Tall T, The (1957)

The Tall T (1957), directed by Budd Boetticher.


I'm going to finish this. Some things a man can't ride around.

Another in the series of Boetticher/Randolph Scott B-westerns. All were done quickly and with small budgets by a great team who were making just what they wanted.

Unusually, the first 20 minutes are happy. We see pleasant friendships and some community at a stagecoach stop, a frontier town, and a working ranch. We even have a comical bull-riding scene.

It turns vicious in an instant. Three killers hold up the wrong stage and turn to kidnapping and ransom. They've murdered a man and his little boy and dumped them down a well. Even though that takes place off scene it is still pretty brutal.

Kidnapping and hostage stories are always excruciating because we are dealing with cowardly thugs. The hero must be patient and indirect in dealing with them, which challenges some of the genre conventions. Scott is no superhero gunslinger, just a stoic and reliable man who has to figure it out. He tells his fellow captive, now a widow: "It's going to take both of us." Which is true: she has to set a sex trap. She's already caught in a money trap: first by a husband who married her for her wealth (she was "scheduled to be an old maid") and then by the outlaws who want her father's money.

Richard Boone is always a fabulous villain, intelligent and ruthless. If he has scruples he keeps them in check. Like all Boetticher villains he has to have at least a touch of gray in his character, some part that wishes he could be different. He likes the Scott character much more than his own men and would rather go off ranching with him, but that could never work after what he's done.

His two helpers seem like contemporary punks, particularly psycho-killer Henry Silva who could do the same role in biker or street gang gear.

Our female lead is Maureen O'Sullivan, once familiar as Tarzan's Jane, last seen in The Thin Man (1934).

The studio must have picked the title. It doesn't mean anything.

From an Elmore Leonard story. The DVD includes an appreciative commentary track by Jeanine Basinger and a documentary: Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That (2005).