The late Gregory Peck was a rarity of rarities among Hollywood actors in that he lived a life of authentic integrity, fulfilling a role of moral iconography that seems to be extinct now. The previous generation of critics were too preoccupied in assessing his occasionally dull virtuosity to notice that Peck was as vital a symbol, albeit a flawed one, as was John Wayne. Peck’s rugged nobility was best conveyed when shaped and nurtured by the right director. In the wrong hands, Peck could be woefully miscast, such as his Captain Ahab in John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956) or worse, as Josef Mengele (complete with cringe-inducing accent) in The Boys From Brazil (1978). Peck, a moderate liberal of devout faith, could rarely generate the type of rudimentary excitement and screen charisma of conservative counterparts such as Wayne, Charlton Heston, or Gary Cooper.
In a brief span of four years, from 1956 to 1960, Director Budd Boetticher, writer Burt Kennedy and actor Randolph Scott collaborated on a series of seven “chamber westerns” which rank as one of the most rewarding achievements in the art of American Cinema.
While a number of prominent film critics, historians and luminaries have rightly praised the “Ranown” series (named after Boetticher’s production company), attention is often paid to the fact that Boetticher produced the series on a shoestring budget. Thus, despite praise, the series and Boetticher himself are relegated to a second tier, “B” level, as if the monies poured into these films somehow affect and dictate their intrinsic value.
To the contrary, the Boetticher/Kennedy/Scott westerns are in every way equal to the larger budgeted collaborations of Ford and Wayne, Daves and Ford, Leone and Eastwood.
With these sparse, psychologically complex works, Boetticher did as much for the American western as Val Lewton did for the American Horror film in the 40’s.
The breakthrough Seven Men From Now (1956) was a long way from Ken Maynard’s white hat and bottle of milk atop a horse named Tarzan. It’s also far more aesthetically modernist, more taut, more complexly developed in character than the later, ultra-stylish westerns of Peckinpah and Leone (the exception being Peckinpah’s slightly overrated Ride the High Country, also starring Randolph Scott with Joel McCrea). Very few films in the genre can boast as richly developed characterizations. The Delmer Daves/Glenn Ford films along with the Anthony Mann/James Stewart cannon can arguably be mentioned in the same breath. Continue reading “THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER”
To many contemporary viewers the idea of a silent western is as bizarre as a silent musical or silent Shakespeare. To counteract that, one could easily point to the popcorn pleasures of many a Tom Mix western, such as The Great K & ATrain Robbery (1926) or Just Tony (1922). However, dipping back a mere ten years before Great K & A we find William S. Hart’s Hell’s Hinges (1916) to prove just how bizarre the silent western could get. Hart was the direct opposite of Mix, yet both actors had an authentic western past. Where Mix’s film were flashy, over the top, stunt-oriented, dime-store pulp western family fare, Hart offered … Continue reading HELL’S HINGES (1916)