Film Review:Comanche Station,
Budd Boetticher, 1960
"Any view of Hollywood, any theory of mass culture, that excludes a Boetticher must be a sadly impovershed one." (Kitses, 186)
"Scott...is a monument of stoic resilience, spare in his speech but assured in his actions his face impassive but touched with sadness."(Buscombe, 27)
"You could have been killed", Mrs Lowe(Nancy Gates)
"Yes mam" Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott)
"Boetticher's directorial eye is dispassionate, distant and drily amused. He frames the action with an appreciation for clean lines and naturally expressive textures.... life goes on with no meaning other than the sense of worth and purpose that strong individuals bring to it."
( Jameson, 63)
Film Review:Comanche Station,
Budd Boetticher, 1960
Comanche Station opens with the hero, Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott), traversing rugged desert terrain, following a route which takes him through a narrow pass flanked by boulders. He is immediately established as a loner who is courageous enough to travel alone. His ease with this situation is underlined by the standard "Cowboy riding" music, but we are alerted to the potential danger that this is Indian Country by the interspersing of snatches of this music with snatches of typical "Indian music". Their actual presence is clearly communicated by numerous "animal" calls. So economical is the script that all this is conveyed with, as yet, no dialogue whatsoever. The ride to the Comanche camp is captured on camera by a wonderful sweeping shot of the rugged desert. Comanche Station is a stage station set in a picturesque location, again stunningly captured on camera. The film is a perfect example of the odyssey western, its campfire centred dramatic interchanges interspersed by rides through scenery which provides a beautiful frame through the camera work of Charles Laughton jr. (who also worked with John Ford). There is one exquisite shot after another. Typical in Boetticher's classic westerns the interchanges are very revealing about human values and human nature. It is these qualities which make them classics.
"Sure hope I amount to something" Dobie
"My pa, he used to say, Dobie, no matter what you do, or who you do it to, be sure you amount to something" Dobie
"Well, what did he mean by that?" Frank
"A lot of things."
"Like what?" Frank
For Dobie their are issues of conflict between his admiration for Cody and the sense of belonging, of family he feels as being a member of the gang (similar to Link played by Gary Cooper in Man of the West).
Comanche Station is the last of a series of four classic films on which Budd Boetticher collaborated with Randolph Scott in the lead role and Burt Kennedy writing the script. They were Boetticher's best work contained within the "Ranown" cycle - six films made by the Ranown company which was owned by Randolph Scott and Harry Joe Brown, the producer. (The first, Seven Men From Now was not produced by Brown for Ranown, it was actually made by John Wayne's company Batjac, and Wayne had been the intended star until the filming of The Searchers prevented him from being so.) It is interesting that both the Searchers (1956) and Comanche Station (1960) explored the issue of Indian capture of young White women, yet they deal with the issue so differently.
The playfulness of director and writer is reflected in the script including a hero named after historically important characters: Jefferson and Cody, while the destination aped that in Ford's Stagecoach:- Lordsburg.
Claude Akins is brilliant as Ben Lane, a typical Boetticher villain, in that he is clearly a born leader in his ability to control the members of his gang, his propensity to make plans, and to understand and manipulate the human nature of others. His potential nobility is dragged down by his amorality and his relentless pursuit of money, both encapsulated in him being identified as a seasoned scalphunter and bounty hunter:
"Akins is another of Boetticher's charming villains: talkative, clever but heartless enough to shoot one of his friends in the back." (Buscombe, 27)
However, Akins,as Lane, like all Boetticher's villains, is a complex character, not a stereotype - he possesses charm, but more than this he is capable of surprising everyone with behaviour which, on the face of it exhibits a certain humanity. After saving Cody's life during an Indian attack he brushes his action aside: "It seemed like a good idea". However, such displays of apparent integrity will not distract him from the ruthless pursuit of his goal: his head is turned by the scent of the dollar.
The almost prim morality of the hero and the film's director and writer are summarised in the usual economical way by the following interchange:
"If you had had a woman taken by the Comanche and you got her back, how would you feel, knowing........"Mrs Lowe (Nancy Gates)
"If I loved her it wouldn't matter." Jefferson Cody ( Randolph Scott)
"Wouldn't it?" Mrs Lowe.
" No mam it wouldn't matter at all." Cody
Apart from the ridiculous hairstyles of the Comanche, which look like bits of fur stuck on top of their head, their appearance is quite innocuous and certainly not sensational. They are presented as having some humanity and their aggressive acts are explained as retaliatory and justified responses to white transgressions. Cody's attitude is that he is wary of them, recognizing that their compliance with trading mores is fragile. If he is attacked then he will defend himself and others in the party, but orther wise he is happy to leave them alone. The characters of the Comanche are not developed except as coming across as a little simple, but then again they are not really central to the plot. The fairness of the production as a whole is encapsulated in the detail that Cody and Lane have history. As an officer in the army Cody has been honorable and fair enough to have had Lane court martialled for excessive brutality towards Indian women and children.
Overall this is a fine film and one of Boetticher's best, if not the best. As I have written elsewhere, which one you select as your favourite depends pretty much on which one you have just viewed.
Seven Men From Now, 1956
Decision at Sundown, 1957
The Tall T, 1957
Buchanan Rides Alone, 1958
Ride Lonesome, 1959
Edward Buscombe, 100 Westerns,2006
Richard T Jameson, The Ranown Cycle, in They Went Thataway, Ann Lloyd, 1982
Jim Kitses, Horizons West, 2004
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© Chris Smallbone February 2009