Ride Lonesome (1959)

Director: Budd Boetticher

An IMDB reviewer observes that the Italian title of this film was “Tree of Revenge” and says they prefer it to the original. Which is understandable, given that it makes a lot more sense than the original; Randolph Scott doesn’t exactly “ride lonesome” at any point but there is a tree and there is revenge to be had… Anyway, not having been much of a western watcher, I’ve pretty much missed out on Scott’s career, and I gather this is from the period that’s since come to be considered his high point, i.e. the “Ranown” pictures made near the end of that career. In it, he basically plays the upright character he seems to have mostly played, although I felt there was a curious ambiguity to him here… basically here he’s a bounty hunter who captures outlaw Billy John, who’s got a death sentence hanging over him, but Scott doesn’t really want him, he wants his brother Frank who he knows will come after him. However, no plan as simple as this can come off without some complication, which in this case happens to be a couple of other crooks who want Billy for their own purposes… Now, the 1001 Movies book reckons this one is distinguished from the other “Ranown” productions by the “optimism” of the ending, which is an interesting perspective, I suppose; Scott’s character is the good guy, yes, but there’s something purely functional, for want of a better word, about his relationship with Billy John, he really has no use for him beyond drawing Frank after him and quite clearly puts no particular value on his life beyond that. There really is something kind of grim about it in its own way. Ride Lonesome is also a film that’s as much about the landscapes in which it plays out, those landscapes being rendered in spectacular Cinemascope by cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. Beautifully executed in pretty much every way, and the mere 73 minutes that it runs just proves what I’ve said before about the narrative economy of older films like this…

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