"The Tall T" was shown recently on the mid week afternoon movie spot on Channel 4. It has been all but forgotten except for a few connoisseurs of the western. It was part of a fine series of westerns directed by Budd Boetticher, starring Randolph Scott and written by Burt Kennedy. The three first worked together on the brilliant "Seven Men From Now"(56). Scott then joined forces with producer Harry Joe Brown forming their own production company. This team then went on to make "The Tall T"(57), "Decision at Sundown"(57), "Buchanan Rides Alone"(58), "Ride Lonesome"(59),"Westbound"(59) and "Comanche Station"(60). It is a quite remarkable series of westerns that became known as the "Ranown" series, and Brown's part in them should not be forgotten. The films were all similar in that they were filmed in desolate desert locations and had Scott playing a very similar character in all of them. This character was a taciturn, rugged, unsentimental individual who was able to think clearly with a calculating mind in adverse circumstances. A role ideal for Scott, whose grim faced visage suggested such strength of character.
"The Tall T" is perhaps the best of this brilliant series. The story is simple enough. Scott is picked up in the desert by a stagecoach which is later ambushed by bandits at a stage station. These men have already killed the stage station manager and his young son. The men then attempt to extract a fortune from the rich father of a woman travelling on the stage. Scott bides his time and tries to survive. He may just get that one opportunity! But time is very short. Will he just be another body thrown into the well at the stage station?
Most of the films in this series were made in less than a month on a shoestring budget, but it does not show a bit. This film oozes quality from start to finish. The support cast is simply wonderful. Richard Boone was perhaps one of the screens best heavies. He exudes menace as the leader of the gang. His cohorts include the menacing Henry Silva as Chink, a killer with no conscience, and Skip Homeier as a naïve young thug. It is clear they will kill without compunction. In a shocking opening we find they have even murdered the affable young son of the stage station manager and thrown his body down a well. Violence is graphic in the film without being as visible as in a Peckinpah film. Arthur Hunnicutt is also excellent as Rintoon the stagecoach driver. He was apparently drunk for much of the filming even injecting oranges with vodka to suck on. It didn't affect his performance! An ageing Maureen O'Sullivan plays the rich mans daughter, in a role very different from her Jane in the Tarzan movies. Scott is simply superb in a role that fits him like a well worn glove. As he aged he looked more and more like the silent cowboy legend William S Hart.
The film itself is a visual joy. The scenery picking up Scott's austere character. There are some lovely scenes. I particularly liked a scene with Brahma bulls. Boetticher's knowledge of these animals from bullfighting comes to the fore. There was also a lovely scene where Scott bumps his head coming out of a lean to, prompting much laughter from Boone. This was all unintended and beautifully ad libbed. Scott was left with a sore head and Boetticher with a good scene. Boetticher's meticulous craftsman's touch is also evident in his accurate use of mules on the stagecoach, instead of horses which were generally used in movies because they looked better. Mules were actually preferred by the stagecoach companies! Boetticher also used them in his last film "A Time for Dying"(69). Watch the opening credits of that film! This is a wonderful film in a wonderful series. Only Monte Hellman in the sixties came remotely close to what Boetticher achieved on a small budget. These are arguably the finest westerns ever made. Sadly the film is only available on region 2 in expensive imported foreign copies, which is a crying shame. I cannot speak for the quality of this region 1 product, only the film which is utterly brilliant. Highly recommended. A comfortable five stars.
Through the history of film there have been a few classic pairings of director and actor that have produced some out and out great films - Anthony Mann/James Stewart, John Huston/Humphrey Bogart, John Ford/John Wayne for example. I would humbly add Bud Boetticher/Randolph Scott to that list.
The Tall T (an odd title that seems to have nothing to do with the film!) is the second of seven films the pair would make together that formed the bulk of Scott's work in the last six years of his career. Along with the magnificent Ride The High Country they form a body of work that equalled, if not surpassed anything Scott's career to date and provided a magnificent high note for him to finish up on.
