Ride the High Country, 1962
Dir: Sam Peckinpah
This is rightfully considered a landmark in the western genre, but that doesn’t exactly make it the masterpiece that many hype it up to be. More than anything, it is just a simple, almost mindless joy to watch. It’s a harmless type of fun to see Randolph Scott in his very last performance as well as to see Warren Oates in one of his earliest. It’s nice to see the end of one generation of western aesthetics collide with a new generation. This is, after all, technically the last “classic western” and everything that has come after has been labeled revisionist, or modern, or something to that effect. My personal enjoyment of this film does come with some context. It helps a great deal to not only be familiar with the film’s cast, but to also be a big fan of it. I know I've slagged Joel McCrea in the past, but I think that just had to do with the roles he was given, particularly in the stinker Come and Get It (1936). He's really great here as Stephen Judd, and Scott is just as good. At first, it took awhile to get use to seeing Scott play a character that was so self-conscious of his age. In all of the Boetticher films I’ve seen with him, he seemed to hide that a great deal, appearing experienced, but not enough to be an old fogey. Here, though, he and McCrea are made out to be exactly that. Eventually, though, it becomes quite easy to get use to as it turns out, as Scott is essentially playing the exact same character he’s ever played except now he’s completely tired of his career. Seem familiar? Well, I suppose that definitely works in this film's favor. There isn’t a particularly strong feeling that Scott himself is going to throw in the towel after this performance, but there are a few subtle hints that help give his character some complexity. Joel McCrea has a few similar moments, but the third “hero” (if you can call him that), played by Ron Starr, seems to be put in simply to give a young guy for the oldies to shake their heads and roll their eyes at. Other than that, though, Peckinpah is very much focused on pushing the plot forward. Thankfully, though, there are a few legitmately amazing moments. A good example would be pretty much every sequence with Warren Oates, but the wedding sequence seems to take the cake, at least in my opinion. It definitely has a great sense of kinetic energy that seems to welcome in the new generation of western filmmakers, while still paying its due to the originals. I suppose that’s what this is, overall. Peckinpah obviously wasn’t as concious of what a landmark his film would be when he made, but the viewer does, and personally, I think that helps the film’s case.