Ride The High Country (1962)
‘Steven Judd’ (Joel McCrea) is a tired ex-lawman who takes a job with a Bank transporting gold from a local mine. ‘Judd’ enlists the help of his old friend, and one-time partner, ‘Gil Westrum’ (Randolph Scott). However, ‘Gil Westrum’ has other ideas for what to do with the gold once it’s been collected…..Furthermore, their paths cross with the head-strong daughter (Mariette Hartley) of a religious-farmer on the way; and she is due to to marry into a grotesque family of miners.
In his first feature-film, Peckinpah merges elements of the traditional western with the revisionist themes which would later distinguish him as a director.
Randolph Scott’s turn as the double-crossing ‘Gil Westrum’ is so persuasively authentic that after watching his performance, Scott retired from the screen altogether; citing the fact that he could do no better.
Next to Scott, Joel McCrea is the ex-lawman carrying a face ruggedly etched with a thousand stories. It’s McCrea’s almost incredulous likeability which draws you into this picture and holds you for the duration. What is endearing about this film is the way the West has changed around these two friends and what these changing circumstances will drive them to do….If you are familiar with Peckinpah’s movies, you’ll be pleased to see his distrust of modernity in the Old West coming through energetically. It’s the industrialisation of the Old West which has left Scott and McCrea chasing fortunes and fulfilment respectively.
The supporting cast is faithful and noted character actor R G Armstrong’s appearance as a bible-thumping widow is a great touch. Warren Oates, too, pops up as the crazed brother of the miner Mariette Hartley marries. Look out for Edgar Buchanan as the mining town’s drunk Judge, who only stays sober long-enough to inform his ramshackle congregation that “people change…” . Of course, this is exactly what McCrea’s character fears has happened to his old friend ‘Gil’….
The film is masterfully scripted and contains pieces of non-conversational dialogue which today’s audiences may find clunky; but actually you’d do well to try and see past this apparent shortcoming. Such scripted lines are an integral way for Peckinpah’s tale to unfold before our eyes and it’s the war of words between Scott and McCrea that gives the film a hypnotic feel. This feel is aided by some of the lushest cinematography you’re likely to see.
If you’re expecting excessive violence from Peckinpah, then you’ll be disappointed. This is no blood-soaked horse opera in the vein of ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969). Despite these aesthetic differences, the closing sequence and final shoot-out is clearly a blue-print for the epic finale in Peckinpah’s 1969 classic.
My favourite part of this movie is the final shot of McCrea’s death throes and his breathless last words – “I don’t want them to see this…I think I’ll go it alone”.
A delectable cowboy movie which differentiates itself through two simple but heroic aspects of movie-making – damn-good acting and exemplary storytelling.
hotdog rating: 9/10