Film Review: The Tall T,
Budd Boetticher, 1957

'Some things a man can’t ride around' Pat Brennan. (Randolph Scott)

'Though his films are often praised for their moral certitude, his villains are subtly drawn, with enough redeeming qualities to, so Boetticher suggests, have been the hero if fate had treated them differently.'
Paul Simpson The Rough Guide to Westerns,2006, p130

'There is a mood of incipient violence throughout, carefully cued by social and domestic events, which wells up and quickly subsides.'
Philip French, Westerns, 2005, p70

The Tall T

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The Tall T,
Budd Boetticher, 1957

Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, ‘The Captives’ and staying quite closely to its plot, even directly using much of Leonard’s dialogue, Burt Kennedy’s script and Budd Boetticher’s direction develop rounded and believably human characters.

Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott) is determined to settle down to ranch life on his own, despite the attempts of his former employer to persuade Brennan to run his ranch for him. Straight away Brennan is established as a man of substance, of character, but like all of Kennedy/ Boetticher’s creations he is much more complex and less than perfect compared to the classic cowboy. Brennan is dependable, resolute, and brave, but he is prudent in handling difficulties, no comic book hero. The other characters are also complex, and their interrelationships develop in a typical Boetticher manner, tensions mounting as life deals out its diet of unpredictable situations. As usual the villains are not all bad, Frank Usher (Richard Boone) is shown to be ruthless in some circumstances but almost likeable in others. His relationship with Brennan is central to the film and seems to depend on Brennan’s inscrutability. Unlike most people Brennan bats off Frank’s attempts to dominate him. He refuses to act hastily or to be intimidated, qualities which gradually earn Frank’s admiration and respect. Brennan’s inner strength contrasts so greatly to the seedy weaknesses of his companions that Frank is drawn to engage with Brennan and to discard his ‘gang’, dismissing them as ‘animals’. Although an amoral unpredictable criminal, Frank exhibits some engaging qualities which force us, and perhaps him, to question whether he is really so bad after all.

Many film critics cite The Tall T as Budd Boetticher’s best of the six in the series which Boetticher produced starring Randolph Scott. It was one of four which were filmed near Lone Pine, northern California and which were scripted by Burt Kennedy. While Boetticher himself is reputed to have selected Seven Men From Now as the best of the bunch others choose Ride Lonesome and there is a case to be made for the fourth film made at Lone Pine, Comanche Station. The fact is they all six films exhude quality and the selection of the finest is an extremely difficult decision to make, and is probably influenced by which is the latest one you have seen. I get tired of reviews claiming Boetticher’s films are minor masterpieces or minor classics. These are some of the best westerns ever made and do not merit the word 'minor'. They were economical in time and budget and were therefore not immediately recognized as the masterly works of cinema that they were and are. It is high time they were fully recognized as such. Whether or not it is his best, like the others The Tall T is certainly a film to be savoured.

The Series:
Seven Men From Now, 1956
Decision at Sundown, 1957
The Tall T, 1957
Buchanan Rides Alone, 1958
Ride Lonesome, 1959
Comanche Station,1960

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© Chris Smallbone March 2010