Monday, September 2, 2013

#1,113. Ride the High Country (1962)

Directed By: Sam Peckinpah

Starring: Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Mariette Hartley

Trivia:  The canvas used to make the tents in the mining camp came from leftover sails from MGM's Mutiny on the Bounty

Former lawmen Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) and Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) are past their prime, and forced to take any odd job that comes their way. So when Judd is hired by a small bank to guard a shipment of cash, which is headed for the nearby mining community of Coarse Gold, he asks his old buddy Gil to ride along with him. 

But while Steve Judd is still an honest man, Gil’s faith in the law has wavered, and only agrees to accompany Steve because he intends to steal the money. Joined by his young accomplice Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), Gil bides his time, waiting for the perfect moment to slip away with the loot.

Before reaching their destination, the three traveling companions make a rest stop at the house of Joshua Knudson (R.G. Armstrong). Knudson’s only daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley) wants to leave home so she can marry her fiancé Billy Hammond (James Drury), who, as fate would have it, lives just outside Coarse Gold. 

Against the wishes of her domineering father, Elsa packs her bags and joins Judd and the others on their trek to Coarse Gold. She does eventually reach Billy’s campsite, but after meeting his four brothers (played by John Anderson, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates and John Davis Chandler), Elsa begins having second thoughts about the whole arrangement.

Ride the High Country is a study in contradictions, starting with its two lead characters. Played to perfection by McCrae, Steve Judd is the prototypical western hero, an upstanding former lawman who can always be counted on to do the right thing, whereas Gil (the always reliable Scott) would rather steal than earn an honest buck. 

But this is just the beginning, because scattered across this film's picturesque landscapes (all captured wonderfully by Peckinpah and his crew) are some of the most loathsome characters in the history of western movies. Joshua Knudson , Elsa’s father, is a religious zealot who sometimes beats his daughter, and Billy’s four brothers, most of whom haven’t had a bath in months, fully expect to “share” Elsa with Billy (in every way imaginable). 

That said, the movie’s most poignant contradiction occurs during Elsa’s and Billy’s wedding, which is held inside a saloon / brothel. Amidst all the loud cavorting and drunkenness, the Judge (Edgar Buchanan) performing the ceremony, himself a drunk, gives a heartfelt homily on the nature of relationships, arguably the finest, most beautiful speech ever delivered in a western.

The Wild Bunch will always be my favorite Peckinpah movie, but Ride the High Country may very well be his best. A magnificent, often touching motion picture, it is one that every film buff, regardless if they’re a fan of westerns or not, should experience.

1 comment:

HAMPER said...

This is a good review. I just saw this film.