Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 151: Man in the Saddle
It’s odd that the collaboration between Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott gets a lot of critical attention (and even a boxset) but the six Westerns the actor made with Andre de Toth get barely any lip service. If Man in the Saddle is any indication, it’s time for that to change.
This is a surprisingly dark Western, not just in its subject matter but also its cinematography. De Toth and DP Charles Lawton Jr. stage several scenes at dusk. It’s unclear if all of these are supposed to play as “day for night” but in the end, it doesn’t really matter because they’re so effective in casting a mood over the entire picture. The same goes for the action which is quick and without fancifulness. The only extended action scenes are a fist fight that literally tears a cabin apart and a final duel in a windswept town. Both rank as some of the most memorable of the genre, especially the showdown that de Toth gives a haunting quality.
In terms of the performances, Scott is on par with his work in Boetticher’s best but also never surprises (he’s not really supposed to after all). One of the highlights is Ellen Drew, another example in a long list of tough women in old Westerns who don’t get their credit by modern day proponents of strong female representation. At first, I had mixed feelings about the way de Toth and the writers set up two opposing gunfighters for Scott to contend with, Richard Rober and John Russell. The storyteller in me wanted to condense the threat into one but I had to retract those feelings when a third act twist does something unexpected with one of the two villains.
This film demonstrates what the Hungarian-born director was best at: tough, gritty story with a cynical edge. He’s one of those who too often slips through the cracks in the discussion of this era and that is all the more reason for a detailed study of his work in the Western genre.
Watched on Criterion Channel