Courtesy of a kind and generous reader, I’ve been alerted to the existence of Comet Video, a firm in North Carolina that sells good-quality VHS copies of hard-to-find B westerns–including, to my amazement, all of the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott
films. In lieu of reprinting my essay in the forthcoming Terry Teachout Reader, here’s what David Thomson said about them in his indispensable New Biographical Dictionary of Film:
They have a consistent and bleak preoccupation with life and death, sun and shade, and encompass treachery, cruelty, courage, and bluff with barely a trace of sentimentality or portentousness. The series added the austere image of a veteran Randolph Scott to the essential iconography of the Western and provbed that Boetticher was a masterly observer of primitive man. His style remained without any flourish or easy touch and the series brought him some critical attention. Two films at least–The Tall T and Ride Lonesome–must be in contention for the most impressive and least handicapped B films ever made….Throughout this series, one feels that Scott’s middle-aged Westerner is as unsentimental and self-sufficient as the cinema has achieved. The man’s integrity never looks less than hard-earned and desperately sustained.
I agree with every word.
The print of Seven Men From Now released by Comet Video is faded and blurry, but it’s still a must. Lee Marvin is the villain, and he never played a more flamboyantly vicious one, not even in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat or John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, Decision at Sundown, and Buchanan Rides Alone, on the other hand, are all clean and clear–my guess is that they derive from digital cable telecasts.
Until the Criterion Collection gets around to releasing the Boetticher-Scott Westerns on DVD, these white-label videocassettes will do just fine. If you want to sample before springing for the whole series, start with Ride Lonesome. It’s the best, if only by a nose. The Tall T is almost as good, though, and features a wonderfully complex performance by Richard Boone as a not-quite-redeemable villain who has grown to loathe his thuggish companions.
To order, go here.