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DVD set celebrates Randoph Scott's Western films

Even though he appeared in more than 100 films and became a western movie icon second only to John Wayne in enduring popularity, his name is not well-known outside the corral of hardcore Western fans.

 

In the era of show business before Entertainment Tonight and TMZ, chances were that if an actor didn't seek publicity he didn't receive much media attention, unless he got caught drunk or breaking the Ten Commandments in a public place.

Perhaps that's why Randolph Scott never received the accolades he deserved. By living a low-key and virtuous life he stayed out of the tabloids. Even though he appeared in more than 100 films and became a western movie icon second only to John Wayne in enduring popularity, his name is not well-known outside the corral of hardcore Western fans.

"He made his way in life on his own terms," wrote Scott's son, Christopher Scott, in the biography Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott? "Modesty prevented him from thinking he was some big deal. He was just a man doing a job and trying to do it the very best he could."

After decades of roles in both classic and forgettable films, Scott embarked upon the most successful and creatively fulfilling chapter of his career at the age of 58. Beginning with Seven Men from Now (1956), Scott entered a partnership with director Oscar "Budd" Boetticher Jr. and writer Burt Kennedy that yielded several minor genre classics. "Even just knowing Randolph Scott was one of the highlights of my career," wrote Boetticher in the foreword to the book Last of the Cowboy Heroes by Robert Nott. "If the Confederate Cavalry had one hundred ‘Randolph Scotts,' the South would have won the Civil War. There has never been such a complete gentleman in the long history of the motion picture business."

Five of the Boetticher-Scott films have been released on DVD for the first time in The Films of Budd Boetticher. The release is the first in a series of Collector's Choice sets from Sony and The Film Foundation, an organization dedicated to film preservation.

"The partnership with Sony grew out of the desire of our founder, Martin Scorsese, and board member Clint Eastwood to see the Boetticher films out on DVD and available to the fans," says Margaret Bodde, executive co-director of The Film Foundation. "Marty and Clint sent a letter to the head of Sony asking them to please put these films out on DVD because there are a lot of people who want to see them."

According to Grover Crisp, the company's senior vice president of film restoration and digital mastering, Sony was already aware of the demand. "Over the years, we've been asked more about when these films would be out on DVD than any others," he says. "We've been working on restoring them over the last decade, and when the ‘Collector's Choice' idea came about, Budd Boetticher was a natural choice for the first set."


DVD boxed set of Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher

The title of Christopher Scott's biography of his father, Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?, was taken from a 1974 Statler Brothers country song that lamented the bygone days of B-movie Westerns:

Whatever happened to Randolph Scott Ridin' the trail alone?

Whatever happened to Gene and Tex and Roy and Rex — the Durango Kid?

That same year saw the release of Mel Brooks' Western spoof Blazing Saddles, which also honored the cowboy pop culture icon in the film. When the townspeople of Rock Ridge refuse to support Sheriff Bart, the sheriff tells them, "You'd do it for Randolph Scott." Upon hearing this the citizens rise, put their hands to their hearts, and reverently repeat: "Randolph Scott."

A Virginia native raised in North Carolina, Scott moved to Los Angeles in 1928 and immediately put his Southern heritage to good use — one of his first Hollywood jobs was coaching Gary Cooper on his accent for The Virginian (1929). Following a letter of introduction from his father, a successful textiles executive, written to Howard Hughes, who was then in the midst of his filmmaking flirtation, Scott made his movie debut in 1928 as an extra in the film Sharp Shooter. With his handsome features and square-cut jaw, Scott was a natural for tall-in-the-saddle heroes. And at 6 feet 2 inches he was one of the few screen cowboys who could look John Wayne in the eye, which he did in The Spoilers and Pittsburgh, two memorable 1942 films that also featured Marlene Dietrich.

Rumored to be author Margaret Mitchell's first choice for Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939), Scott was denied that opportunity for movie immortality, but he kept busy as a supporting player in everything from musicals (Roberta, Follow the Fleet) to horror films (Murders in the Zoo, Supernatural). He also continued to find an audience in Westerns, among them a series of nine films based on Zane Grey novels.

After Home, Sweet Homicide (1946), he devoted himself almost exclusively to Westerns. The one exception was the comedy/drama Christmas Eve (1947). Scott liked the Western genre and was comfortable with its portrayals of good versus evil — but he was pragmatic and made his movie choices based on smart business sense rather than for the creative challenge. "Westerns always make money," he once said.

Over the last 15 years of Scott's career, he starred in an astonishing 35 cowboy films, some memorable (A Lawless Street, Hangman's Knot), others less so. However, he had clearly established his brand at the box office and rarely ventured away from his most familiar character type — the honorable Southern gentleman of the West. "I personally believe that he chose roles that were close in character to his own," wrote his son Christopher Scott. "As a consequence, it was more like playing himself."

In 1956 Scott and Boetticher teamed up for the first time on Seven Men from Now, a project once intended for John Wayne. The response to the film was so enthusiastic that the duo formed a production company, Ranown, with producer Harry Joe Brown. Together they made five more films, which brought a surprisingly stark reality and psychological complexity to the B-movie Western, considering their average shooting schedule of a mere two weeks. British film scholar Jim Kitses wrote, "The Boetticher hero as created by Scott can be said to possess (or be moving towards) a great serenity, the knowledge that we are fundamentally alone, that nothing lasts, that what matters in the face of all this is ‘living the way a man should.'"

