Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Westbound review

Westbound (1959)
Staring Randolph Scott, 
Virginia Mayo
Dir. Budd Boetticher

In 1864 Cavalry Captain John Hayes (Scott) is ordered to leave the war and become a civilian boss of the Overland Stage Line, running the lines that carry gold from California for the war effort. But once he arrives in town he encounters resistance from Southern sympathizers who are out to destory the line, led by Clay Putnam (Andrew Duggan), who was once friend to Hayes but is now married to his former love (Mayo).

Westbound is the sixth film of the Ranown Cycle, the films that Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott made together in the fifties, and this is by most accounts the weakest film that they made together. This was the only of their films that was made for Warner Bros, and that was due to Scott still being under contract for one more film to the WB and Boetticher agreed to direct this film mainly because of his friendship with Scott. He later called this film a disaster*, but it really isn't that bad. The film uses some great Warner Bros sets, and the acting is good but there are other problems that hurt the film. The movie has a bit of a flat, boring look to it, and the script is a bit of a mess, seeming like it was jumbled together quickly or a first draft that never got a needed second pass. A good example of this is the handling of Michael Dante's character Rod Miller, who starts off at an interesting place having lost an arm in the war. He has to adjust to life without an arm, and to prejudice from the townspeople for having fought for the Union army. With the help of Hayes he learns to be useful and accept what's happened to him, and he becomes a useful sidekick during the middle of the film. But just when he starts to be happy and useful to Hayes his character is shot, and dropped from the film, like they ran out of ideas for the one armed man and needed to get rid of him to hurry towards the ending, which felt rushed and a bit anticlimactic. After building towards an ending involving Hayes and Michael Pate's Mace, their final confrontation is too brief.

Randolph Scott is good in the movie, as he usually was with Boetticher. He is pretty much just a good guy in a white hat. At this point he had a long career behind him playing this type of role and he knew what he was doing. As I said earlier, Michael Dante gets the more interesting role in the first half of the movie, and he plays the role well. It kind of hurt the film when his character exited. Andrew Duggan's Clay is sort of interesting in that he is a bit wishy washy in terms of villainy. He wants to stop Hayes but he doesn't want to do anything too bad to him or anyone else, and his main motivation is cause he is from and loves the South. Michael Pate's Mace is the more villainous character, seemingly committing acts of violence just for fun. I did have a a bit of a problem with how the female actresses where billed. I understand why Virginia Mayo was billed over her, but really Karen Steele should of been the top billed female in this picture. Her character is more interesting with a better arc, and Steele does better work in the film than Mayo does. But the billing of the actresses makes sense based on their successes as actresses, since Mayo was one of the biggest stars for Warner Brothers in the forties and at that point Steele had only done a handful of movies (including the earlier Ranown films Decision at Sundown and Ride Lonesome) and a good bit of television work. But her character of Jeanie is one of the stronger roles in the film, she is a self reliant woman that doesn't need a man to help her. She's introduced alone, plowing a field by herself, so you know at the end when she's left alone that she is going to be alright. Mayo's character Norma is one that spends the movie complaining to Clay about how big of a jerk he's being. She really doesn't have much to do and is kind of wasted in the role.

All things considered this isn't a bad movie, it is just sandwiched in the middle of a bunch of better movies made by the same actor and director. Scott and Boetticher elevate what would be a mediocre film and make a fun film, but it isn't as good as the films that they made with writer Harry Joe Brown. Those other films are great, while this is a film that probably doesn't need to be watched more than once. It's biggest problem is that it is very similar to other westerns of that time period, but a lot of that might be due to baggage that I brought to it before viewing. But I think that if someone when into the film with no expectations then they would probably enjoy it more than I did. But I will admit to holding the Rnaown films to a higher standard than other westerns of the fifties. But overall I wasn't bored, and that's what's most important.

* "As far as my films with Randolph Scott are concerned, I have never included Westbound, which in my opinion could have continued right on into the Pacific Ocean. Westbound was a mission of rescue, nothing more. It wasn't until after the third picture with Randy that I was told he had one more contractual obligation at Warner Brothers, and I considered that a disaster." - Budd Boetticher, When in Disgrace

No comments:

Post a Comment