It's a classic little adventure. It's brisk, coming in at about 78 minutes, but in that short time the film makers manage to pack in a lot of punch. Scott plays Brennan, a man on his own just trying to make his way in the world. He gets caught up along with two newly weds in a mail robbery gone wrong, and when the bad guy decides to hold the bride to ransom things get a little tense as he knows he and the newly weds have just until the ransom is paid to live. He must use all his wiles to get them out alive.
Scott plays the archetypal hero, all honour and decency. The characterisation is essential to the thrilling finale, which comes around because of his sense of honour. Richard Boone is the head villain, and not as black as villains of the time are usually painted. A man of intelligence and charm, and his own set of principles, he understands Brennan, and in other circumstances you feel they may have been friends. You know the finale is inevitable, but you have sympathy for his character and you almost don't want it to happen.
It's a tight story, tightly directed and delivers action, character development and some great one liners. 5 stars.
on 3 August 2011
Elmore Leonard wrote Westerns before he turned to crime (in a novelistic sense) and this is adapted from one of his short stories.
Over the years the so-called Ranown cycle of westerns have rightly acquired the critical esteem that was denied them at the time of release. Taut, short and near faultless in execution it is true that they all pursue similar themes and have the same outdoor setting. Nevertheless compared to the tiresome buffoonery and sentimentality that mars John Ford's films and now seems so dated, and the off the wall hysteria of Fuller and Mann's neurotic westerns, not to mention such mavericks as JOHNNY GUITAR, this modest little series is for me the high point of the genre in the Fifties. Afterwards that bastard offspring, the Spaghetti western, was to play its part in destroying one of Hollywood's most durable genres, but the Boetticher/Kennedy/Scott combination seems to me to remain timeless.
As for this example, I wouldn't quarrel with those whose favourite it is - mine happens to be COMANCHE STATION - because it has the same qualities. It gets off to a leisurely start, taking time to establish characters. For once Scott is not a grim faced avenger but an affable rancher forced to hitch a stage coach ride home after a foolish gamble with his old boss results in the loss of his horse). After his old friend the stagedriver is gunned down at the lonely way station where he discovers that the station master and his young son (for whom he was bringing some candy) have been brutally murdered by a gang of cut throats, he is forced into a situation not of his own making. Also on the stagecoach is a honeymoon couple, although we quickly learn that the man has married an old maid for her money. The resultant conflict, as much psychological as physical, in which all the characters' strengths and weaknesses are laid bare, can only be resolved by violence: this is after all a Western. However, Richard Boone, the gangleader, is a not unsympathetic character, longing for a place of his own, disgusted by the amorality of his young sidekicks (a chillingly cold blooded Henry Silva and Skip Homeier's reprising once again his trademark role as a dimwitted young punk) and envying the life Scott is makkng for himself. There is a kind of tragic inevitability about the final outcome which both Scott and Boone recognise, and as others have noted, seems to echo the final moves of a bullfight, a particular passion of Boetticher's.
THE TALL T, COMANCHE STATION, RIDE LONESOME, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, DECISION AT SUNDOWN and RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (his last film and not part of this cycle) was not a bad way for Scott to finish a lengthy film career. Even the rather undervalued WESTBOUND has its merits and is one that I have grown to appreciate more recently. Avoid SHOOT OUT AT MEDICINE BEND at all costs, that really is a dud, but other than that, don't stop at THE TALL T, get the lot.
Whether this closing comment by Randolph Scott’s honourable, aspiring rancher, Pat Brennan, is a mark of the eternal optimist or an ironic quip is perhaps a moot point as the man has just undergone a traumatic 24 hours as hostage to Richard Boone’s brutal, but conflicted, outlaw, Frank Usher in Budd Boetticher’s 1957 film. The Tall T is another in Boetticher’s series of outstanding western films of the period, featuring Scott, producer Harry Joe Brown (giving rise to the series’ Ranown moniker) and screenwriter Arthur Kennedy – a series of genre films distinguished from the formulaic by virtue of their (more complex) character-driven nature, peppered with moments of offbeat humour and invariably featuring engaging plot-lines.
