Westerns Part 3
Welcome to the third and final article on the Randolph Scott ‘Ranown cycle’ Westerns, the series going out with a bang with the final entry, “Comanche Station”.
Westbound (1959) Warner Bros
Dir: Budd Boetticher, Screenplay: Bernie Giler, colour, 69m
Cast: Randolph Scott, Virginia Mayo, Karen Steele, Michael Dante, Andrew Duggan, Michael Pate
Although not officially regarded as a ‘Ranown’ film seeing as it wasn’t produced by Harry Brown, “Westbound” is still worth considering as part of the cycle seeing as it is yet another Randolph Scott / Budd Boetticher movie.
Opening with a jaunty score by David Buttolph, the film starts with a plot summary informing the audience that, during the Civil War, the South was determined to stop the flow of gold from California which was being used to aid the North.
Union Captain John Hayes (Randolph Scott), previously a stagecoach line manager prior to the war, is tasked by the army with protecting the coaches bringing gold from California to bolster the Union Army’s war effort, and the Confederacy want the gold as much as the North does.
Hayes takes some persuading but eventually agrees to oversee the project from Julesburg which causes a wry smile, seeing as it is also his old home town.
Travelling as the new line boss of the stagecoach service he and his fellow stage passengers, including Union soldier Rod Miller (Michael Dante), who has lost his left arm to gangrene, stop off at a waystation where the cook is a Southern sympathiser.
He salts the soldiers Miller’s pie and is then ordered in turn by Hayes to eat it himself, which he does only when being told Hayes is the new stage line boss.
Scott’s character is much more avuncular than the majority of the roles he plays in the ‘Ranown’ films, the closest to this being his performance as “Buchanan Rides Alone”, he still retains his terseness, Miller telling Hayes he doesn’t want pity from his wife Jeanne (Karen Steele) when they meet after being apart for eighteen months. “Don’t ask for any”, Hayes replies.
When the couple meet Jeannie is ploughing a field all by her lonesome, Miller wondering how she will take his loss of an arm.
Being the staunch pioneer that she is she hugs him and remarks, “Let’s go home”, a line once uttered by a certain John Wayne in “The Searchers”.
Hayes hits Julesburg only to discover that an old acquaintance, Clay Putnam (Andrew Duggan) has not only resigned from the stage company Hayes has come to manage but has also married Norma (Virginia Mayo), an old flame of Hayes.
Within minutes of his arrival Hayes comes face to face with Mace (Michael Pate), a hired gun working for Putnam, who shoots clean through the gun belt Hayes is wearing as a warning to not linger too long in Julesburg.
Lucky for Mace it’s not Lordsburg otherwise the film would have ended right there and then.
Norma appears in town to pick up her husband, Mace and the boys agreeing she’s “a lot of woman”, a sentiment expressed numerous times in practically every Ranown film so far.
Although it quickly becomes obvious Hayes isn’t welcome back in his Julesburg, the townsfolk also turn on Miller and his wife, both Jeannie and Hayes punching out one of Mace’s street gang for insulting her husband.
Out at the Millers’ ranch, Hayes realises Miller isn’t going to be able to run his farm with only one arm so he offers him and Jeannie a job to turn their farm into a waystation instead.
They readily accept, Hayes warning them that Putnam, a Southerner, will try and stop the coaches coming through Julesburg with the gold from California.
Putnam puts this very plan into play, ordering his men to burn down a number of the coach stations in the area that Hayes was hoping to use for his company.
Mace reports back to Putnam that the Millers are fitting their farm out to provide amenities for stagecoach passengers, making it a prime target for Mace and the boys.
Hayes teams up with stage driver Stubby (Wally Brown), practitioner of the school of film sidekicks, in order to keep the stage service running, both of them boarding overnight at the Miller ranch.
The following day Hayes and Miller chance upon the depot cook who salted Miller’s pie and force him to tell them where the horses are that belonged to his waystation.
He tells them some of Putnam’s gang have taken them in order to hand the steeds over to the Confederate army. They track the stolen horses down and requisition them back from the gang.
Hayes decides to pay Putnam a visit and, in his absence, meets up with old flame Norma. Just as they both decide they’ll always be friends Putnam turns up with Mace.
Hayes informs him that the horses Putnam’s gang stole have been recovered and that the stage service will run whether Putnam likes it or not. Later that evening the gang attack the Miller station and, mistaking Rod for Hayes, shoot and seriously wound him before riding off with the horses.
