2 September 2009


RIDE LONESOME (Dir. Budd Boetticher, 1959, US)
'There are some things a man just can't ride around...'

The term minimalist cinema is not really the first thing that springs to mind when mulling over the cultural worth of Budd Boetticher’s westerns yet it is the one word that is often repeated by critics and directors alike when commenting upon his style; Martin Scorsese takes a similar approach in his introduction that accompanies the DVD of Boetticher’s 1959 western ‘Ride Lonesome’. One tends to keep the idea of minimalism far away from genre as it is a lofty theoretical principle often reserved for exceptional auteurs like Robert Bresson operating in the throes of art cinema. Working in scope, this is perhaps the most beautifully framed of the westerns Boetticher made with Randolph Scott. ‘Ride Lonesome’ is also closest in tone to the temperamental landscapes of the revenge westerns directed by Anthony Mann. Essentially a study of one man’s lust for revenge, Boetticher’s use of framing becomes increasingly daring as the narrative unfolds and the appearance of the hanging tree in the final act of the film is an unconventionally abstract image for a western made in the 1950s. The grotesque, sickening appearance of the tree and its relationship with death alludes to a past that has all but consumed the figure of the loner embodied by Randolph Scott. The manifold symbolic purposes the tree comes to serve acts as the perfect natural anchor, resolving much of the conflict at the end. Both Lee Van Cleef and James Coburn have supporting roles and interestingly enough, Leone would later cast both actors in his Spaghetti westerns. The haunting final shot of the burning tree as Randolph Scott looks on is a potent one, underlining how the complex psychological symbolism of Boetticher’s films seemed to evoke a genre classicism and art house sensibility that few westerns of the era were able to acquire and articulate in such an effortless way. Neurotically psychological, this is the closest Boetticher came to making a Freudian western.

DECISION AT SUNDOWN (Dir. Budd Boetticher, 1957, US)
'Is he a big man in Sundown?...'

The honour of a virtuous woman and its protection was a precious commodity in the chivalrous mythology of the American west. Boetticher’s continuing collaboration with Randolph Scott meant he was able to creatively circumvent the rules of genre film making whilst pursuing similar themes and motifs. With ‘Decision at Sundown’, Boetticher scrutinised the hypocrisies and self delusions hidden in the conservative idea of a woman’s honour. Scott’s character arrives at the town of ‘Sundown’ with the sole intention of avenging the murder of his wife. The town reveals itself to be a cowardly place, ruled by the greed of one man who has acquired an intimidating control over the local sheriff. As it transpires, the virtuous image of his wife that Scott carries with him turns out to be a fraud. Yet he is unable to face up to such a reality as it would mean humiliation in the eyes of the town and a challenge to his hardened masculine persona. Having stood his ground, Scott’s final confrontation with the so called villain fails to take place at all. Boetticher complicates audience sympathy by blurring the line between nobility and treachery, populating his universe with characters who we would today purportedly label as anti heroes. By ridiculing the hero’s quest and reversing narrative conventions, Boetticher ingeniously subverts audience expectations. Similarly like ‘High Noon’, the collective failure of the town to respond to the sickness of greed presents a vision of the west far removed from the romanticism that characterised many of the ‘A’ pictures of the era.


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