Scott was 62 when he filmed his final Ranown Western, Comanche Station (1960). The Ranown films would have been a fitting capstone to his career, but Scott had one more classic in his holster. Directed by Sam Peckinpah and costarring Joel McCrea, Ride the High Country (1962) was a hit in its time and attains greater reverence with each passing year. "Most of Peckinpah's films have devoted followings, but only Ride the High Country unites all factions, halts arguments, and brings outsiders into the Peckinpah fold," writes Danny Peary in Cult Movies 3. "It is his one undisputed masterpiece and one of the greatest Westerns ever made."

Years later, McCrea recalled that Scott approached him near the end of filming and said, "Now we've probably done the best picture we've done for a long time and probably the best we'll ever do. So why don't we both get out while we're lucky?" McCrea didn't, but Scott took his own advice. Though he retired from acting, he lived another 25 years — long enough to see his name associated with all that is good and noble in America's cowboy heritage.


DVD BOXED SET OF SCOTT-BOETTICHER FILMS

The Films of Budd Boetticher features new high-definition transfers of five of the best Ranown films starring Randolph Scott: The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959), and Comanche Station (1960). The DVD set also includes the feature-length Boetticher documentary A Man Can Do That, as well as introductions, commentaries, and contributions from directors Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Taylor Hackford, and Quentin Tarantino.

Grover Crisp, who headed up the film restoration team for Sony, reports that the process was challenging at times, but the results are worth the long wait that Western fans have endured. "The main problem was that the Ranown films were shot on Eastman Kodak color negatives in the 1950s. Anything shot that way is at risk because of color fade, which all the films had to varying degrees," Crisp says.

A dash of digital wizardry helped solved some of the problems and brought the movies closer to the original color palette. "We've had a great response to the set," Crisp says. "This is the best these films have looked in 50 years."


RANDOLPH SCOTT'S BEST MOVIES

Click here to see a slideshow of images from his films

1. Ride the High Country (1962): Randolph Scott is the only actor in the history of movies whose last film is almost unanimously considered his best. Shot by director Sam Peckinpah in just 28 days, this moving elegy to the passing of the Old West is a fitting sendoff for both Scott and fellow cowboy star Joel McCrea.

2. Seven Men from Now (1956): Scott's first collaboration with director Budd Boetticher and screenwriter Burt Kennedy set the standard for their dark, lean vision of the West. The revenge-driven storyline, a Ranown staple, benefits from the casting of Lee Marvin as the outlaw who matches wills and wits with Scott.

3. Ride Lonesome (1959): A bounty hunter (Scott), a killer, and a pair of outlaws — each with their own secret agenda — ride together on a quest for redemption and retribution, filmed amid stunning CinemaScope scenery. The supporting cast includes James Best, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Cleef, and James Coburn in his feature film debut.

4. Hangman's Knot (1952): One of Scott's best pre-Ranown Westerns, Hangman's Knot was written and directed by Roy Huggins, who later created the TV classics Maverick and The Fugitive. Scott plays a Confederate cavalry leader who robs a Yankee gold shipment in Nevada, only to face criminal prosecution when he discovers that the War Between the States ended a month earlier. Donna Reed costars as a former Union army nurse.

5. The Tall T (1957): Based on a story by Elmore Leonard, The Tall T revolves around a rancher (Scott) who becomes accidentally entangled in a ransom plot led by outlaw Frank Usher (Richard Boone). As in Leonard's 3:10 to Yuma, the outlaw follows his own code of honor and ultimately has more in common with the rancher than with his own gang. Still doing many of his own stunts at the age of 59, Scott rides a Brahma bull in this film.

6. The Last of the Mohicans (1936): Scott plays Hawkeye in this action-packed adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper classic. A historic epic in the old Hollywood tradition, the film established Scott as a leading man. The explosive attack on Fort William Henry ranks with the best movie moments of the 1930s.

7. Comanche Station (1960): The final Ranown Western is a haunting tale that explores the familiar Boetticher themes of isolated men who struggle to hold on to their ideals in a harsh world. Scott plays a man who, haunted by the kidnapping of his wife by Indians, helps another husband recover his wife after she suffers a similar fate.

8. The Spoilers (1942): Perhaps the best version of the oft-filmed Rex Beach novel, this 1942 film was directed by Ray Enright and features John Wayne as the hero, Randolph Scott as the villain, and a climactic knockdown, drag-out fistfight between the two Western icons.

9. Decision at Sundown (1957): One of Scott's most intense performances can be found in this saga of a vengeance-driven gunman who takes on an entire town to kill the man responsible for driving his wife to suicide. "Watching Budd Boetticher's Decision at Sundown, it's almost sad to realize that Scott has been taken for granted," wrote Robert Nott in his book Last of the Cowboy Heroes: The Westerns of Randolph Scott.

10. Abilene Town (1946): A B-movie with A-list source material (the story is based on a novel by Stagecoach author Ernest Haycox), Abilene Town has Scott donning a marshal's badge to clean up a cow town on the edge of the frontier. Watch for the surprising twist at the end that settles the romantic subplot between Scott, good-girl Rhonda Fleming, and salty saloon-singer Ann Dvorak.

 

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