Norma rides over to the Miller place and tells Hayes to stay out of Julesburg, warning him that Mace is a professional killer who aims to add Hayes as another notch on his belt.
Meanwhile, Mace and the gang waylay the stagecoach being driven by Stubby in order to steal the payload of gold on board. They shoot Stubby dead, causing the coach to ride off the road and over a cliff, killing all the passengers including a small girl.
Putnam tells Mace he doesn’t need him anymore, not after what happened with the stagecoach passengers.
Mace tells him “Trouble is you’re rich enough to be an honourable man” before informing his ex-boss he’s going to hang around and rob the other stages of gold whether Putnam likes it or not.
Norma then piles on the agony by telling her soon-to-be ex-husband that she can’t live with him after the incident with the stagecoach as well.
As if it couldn’t get any more miserable Hayes returns to the Millers way station with the bodies of the passengers only to learn that Rod has died of his wounds.
A morose and drunken Putnam informs Norma that Mace is going to kill Hayes. She in turn replies that if anything happens to Hayes she’ll see Putnam hang.
Attempting to sober up Putnam tries to get to Mace before Mace kills Hayes but Hayes is already in town, shooting it out with Mace and his gang.
The townsfolk turn out to help Hayes even though they’re still Southerners, their contempt for the bad guys overriding their dislike of the Union.
Putnam arrives just in time to be shot by Mace who then finally gets his from Hayes. Just before he dies Putnam requests that Hayes looks after Norma.
He promises to do so, and then promptly sends back East. Hayes then offers to drop in on the recently widowed Jeanne Miller from time to time, even though the corpse of her dead husband Rod is still warm. That’s the wild west for you.
Comanche Station (1960) Ranown Pictures Corp.
Dir: Budd Boetticher, Screenplay: Burt Kennedy, colour, 73m
Cast: Randolph Scott, Claude Akins, Nancy Gates, Skip Homeier, Richard Rust, Rand Brooks
The last in the Ranown cycle of Randolph Scott movies, filmed in Cinemascope with the credits declaring the movie is ‘A Ranown Production’.
Seemingly wandering out of an uneven landscape very similar to the opening sequence of “Ride Lonesome”, Randolph Scot as Jefferson Cody soon finds himself surrounded by a party of Comanche warriors.
Cody offers to trade his way out of the situation with the goods his mule is carrying but they force him to their village instead. There he is confronted by the chief with whom Cody trades his rifle for a white captive, Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates).
He and the woman then skedaddle, waiting until they are safely distanced before setting up camp for the night.
Cody explains that he’d heard about a kidnapped woman who had survived an attack by Comanches on the stagecoach to Lordsburg, making this one of the most dangerous routes to travel in the history of film.
Her attackers slaughter everyone else but keep Nancy for trade. When she asks if her husband had hired Cody to rescue her he tells her ‘no’. Nancy then queries why he had then made the effort to track her down to which he enigmatically replies ‘seemed like a good idea’.
They strike out for Lordsburg, on the way stopping off at Comanche station, a stagecoach way post which turns out to be unattended.
Nancy offers to wait for the next coach to Lordsburg but Cody informs her rather forcefully he’s going to finish what he started and deliver her back to town himself. Seconds later three riders appear heading for the station pursued by a group of whooping Comanche.
The leader rider, Ben Lane (Claude Akins), jumps from his horse and hides near a horse trough, nodding a casual greeting to Cody to indicate both men are known to each other.
Along with the other two men, Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust), they fight off their attackers, Nancy extricating herself from the trough where Cody threw her for protection.
After the Comanche retreat, Cody introduces Lane to Nancy who is somewhat put out when Lane informs Cody he and his boys have been looking high and low for her in order to claim the reward being offered for her rescue.
Cody confronts Lane, pointing out that the Comanche warriors were all painted up, suggesting they were pretty riled on account of Lane maybe having scalped some of their friends. Lane denies this and then informs a surprised Nancy that the bounty for finding her is five-thousand dollars.
It then transpires that Cody and Lane have a history, Cody having busted his ex-colleague out of the army for killing unarmed Native Americans.
During the overnight stay at the way station Lane makes his play for Nancy, telling her if she were his wife he would have come looking for her and happily died in the process.
He offers to accompany her back to Lordsburg should the scheduled stagecoach not turn up at the station the following day.
His intentions turn out to be less than honourable, however, informing Frank and Dobie that if they kill Cody and claim the bounty they won’t run the risk of her testifying against them on account of the husband having offered the reward for her return, alive or dead.
