Midway through the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott run, a poetical treatise on the toll of getting a good steak in a bad spot. All Scott's easygoing soldier of fortune wants is to settle down, between him and his stretch of land in West Texas is the border outpost ruled by a trio of pig-bellied brothers, "quite a town." Sheriff (Barry Kelley), judge (Tol Avery) and hotel manager (Peter Whitney) are all cut from the same corrupt cloth, the stranger smiles until he comes across the young Mexican avenger (Manuel Rojas) and then they're both facing the noose. Bystander or hero, enemy or comrade—it's a matter of circumstances, "just make sure to rise to the occasion." A relaxed intermezzo (it follows Decision at Sundown, Ride Lonesome is up ahead), a sketch in cogent "Columbia Color" by Lucien Ballard. The cowboy is gregarious and not overburdened with cunning, even a violent past is part of the irony ("Ain't murder when you kill for the revolution"), his opposite number is the hired gunslinger (Craig Stevens) whose amorality comes to resemble something like decency. Characters are captured and sprung and captured and sprung again in dreamlike repetitions, the townspeople grow impatient for a hanging while Whitney's sweaty Falstaff scurries from side to side as a literally running joke. It builds to a shootout for a saddlebag of ransom money, though not before L.Q. Jones delivers an impromptu eulogy for the feller he's gunned down: "Though I don't guess we was ever real buddies..." A medieval California frontier regarded by Boetticher with perfect Borgesian drollness, modestly tallying up betrayals and deliverances until the thing is a mighty bedrock formation for both Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. With Robert Anderson, Joe De Santis, William Leslie, Jennifer Holden, and Nacho Galindo.
--- Fernando F. Croce