Sunday, July 24, 2022

Ride Lonesome (1959)

Ride Lonesome is a 1959 Ranown Pictures Budd Boetticher western starring Randolph Scott. As was the case with most of the Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns the script is by Burt Kennedy. It has all the ingredients you expect in a Budd Boetticher western. This was the second last of the much-admired Boetticher-Scott westerns.

Randolph Scott plays bounty hunter Ben Brigade. Brigade is a man who seems to be closed off emotionally. Eventually we will find out why. Brigade is taking Billy John (James Best) to Santa Cruz where Billy will certainly be hanged. Brigade despises he thinks Billy is a coward who shot a man in the back but there’s really nothing personal in it as far as Brigade is concerned. He’s just a bounty hunter doing his job. We will of course later find out that Brigade’s motives are not as they appear to be.

On the way to Santa Cruz they reach a swing station, a coaching post which seems to be strangely deserted. The man who runs the station is nowhere to be found. The man’s pretty young wife, Mrs Carrie Lane (Karen Steele), is there alone. And then Brigade discovers there are two men there, Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn). Brigade knows the reputation of these two men, and it’s a decidedly shady reputation. They’re career criminals but Brigade has no quarrel with them. There’s no bounty on their heads. They’re not the kinds of men that Brigade would normally choose to ride with but there’s a Mescalero war party (the Mescaleros being an Apache tribe) that looks like being major trouble. Brigade has a parley with the chief of the war party. The Mescaleros want to make a peaceful trade. If Brigade gives them Mrs Lane they will give him a fine horse in exchange.

Brigade naturally isn’t prepared to trade but reaching Santa Cruz is now going to be difficult. He’s going to need the help of Boone and Whit. He knows they can’t be trusted but he has no choice. Even when he finds out that Boone intends to kill him, he still has no choice. Billy John’s brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) is riding to his kid brother’s rescue. Billy John is just a cowardly hot-headed punk but Frank is a different kettle of fish. He’s a really mean vicious killer and he has a gang of cut-throats riding with him.

That’s the setup, and it’s perfect for a Boetticher western. Boone and Whit have an agenda but Brigade knows all about it. Brigade’s real agenda is however something we won’t learn about until later in the movie.

Boone decides that he wants Mrs Lane. She’s not interested. She despises both Boone and Brigade as men of blood, men who kill for money. Brigade does it legally but that doesn’t make it any better in Mrs Lane’s eyes. Brigade is going to have to protect Mrs Lane from Boone even if she isn’t likely to thank him for it.

There’s quite a bit of action and there are plenty of tense moments but of course what the movie really is is a character study of Ben Brigade, a man driven by demons from the past. Randolph Scott does well. The role needed to be handled with subtlety and that’s how Scott handles it.

Pernell Roberts and James Coburn are terrific as Boone and Whit. Roberts is particularly good. Boone is not a cardboard cut-out bad guy. There’s some complexity to the character. He doesn’t want to kill Brigade. It’s just that he has to do it. Boone is perhaps an even more interesting and complex character than Brigade. 

Whit isn’t real smart but he’s loyal to Boone, and Boone is loyal to him. They’re not very admirable characters but their friendship for each other is real which makes a nice contrast to Brigade who has no friends.

Karen Steele is good as Mrs Lane, a woman who thinks she can look after herself but maybe the world is an even more dangerous place that she’d thought.

The ending is not quite what I expected but naturally I’m not going to give you any hints about that.

Being a Budd Boetticher movie Ride Lonesome looks spectacular. Charles Lawton Jr’s cinematography is one of the movie’s major assets.

This is the third Budd Boetticher western I’ve seen and I can’t really pick a favourite. He just seemed to be so consistently good. I’ve also reviewed 7 Men From Now (1956) and Comanche Station (1960).

During the 1950s the classic Hollywood western became much more adult and more sophisticated, dealing with difficult ethical and emotional dilemmas. Ride Lonesome is typical of this trend. And it’s gripping entertainment as well. Highly recommended.


  1. You've seen three of the best of the Boetticher/Scott films now, The Tall T is another that's up there and there's not a lot to separate any of those. Just sublime cinema.

    1. I'm tempted by the Indicator Blu-Ray release of The Tall T. It's not too overpriced and seems to include lots of extras.

    2. It is a strong release. In fact, all of the Boetticher titles Indicator released are very good.