The Tall T (Budd Boetticher / U.S., 1957):

The meditative buckaroo, Budd Boetticher's hombre, the cowboy with a rock in his boot. The desert of the opening shot is neither Ford’s al fresco cathedral nor Mann’s barbed wilderness, but a patch of craggy boulders and low horizons -- the circular topography of ambiguity, with Randolph Scott riding through. Former ramrod turned lone goatherd, Scott faces frontier life with good-humored tranquility: He wanders into town, smiles at the bull that will throw him into a watering trough, and limps off with saddle slung over his shoulder. Sharing the stagecoach is the mining heiress "scheduled to be an old maid" (Maureen O’Sullivan) with her fancy-pants bridegroom (John Hubbard), and suddenly at the nearby station the mood darkens. (A brief panning shot splendidly embodies the protagonist’s laconic horror as he realizes that the young friend he was bringing a present for is now one of several corpses at the bottom of a well.) "A man should have something of his own," declares the head bandit (Richard Boone), something of a sagebrush gent despite his sins, with plenty of courtliness and rue to go with his violence. (The only thing he despises more than the snake-eyed brutishness of his cohorts is the craven Hubbard’s willingness to ditch his new wife to save his own skin.) Boetticher unfolds this hostage scenario on bare natural prosceniums, a campfire and a cave and a sloping hillside, and with stark delicacy lets the characters’ personal moral codes brush against and shade into each other. Leone remembers the outlaws’ first appearance in Once Upon a Time in the West’s prologue, Cameron Mitchell in Hellman's Ride in the Whirlwind might be Boone’s exhausted, wandering ghost. A deep and bitter study of hostility and serenity, a waltz between the hero who admits he’s scared and the villain who hopes one day to have his own little ranch. The last line ("It’s gonna be a nice day") is the perfect echo for Boetticher’s West, a void where a man keeps his opponent alive just so he can tell him his dreams. Cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr. With Arthur Hunnicutt, Henry Silva, Skip Homeier, and Robert Burton.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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