Later on, Cody tells Nancy he wasn’t aware there was a bounty offered to rescue her but she doesn’t believe him. “I didn’t think you would”, he replies, walking off into the night.
The following morning just as Cody argues with the others that they should wait for the stagecoach to arrive to take them to Lordsburg, the wounded station master turns up with an arrow in his chest.
Before he dies he tells them the stagecoach has turned back as the Comanche are on the warpath after some of their number were murdered by scalp hunters.
Before Cody can accuse Ben of being responsible for this the wounded man informs them the killers have been caught by the Comanche and made to suffer. He then dies, Ben telling Cody they should now make their way to Lordsburg due to the added incentive of war smoke on the horizon.
Scriptwriter Burt Kennedy exceeds himself this time around with a line of dialogue that definitely would not endear him to the feminist movement of today, Ben reciting a story about a woman who tells everyone but her husband that she was going to marry Ben.
He admits he learnt himself a lesson which is to “Always check the brand to make sure you ain’t driving another man’s stock”. Priceless.
Yet again we have another example of Scott’s character having something that someone else wants.
In “Ride Lonesome” it’s the prisoner he’s going to deliver to the law to be hanged and now it’s a woman with a reward to anyone bringing her home to her husband.
Naturally Ben and his boys want the woman. Also, it would appear that behind most of the women in the series is a weak or corrupt man destined not to make it to the final reel in one piece.
The Comanche are not far behind, in fact, they’re so close they end up putting an arrow in Frank’s back, meaning the rest of the party put on their riding boots and head hell for leather to Lordsburg.
Dobie confesses to Cody that he and Frank teamed up with Ben on account of they had nothing better to do but Frank is now dead with nothing to leave but a shirt and a horse.
Cody takes the opportunity at this point to suggest maybe Dobie could ride with him instead, thus leaving Ben isolated.
The tension between Cody and Ben finally burst to the surface when Ben openly suggests Cody wants Nancy for himself as well as the reward money, earning Ben a punch in the mouth. When Nancy tells Cody “it wasn’t necessary to do that for my sake” he replied, “I didn’t”.
Dobie then informs her that Cody lost his wife to the Indians and spends all his time looking for her. Whenever he hears about a woman being kidnapped he goes off to try and effect a rescue on the off-chance it’s his missing wife, which explains how he came to rescue Nancy.
He then advises her to stick as close to Cody as she can, not able to bring himself to let on that Ben intends to kill her and Cody and claim the bounty money for her himself.
Yet again Scott’s character ends up beholden to the bad guy, Ben saving Cody’s life when they’re attacked by the Comanche in open country.
Later on, Cody confesses to Nancy that his wife had been kidnapped ten years before and that she is the first woman to make him forget about the fate of his wife for the first time.
That same night Cody finally runs off Ben and Dobie at gunpoint, threatening to kill both men if he sees them again on the way to Lordsburg.
Ben and Dobie lie in wait for Cody and Nancy, a reluctant Dobie deciding to bail, resulting in Ben shooting him in the back.
Cody and Nancy hear the rifle shot and run for cover, Cody eventually creeping up behind Ben and getting the drop on him.
Ben turns to shoot but Cody is too quick for him, the mortally wounded bad guy dying with the words “it’s a pure shame ain’t it, how a man will push himself for money? Yes sir, it’s a pure..”
When they finally reach Lordsburg, Cody finds out that not only does Lowe have a child but her husband is blind, explaining why he didn’t try to recuse his wife himself.
An understanding Cody rides off, disappearing into the landscape at the end just as the other characters played by Scott in this cycle of films seem to do.
The different characters Scott plays through these films are on occasion interchangeable from one film to the next. There’s an understated stoic tone to Scott’s performance almost throughout the series as if he is the constant around which the action and the other characters revolve.
He’s as much an observer as he is a participant, ready with a pithy remark or a quick burst of action just to let the other protagonists know he’s still in charge.
I could pontificate forever on the qualities of the Ranown cycle but instead, I’ll leave the last word to Richard Jameson:
“The Ranowns are at once the purest and most unassuming of great Westerns… These B features… now loom over their pretentious contemporaries like the eternal rocks from which the protagonist of Comanche Station first appears, and into which he ultimately disappears at the end of the film”
Amen to that.
 Jameson, Richard T. (1980) ‘The Ranown Cycle’, The Movie, Vol. 5, p.1054-1055
Check out Randolph Scott Western Collection.
More “Westerns Stuff” have a look at my favourite Westerns that didn’t star John Wayne. Or ones that did star JW.
John Ford Westerns?