Ride the High Country (1962)

Ride the High Country (1962), directed by Sam Peckinpah.

First review:

Fine early Peckinpah western, with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott as geezer tough guys. When the west is ending the hard men have to go with it, also a theme in John Ford's westerns. Old actors and westerns sort of passed away together.

Nothing like the level of violence of his later pictures. Beautiful California mountain landscapes, although the foliage on the DVD is not very saturated. Could we get a new transfer?

The plot structure is unusual, with the normal western action segments coming well into the second half. The first part has a lot of comedy, although Mariette Hartley's prospects on her wedding night are uncomfortable to watch. This is her first film; she was 22.

Many familiar faces. LQ Jones, Warren Oates and RG Armstrong appear in other Peckinpah films.

Second review:

Two old lawmen meet by accident after many years. Threadbare Joel McCrea is down on his luck but still a straight-arrow: paid to transport gold from the mountain camps to the bank, he'll do the job conscientiously. Good humored Randolph Scott is more flexible about the gold. He doesn't want to rob his old friend, but will if he must.

They pick up young Mariette Hartley, fleeing her tyrannical Proverbs-quoting father for a fiancé in the mining camps. They deliver her, but courageous as she is, she is also naive about her prospects. The groom's brothers are pretty loathsome and after a wedding in the bordello they expect a gang wedding night. They've done it before.

Old guys to the rescue! That's a theme: old men kick young tough guy butt. And yet: seniors may rule, but one thing they don't have is a future. That belongs to the young, literally in this case: it was Hartley's first film, Scott's last and McCrea's last good film.

This is just irresistible to fans: two old Western stars playing heroes at the end of their lives, at the end of the West itself, and perhaps at the end of the traditional Western. Their earlier adventures are their previous films, both as actors and as characters.

It has one of the best endings I can recall for this type of film:


McCrea, in his last minutes, wants to be alone, doesn't want the young people to see him die. Scott says all right, I'll see you soon, meaning when he comes back to bury him. McCrea looks around at the trees and mountains, one last glimpse of Earth, then slumps quietly out of frame. The End.

A good set of supporting actors, including some who would become part of Peckinpah's crew: R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates. Tough, cowardly, degenerate: they could do it all.

In the commentary it is suggested that he had his usual trouble with the studio ("I never knew anyone to respond so poorly to authority as Sam Peckinpah") and that the picture was taken away from him. I don't know the details; they also say he learned to edit on this film and his work is visible in the final cut.

According to the wikipedia:


The movie was released on the bottom half of a double bill. William Goldman says he spoke to an MGM executive at the time who says the film had tested strongly but they felt the film "didn't cost enough to be that good".

Photographed by Lucien Ballard. It sometimes looks like a formula western of the 1950s, but also has good realism. A few of the outdoor scenes are stage sets but they don't harm the story.

The score is overly-dramatic Western action-adventure music.

Available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, a very nice upgrade over the old DVD. The commentary track is carried forward from the DVD: Nick Redman hosts three Peckinpah scholars.

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