Westerns director Budd Boetticher (1916-2001) has become famous for the series of low-budget Westerns he made in the late 1950s, which starred Randolph Scott. Boetticher traveled a singular path toward the Western genre. As the adopted son of a wealthy family, he went from being a star college athlete and boxer to seeking a bullfighting career in Mexico before entering the film world in the 1940s.
A somewhat uneven career as he developed as a director would come together in a 4-year cycle of six commercially successful Westerns that began in 1956. This series has become known as the “Ranown Cycle” (named for the partnership of Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown) and is composed of Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960). These consistently organized and detailed films were made in the rocky locations near Lone Pine, California.
The characters in Boetticher’s Westerns are multi-layered – villains are also multi-dimensional. Boetticher’s villains recognize in the Randolph Scott hero similarities to themselves – these similarities may be real, longed for or long gone. There is also admiration for Scott’s individualism by the antagonists in Boetticher’s films.
To demonstrate how Boetticher connects the villain and hero in his Westerns and to show the multi-dimensional (even charmingly attractive) nature of his antagonists, the film Seven Men from Now (1956) can be given as an example.
This film centres on a former sheriff, Ben Stride (played by Scott), who seeks revenge against the seven men involved in the robbery of the Wells Fargo office where his wife had worked – she was slain during the theft of a strong box. Following an opening scene in which Stride kills two of the group he tracks, he encounters a couple, the Greers (Gail Russell and Walter Reed), traveling by wagon to California and he helps them extract their wagon from the muddy trail.
While they share the route together, they encounter two more men, Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and Clete (Don Barry). Stride had once put Masters behind bars and this creates tension in their familiarity. The Greers are in fact transporting the stolen Wells Fargo box to the robbery’s mastermind at his saloon in the next town. John Greer had unsuspectingly agreed to carry the payload in his wagon to earn money for him and his struggling wife – as part of the deal he was told not to ask questions about its contents. Thus, neither Masters, seeking the loot, nor Stride, who seeks to punish those who killed his wife, are aware that they in fact travel along with the locked Wells Fargo box.
There will also be tension – the romantic kind – between Stride and Mrs. Greer en route, something Masters observes and tries to use to throw the sheriff off-balance. A key scene has Stride and Masters taking shelter from the rain in the Greer wagon. While sharing coffee, Masters tells the story of a previous flame that is both a de facto undressing of Mrs. Greer (while her husband fails to intervene) and innuendo about Stride’s feelings toward her. There is an attempt by the villain to connect to the Scott hero and then to gain an advantage by creating tension between the other three in the wagon.
(Copyright – October 5, 2011)