The seven Westerns Budd Boetticher made with leading man Randolph Scott are notable for Scott’s wry, laconic, weather-beaten virtuousness; colourful secondary characters; visual gracefulness; stark, abstract landscapes; and a muted but aching sense of tragedy.
If Ride Lonesome stands out in the series, it’s because of the optimism of its ending, the easygoing interplay between Pernell Roberts and James Coburn as Boetticher’s two most likable villains, and the perfection of Burt Kennedy’s script.
Scott plays a bounty hunter with the fabulous name of Ben Brigade, who, after capturing a notorious killer – a memorably infantile James Best – in the film’s first scene, takes him across open country to collect his reward.
During his trek Brigade acquires – against his will – three companions: a station master’s sexy wife (Karen Steele) and the aforementioned pair of good badmen, who plan on robbing Brigade of his captive. Their outlaw brother (Lee Van Cleef), meanwhile, is in hot pursuit of the group.
The characters are locked in a pattern of competing or complementary goals – no one can make a move without someone else making a countermove – and all are aware that they are headed toward a fatal showdown.
Shooting in CinemaScope, Boetticher does full justice to both the elegance of the scenario and to his protagonist’s mythic solitude.
Lee Van Cleef