When I went through the Boetticher/Scott collaborations years ago, I felt that Ride Lonesome was inferior to The Tall T and Seven Men From Now. My viewing the other night confirmed that opinion.
Hailed by critics and filmmakers like Scorsese, Ride Lonesome does not hold up to those previous pictures (but to be clear, even a faulty Budd Boetticher picture is better than most movies ever made). The director and screenwriter Burt Kennedy recycle elements from their past collaborations, specifically the hero looking for the killer of his wife and the travel structure of Seven Men From Now. This time, the dialog is more terse and delivered with a darker tone however it doesn’t feel as natural coming out of the characters’ mouths. I suspect that, with a couple notches on their belts, the director and writer fell in love a little too much with the sound of their own words and the self-consciousness shows to the film’s detriment.
Also, Lee Van Cleef is no Lee Marvin or Richard Boone. He may be an iconic Western villain but he carries half the weight of those two others and presents an antagonist with a quarter of the complexity. Karen Steele is prettier than her predecessors but not nearly as interesting. I think Budd/Scott/Burt did better when they chose plain-looking leading ladies like The Tall T‘s Maureen O’Sullivan or Seven Men‘s attractive but clearly damaged Gail Russell. The choice of Steele reminds me of the mistake most modern movies make, casting women as eye candy and that’s about it. The highlights of the cast are actually Pernell Roberts and James Coburn. The pair’s interactions are so genuine, sometimes funny and sometimes touching. I could have watched a film just about those two and lost the Scott-revenge plot altogether.
The climax and final shot are remarkable and worth the entire runtime. Perhaps that is what the admirers of this film remember most. I will bring up one last flaw I found in the narrative (spoiler alert): Why does Scott’s character withhold the fact that he fully intends to give Billy over to Pernell’s character? By doing so, he gains nothing, only putting himself in danger throughout the picture. There’s no sign that his estimation of Pernell changes much throughout their journey and I don’t see any kind of decision making in Scott’s performance. It seems like a screenwriter’s device to create tension but it’s a lazy, stupid move on Burt and Budd’s part, one that they wouldn’t have made just a couple years earlier.
Watched on YouTube.