Here, Scott’s Brennan has no sooner emerged from the mud in a comedic sequence in which he has lost his horse in a bet with Robert Burton’s ex-rancher boss, Tenvoorde, than he finds himself being held hostage by Usher and his two cronies, as the gang attempt to extort a ransom from the tycoon father of Maureen O’Sullivan’s nervous, gullible wife, Doretta Mims. Once again, Boetticher-Kennedy’s focus is on painting pictures of their characters’ backgrounds and motivations during what becomes a tense 24-hour standoff – whether it be Scott’s down-to-earth pragmatist, O’Sullivan’s deluded wife, her husband, John Hubbard’s duplicitous, cowardly Willard Mims or the 'baddies’, Frank’s ambiguous mix of brutality and idealistic ambition and the pairing of Henry Silva’s trigger-happy, vicious Chink and Skip Homeier’s docile Billy Jack (who also come with an atypical social dimension – 'Nobody can help their kind’).
Boetticher’s distinctive cinematic approach – frequently slow-moving narrative, stylishly shot (studied close-ups, reverse shots, skilful framing, etc – here by Charles Lawton Jr.), intimate characters – provides a discernible influence on later films of the genre, perhaps most notably those of Sergio Leone. In particular, here Boone’s equivocal Frank appears to have a direct read-across to Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West – in the form of an amalgam of Henry Fonda’s similarly named brutal murderer and Jason Robards’ more complex, sympathetic villain, Cheyenne. That said, the finished products of the two film-makers are, of course, very distinct – Leone, in effect, reducing the character subtlety, but upping the focus on visual style (and, needless to say, budget!).
The Tall T certainly stands tall in amongst an outstanding series of character-driven films from Boetticher.
The series of westerns the enterprising director Budd Boetticher (1916-2001) made with Randolph Scott (1898-1987) marks one of the great combinations in American cinema, similar to that between Anthony Mann & James Stewart or Ford & Wayne, often with lower budgets and more modest storylines.
The Tall T is in colour - glorious colour in fact, one of the most beautiful looking westerns I've seen, each shot a feast for the eyes. Set in the incredibly photogenic range of the Alabama Hills in California, this modest but effective and memorable tale (from a story "The Captives" by the great Elmore Leonard) involves Scott as former ranch foreman Pat Brennan, who is kidnapped along with newlyweds Willard and Doretta Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan, some years older than Tarzan's Jane ever was) by a trio of ne'er-do-wells led by Frank Usher, an ambivalent baddie played to perfection by an unusually thoughtful Richard Boone, and including the volatile Chink, acted by the superb Henry Silva (still with us at 86).
Reliable old Arthur Hunnicutt plays an ornery grizzled stagecoach driver, and Skip Homeier is the other baddie, young and slow on the uptake.
The plot is simple and predictable enough, but what stays with you are the nuances of script, direction and performances, as set against the panoramic scenery of them thar hills.
What also stays in the mind is Boone, who's at his considerable best here, playing someone who is running with a bad pack, and can't seem to mend his ways, much as he might like to. Scott is, at times anyway, his mirror image. The latter grins inanely a little to often for my liking - Scott tended to look best unsmiling, so that when he did smile it meant something.
O'Sullivan registers more as the (fairly short) film progresses, and she makes a good stab at a middle-aged woman in a lousy marriage of convenience, and in some distress too.
There are some excellent shoot-outs, and a few well-staged deaths, as you might expect. Scott is fine, Silva too, but Boone is a boon. (Sorry, had to.)
Boetticher made some of Hollywood's best and most timeless westerns, and this is most definitely one of them.
on 13 April 2014
In the mid 1950’s Director Budd Boetticher came together with ageing star Randolph Scott to make a remarkable group of B-Westerns. The first of these was SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) a Batjac (John Wayne) Production. This film was painstakingly restored and released as a Special Collector’s Edition in 2005. The remainder were under the banner of RANOWN Productions, the name was made up from the names of Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown. Their second venture, also benefits from a marvellous script by Burt Kennedy from a short story "The Captives" by Elmore Leonard.
