Ride Lonesome, 1959
Dir: Budd Boetticher
If there was ever a director who could be accused of recycling a "set-up," it's Boetticher. It's not that the stories of all of these films are the same, it's just that they basically unfold the same way. Ride Lonesome doesn't really do anything to differentiate itself from the other really great Boetticher films, or Westerns for that matter, but I can't help but feeling that this is the most complete of all these films that I've seen.
The most obvious element to help Boetticher “pull away” from other Westerns would be the breathtaking cinematography that is just as vast and open as it is rigorous and formal. He has to overcome the conventions of the whole shot/reverse shot setup within the expanded space of cinemascope. Scorsese sort of talks about this in the extras of the DVD, which is pretty interesting if you're into DVD extras. Despite my own initial skepticism, Boetticher makes this film feel as controlled as his less talkative efforts. That’s not to say Ride Lonesome is a chatty relationship film. I would argue that it is a film about relationships, but with very sparse and deadpan comedic dialogue. A perfect example of the film’s simple and straight-forward dialogue would be Karen Steele’s attempt to question the profession of Scott’s character. “You don’t seem like the kind of man who would hunt people for money” she says, to which he quickly responds, “I am.” It was actually at this specific moment that I realized just how important dialogue (or lack thereof) is important in Westerns as well as how great Burt Kennedy was at bringing that perfect tone to the dialogue in Boetticher’s films.
Ride Lonesome does have its own set of characters to make it at least superficially different from other Westerns as well. Scott’s prisoner is played by James Best here, and he has very little flair to add to the film. The way Boetticher downplays Best’s role is sort of brilliant though. He’s a criminal, alright, but not even remotely charming. One gets the sense that it is a constant struggle for Scott’s character to resist killing Best. It eliminates a slightly theatrical lining that’s found in other Westerns, even really good ones. Sure, more flamboyant actors might be more likely to initially impress people, but I like how Best is occassionally treated so poorly by everyone else. That’s not really an acting accomplishment, just a narrative related one. The film as a whole, though, is a great accomplishment in every possible category.