Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)




Dir: Bud Boetticher, Cast: Randolph Scott, Craig Stevens, Barry Kelly, Tol Avery, Peter Whitney, Manuel Rojas, Joe De Santis, L.Q. Jones

Buchanan Rides Alone is the odd western out in the Ranown Cycle (1), the legendary series of low-budget westerns directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott. The other movies portray the western hero as a lone and embittered, but strong-willed man with a self-imposed mission (often to find the murderer of his wife). Scott enters Buchanan Rides Alone with a smile on his face and the atmosphere is almost farcical at times. 

Buchanan rides into the border town of Agry, where everything - a steak, a bottle of whiskey and a room - costs $ 10 (what a lovely detail). The town is called Agry because it is ruled by the Agry brothers, the hypocritical judge Simon, the greedy sheriff Lew and the irresolute hotel holder Amos. Buchanan is told by sheriff Lew that drifters aren't welcome, so it would be a good thing for him not to linger  in Agry Town. Buchanan's laconic answer says it all:

"I ain't gonna linger no place until I get back where I belong."

Buchanan is not a man looking for trouble, but when they occur, he won't step away, and he'll do whatever he feels is necessary. He becomes involved in the life of the town when a wealthy young Mexican, Juan de la Vega, kills Simon Agry's son in what seems to be a fair duel. Buchanan tries to stop the angry mob from lynching the Mexican, even though he's warned that this might cost him his own neck:

"We were voted out of a double hanging, Buchanan. Unless you get on that horse and start riding, we'll make up for it with a double bury."

The lynching is then prevented by the victim's father, the judge, who prefers to give the boy a fair trial (in the face of upcoming elections for a public office). While the young De La Vega is sentenced to death by hanging, Buchanan is sent out of town at gunpoint, and the two men escorting him, have been ordered to execute him. However, one of them, a man born in the West of Texas (like Buchanan), changes sides and saves his life. In the meantime the brothers have fallen out among each other: Lew and Amos have discovered that Simon has made a secret deal with Juan de la Pena's  father to give the young man back his freedom (and his life) for $ 50.000. Agry Town has become Money Hungry Town ...

With its town setting, its corrupt dignitaries, and this combination of comedy and grim violence, the movie almost plays like a spaghetti western (one could imagine Giuliano Gemma playing the Buchanan role). And indeed it is often mentioned as one of the American westerns that Kurosawa must have seen before making Yojimbo (which was, of course, later turned into A Fistful of Dollars) by Leone. The finale - with an exchange of prisoners, the warring parties entrenching themselves on different sides of a bridge -  also seems to have influenced the finale of Rio Bravo (2). 

Even after multiple viewings I'm not sure about Buchanan Rides Alone. The quirky script is full of double-crossings and changing alliances, and if you don't pay close attention, you might lose sight of what is exactly going on - and why. I'm not too sure about Scott in this role either. In the other movies Boetticher used Scott's boney stature and furrowed face to express stoic indifference to danger, but his presence doesn't work so well in a more freewheeling context and things become a bit silly when Scott even keeps a smile on his face with a rope around his neck. In an interesting comment on the movie (3), director Taylor Hackford says Scott's Buchanan is a sort of precursor to Eastwood's No Name, the character created for Leone's Dollar Movies. True or not: you need a different kind of actor to lend credibility to a character who is charming and laconic in one moment, and gruff and lethal  in the next. In other words: an actor like Eastwood.

Some have complained about the villains in the movie, the Agrys, but I thought they were a lovely bunch of nasty maniacs, especially the slimy, treacherous Amos, played by Peter Whitney. Craig Stevens' part, on the other hand, as the mysterious gunman serving the judge, is intriguing, but not developed properly; basically it's a cameo, even though Stevens received second-billing (!). L.Q. Jones is a delight (as always) as the man who thinks there's no place like the West of Texas; he's also involved in the funniest scene of the entire movie,  the funeral of a former buddy, shot by Jones to save Buchanan: the two men dig a hole in the ground, but when it keeps filling up with water, they decide to 'bury' the man up in the tree, so the animals won't get at him. Jones then has a hilarious speech in which he declares that his friend was a cheater and a thief who couldn't be trusted under any circumstances, but otherwise not a bad guy. And look at Scott's face during the eulogy!


Notes: 

* (1) Like Richard T. Jameson has stated in an article on the cycle, the term Ranown is more evocative than precise. It's an acronym, derived from RANdolph Scott (the star and associate producer of the movies) and Harry Joe BrOWN (the executive producer), but today it rather evokes the names of Scott and Boetticher, and the seven westerns they made between 1956 and 1960. However, the first movie, Seven men from Now, the one that brought the two men together, did not involve Brown (it was produced by John Wayne's company Batjac) and the sixth movie, Westbound (1959) was a contract job for Warner Brothers and bears little resemblance to the other Boetticher-Scott collaborations. Most people therefore exclude it from the series. If we accept this, the Ranown Cycle consists of: Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960).

 * (2) There's no bridge in (the finale of) Rio Bravo, but there is one in Rio Lobo, Hawks's second loose remake of the 1959 movie.

Richard T. Jameson, The Ranown Cycle, in: They went that-a-way, London, 1982

Comments

  1. I did wonder if Amos Agry inspired Yojimbo's Inokichi in some way.

    ReplyDelete

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