The opening sequence has our stoic hero Pat Brennan (Randolph) Scott in long-shot riding out of the mountains (SHANE like) en route to a stagecoach way-station where much of the action takes place, starting with a stage hold-up by Frank Usher (Richard Boone) and his two side-kicks Chink (Henry Silva) and Billy Jack (Skip Homeier). Also caught up in hold-up are newlyweds Willard (John Hubbard) and Doretta Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan) who also happens to be the daughter of the richest man in the state. Willard is sent for ransom money whilst Doretta and Pat are held hostage. The tension mounts and Pat knows that times running out and that he must act soon and face down the gang one by one if they are to survive.
These Scott / Boetticher Westerns have gained a cult following over the years and can be rightly regarded as mini-masterpieces! Available from Amazon on DVD and as part of a five-Western Box Set "The Films of Budd Boetticher" This review is based on the Budd Boetticher Box Set version, which is excellent all round!
on 15 February 2013
I'd been doing a little research on some other western movies when the name Budd Boetticher cropped up - and he was consistantly described in glowing terms: something along the lines of the greatest unremembered director of westerns! But it also said that he'd had a long-standing working relationship with the actor Randolph Scott - whose films my father had always enjoyed when I was a lad. So I dug a little deeper, as they say. It turned out that Budd Boetticher's reputation was extremely sound, but he'd often worked on far smaller budgets than the more familiar director names from the golden years of the western genre (e.g. John Ford), which helped establish his name as a skilled artisan and craftsman.
The Tall T is a fine story, very nicely filmed in some spectacular locations. Randolph Scott plays the part of rancher Pat Brennan, who loses his horse in a bull-riding contest. He hitches a ride home on the stagecoach, which is soon afterwards ambushed. The bandit gang is led by a character called Usher (played by Richard Boone). They don't intend on leaving any witnesses - that is, until they discover that one of the passengers is a copper mining heiress (played by Maureen O'Sullivan). So their plans change and the bandits decide to seek a ransom from her father.
In a hugely dramatic and tense sequence of events, Brennan has to work out how to outwit and outgun the gang. Despite its relatively short running time of 74 minutes, this movie has plenty of content, drama, lots of action and the previously mentioned tension. In 2000 it was selected by the American Library of Congress for special preservation in the US National Film Registry for being culturally, historically and aesthetically significant. I agree - it's great!
Randolph Scott never had the star appeal of John Wayne, but has, nevertheless, starred in some far above average westerns and the Tall T is certainly one of the best. The story is by Elmore Leonard, something of a cult writer with a solid critical following nowadays. Although for the time, it does not have the Sam Peckinpah bloodbath treatment, the villains in the piece are convincing and brutal, with Randolph Scott a pragmatic survivor as opposed to a totally heroic character. Considering the treatment that weaker characters suffer at the hands of these outlaws, Scott appears sensible and thoughtful. Though he prevails in the end, the outcome looks far from certain; only greed and less thoughtful behaviour on the part of the badmen does he manage to exploit weaknesses and ride away unharmed. Each of the cast play their characters well, most falling into a despair, the more trigger happy or cowardly having been summarily despatched - only Scott, enigmatic, but apparently compliant alongside a captured heiress being allowed to survive - while they can be of use. The bad characters, initially united, succumb to greed and infighting, making for an interesting plot that holds the attention. A very good film
on 20 January 2013
Great efficient grown-up story-telling and some great photography make for another memorable outing with walnut-featured Randy just shy of pension-age but still standing up for what's right with gritty determination. Richard Boone plays the usual Boetticher sometimes-sympathetic villain with a subtly different manner to Lee Marvin in 'Seven Men From Now', trying to rein-in the wilder tendencies of his 'invulnerable' youthful sidekicks who are partly excused their behaviour by 'background'. There seems to be a debate over which of the two films is best. Certainly there's not much wrong with this but the scale and variety of character in 'Seven' probably makes it the 'greater'. Maureen O'Sullivan gets an unusual role in westerns as a woman in early middle-age, perhaps more realistically suited to playing opposite Scott.
on 28 December 2012
this is an excellent western i would recommend this movie to everyone who likes good westerns
and it has a great actor who is renowned for western pictures he goes by the name of randolph
scott who i think was made for western movies great stuff