Saturday, September 3, 2022
The Tall T (1956)
The early part of The Tall T establishes an almost idyllic mood. Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott) is a former ranch foreman who now has a spread of his own. It’s not much of a spread, he can’t even afford to hire a single ranch hand, but it’s his own place and he’s happy. He’s confident that he can make a go of it. Brennan is a quiet sort of guy but he’s not by any means a bitter loser or a misanthrope and he’s entirely devoid of self-pity. He’s pretty easy-going and mostly he gets along with people just fine.
Even when he loses his horse and has to walk the fifteen miles to get back home he remains cheerful. It turns out he won’t have to walk. His friend Rintoon gives him a lift. Rintoon drives the stage coach that serves this part of the territory. It’s not a scheduled stage run. A smarmy bookkeeper named Willard Mimms has hired the stage to take himself and his new bride Doretta to a neighbouring town for their honeymoon.
Brennan has no illusions about his prospects. Usher and his trigger-happy sidekicks Billy Jack (Skip Homeier) and Chink (Henry Silva) have killed four people within the space of 24 hours. Whether that ransom is paid or not it’s a certainty that the gang will kill Brennan and Doretta Mimms. Frank Usher doesn’t believe in leaving any witnesses alive. Usher rides off to collect the ransom money, leaving Chink and Billy Jack to guard the hostages. Brennan figures that he is simply going to have to come up with a way out of this before Usher gets back.
Richard Boone as Frank Usher is perhaps even more interesting as a character. Usher is a bad man but he wasn’t always a bad man and maybe he’s not totally comfortable being a ruthless outlaw. An intriguing relationship develops between Brennan and Usher. At times they almost like one another.
The Brennan-Usher relationship is the core of the movie. There are of course huge differences between the two men but perhaps some similarities. They’re both to some extent loners and outsiders. Maybe Brennan is the man Usher could have been if only he’d had a few breaks. And maybe Brennan is the man Usher would like to be. And Brennan sees Usher as a man who didn’t need to go bad.
The plots of Boetticher’s westerns are not overly complicated. A good story doesn’t need to be complicated. What matters is that Burt Kennedy’s script is tightly constructed and it provides the necessary emotional punches.
Boetticher’s visual style is also never unnecessarily complicated. His compositions are always superb but his visuals are never fussy or gimmicky. Both the script and the visuals are simple and austere and very very effective.
The Tall T is quite simply a great western. Highly recommended.
I’ve reviewed several other Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns - Ride Lonesome (1959), Comanche Station (1960) and 7 Men From Now (1956).