Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Tall T Review

Dir. Budd Boetticher

Starring: Randolph Scott, Maureen O’Sullivan, Richard Boone

Patrick Brennan is a just a normal guy, who in the process of trying to get a bull, gets thrown into a hostage situation when Frank Usher (Richard Boone) kidnaps and attempts to ransom off the local copper baron’s daughter Doretta, (Maureen O’Sullivan) and her newly married weak willed husband Willard Mims (John Hubbard).

The Tall T was the third film of the Ranown cycle, a series of films made by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, and was the follow up to Decision at Sundown. The Ranown Cycle were a series of seven films were produced by a company founded by Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown, beginning with the film Seven Men from Now (1956), and ending with Comanche Station in 1960.  The Tall T was based on the Elmore Leonard short story The Captives, and was actually the first film to be released based on one of this stories, preceding 3:10 to Yuma by several months. The title of the film is odd though, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual film. According to an interview with Bernard Tavernier, Budd Boetticher said “'I've never known what the title meant. The title of the novel was The Captives, but another studio had the rights on that title. We sent the film to New York and the bureaucrats there who don't know anything gave it this 'commercial' title, which has no connection with the film whatever”.  This film, like the others in the Ranown cycles were westerns made more for adult audiences, which is noticeable in some of its themes and in its display of violence. I was surprised by the brutal death of the character Billy Jack, with Brennan forcing Billy Jack’s rifle to his face and pulling the trigger while they fight. I am sure that scene surprised people back in 1957.

Randolph Scott puts in a good performance as Pat Brennan, the stone faced good guy that he typically played in these movies. I want to note that he does do a move at the end where he tosses his gun and catching it while holstering it was cool.  But Richard Boone is the stand out as Frank, the leader of the gang that takes the stage passengers prisoner. After shooting Williard, Frank states his belief that Frank believes that killing the Doretta’s husband was the right thing to do.  I’ve always felt that the best villains are the one that always think that they are doing the right thing, and this is a great example of that. Richard Boone plays a character that is doing bad things, but at the same time he comes across as very likable. In interviews, Boetticher described the relationships between Scott’s characters and the villians of the films as a love story between two men, and that is very apparent in this film. Then there are scenes where Brennan and Frank are talking, and  Frank admits to not having much in common with his partners in crime that talk about “women, drinking and such, a man gets tired of that”, or him stating that it “ain’t right for a man to be alone” than mentioning that he is keeping Brennan around because he likes him. These scenes and the constant references to Maureen O’Sullivan’s character being plain looking gives the film a bit of homoerotic subtext.

Maureen O’Hara does well in the role of Doretta, but her role mainly consists of being bossed around and coming to terms with the fact that she married Willard, a guy that she didn’t like out of fear of being alone. Her husband is a money hungry coward that is after the money her father made on a copper claim. Willard sells her out at the first chance he gets and even the villains of the film think he’s a jerk, with Frank calling him a “low grade husband”. Towards the end of the film she begins to fall for Brennan and as they leave together at the end of the picture, it appears to be a hopeful image, pointing towards a happier life for both of them. 

Arthur Hunnicutt does a good job as Rintoon the driver of the coach carrying the Mims, which is impressive that according to interviews he spent all of his time on set drunk. Henry Silva is good in his role as Chink, the unfortunately named member of Frank’s gang that is the most threatening. The name is aside he doesn’t play the role as an Asian stereotype and he does a good job in the film.

The Tall T is a great, entertaining film. The cast is great and works well together, and like Decision at Sundown, this is a film that while made on a low budget, the skill and artistry of the people behind and in front of the camera elevates it, and it really doesn’t feel like a film from the fifties. It’s well worth seeking out if you haven’t had the opportunity to see it.

No comments:

Post a Comment