Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Buchanan Rides Alone

Buchanan Rides Alone, 1958
Dir: Budd Boetticher

Definitely a step down in terms of complete Western awesomeness, but Boetticher throws in enough of his great touches to make this really good. I mean, at the start of the film, Randolf Scott's Buchanan is a completely different kind of reserved, lonesome gun than I want him to be. While that sense of psychology is also implied here, Scott himself is much more open and even sort of funny, in that hokey kind of Western way. I mean, Scott is still great, and a guy you can't really get a bead on (I mean, he sticks up for the Mexican after he shoots the son). I think I kinda missed the clever plot set-up, but that's because I wasn't looking for it. Boetticher and Screenwriter Burt Kennedy just weren't that interested in a "conventional" plot in the last two films I saw, and that's what I liked about them. Maybe it's because Kennedy had nothing to do with this film, as Charles Lang wrote it.

There's nothing about Buchanan that gets as fleshed out as other characters that Scott plays, but I really want it to. He's a West Texan coming into a California border town after having been a hired gun in Mexican revolution. These south-of-the-border sympathies come out when he rushes to the aid of a young Mexican (Manuel Rojas) who kills the rabble rousing son of the most powerful man in town (Tol Avery). Avery, who plays a judge, also has two brothers in town, one of whom is the sheriff (Barry Kelley) who is already on Buchanan's bad side. The tensions in the family soon start to twist the town around in trying to to turn the murder in each of their respective advantages. There's nothing that interesting in these characters, but there is one, Carbo (Craig Stevens), who is that great character who seems at odds with what Scott stands for, but ends up being the only one who resonates with him. This usually ends up with the inevitable showdown, but here the stuff with the powerful family sort of overwhelms it, which can be good or bad, depending on what you want from a film in the first place.

Watching this film does reinforce how little interest Boetticher had in crafting action narratives, and quick dramatic turns. This is by far the most plot-centered film in the whole ranown cannon, but it sorts of explains why the other efforts tend to have extremely similar structures. This is really the only Boetticher film that I can think of that comes pretty darn close to being a conventional “exciting” action movie, which certainly isn’t a problem for me. As usual, the visuals and Scott’s acting are enough to overcome any tiny problems. It’s not as amazing as Boetticher’s other work that I've seen, but it is a really accomplished piece of arty “genre” cinema. So clearly, that last sentence is either going to intrigue you or turn you off. I'm pretty sure you know what it does for me.


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