Ride the High Country (1962)

28 09 2008

Sam Peckinpah’s second film is rightfully considered a landmark in the western genre, but that doesn’t exactly make it the masterpiece that many hype it up to be. More than anything, it is just a simple, almost mindless joy to watch. It’s a harmless type of fun to see Randolph Scott in his very last performance as well as to see Warren Oates in one of his earliest. It’s nice to see the end of one generation of western aesthetics collide with a new generation. This is, after all, technically the last “classic western” and everything that has come after has been labeled  revisionist, or modern, or something to that effect.

My personal enjoyment of this film does come with some context. It helps a great deal to not only be familiar with the film’s cast, but to also be a big fan of it. I can definitely get behind any film that puts Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott together, let alone anything that features Warren Oates. Had these roles been filled by actors I had no interest in, the film itself will probably be fairly unremarkable. However, these people are in these roles and each and every one of them is a joy to watch. At first, it took awhile to get use to seeing Scott play a character that was so self-conscious of his age. In all of the Boetticher films I’ve seen with him, he seemed to hide that a great deal, appearing experienced, but not enough to be an old fogey. Here, though, he and McCrea are made out to be exactly that.

Eventually, though, it becomes quite easy to get use to as it turns out, Scott is essentially playing the exact same character he’s ever played except now he’s completely tired of his career. Seem familiar? Well, I suppose that definitely works in this film favor. There isn’t a particularly strong feeling that Scott himself is going to throw in the towel after this performance, but there are a few subtle hints that help give his character some complexity. Joel McCrea has a few similar moments, but the third “hero” (if you can call him that) seems to be put in simply to give a young guy for the oldies to shake their heads and roll their eyes at.

Other than that, though, Peckinpah is very much focused on pushing the plot forward. Thankfully, though, there are a few legitmately amazing moments. A good example would be pretty much every sequence with Warren Oates, but the wedding sequence seems to take the cake, at least in my opinion. It definitely has a great sense of kinetic energy that seems to welcome in the new generation of western filmmakers, while still paying its due to the originals. I suppose that’s what this is, overall. Peckinpah obviously wasn’t as concious of what a landmark his film would be when he made, but the viewer does, and personally, I think that helps the film’s case.




2 responses

12 07 2009
Hannu Björkbacka

Howdy, Stranger!

What an interesting blog. I came to it by accident while googling away and trying to find interesting cinema sites to bookmark along Dave Kehr’s and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s. This is just great and the stills makes it easy to read.
And of course it helped, because the first item of yours I read was about Fritz Lang, and his film I think is not yet on dvd! And recent dvd of Man Hunt, excellent!
On Peckinpah and Ride the High Country, did you watch the recent “restored” dvd? And if so, did you wonder, like me, about the old gun guys and the lovers getting to bed in broad daylight… The same problem affects the “restoration” of Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (shooting on the river, the old guy on the raft squints with his eyes to see “in the dark”, while Pat Garrett is again seen in broad daylight shooting by the tree + Pat Garrett making a campfire and going to sleep under covers in the desert – in daylight!) Let’s hope this kind of mistakes in the restoration process don’t alter the film history forever in the eyes of people not old enough to having seen the originals…
You always make interesting points and as a lover of Japanese cinema, but not as knowing and cultured in it as you, your writings hold special interest.
My own internet pages are mostly in Finnish. As a recommendation I’d suggest John Huston’s Wise Blood which has just come out on dvd in US and in Europe.
Keep up the good work!


16 07 2009
Jake Savage

Thanks for checking in, Hannu. I don’t think I should be mentioned in the same breath as Dave Kehr or Jonathan Rosenbaum, but I’m flattered that you did so. If you or anybody else is curious, I haven’t made any new posts in awhile because my computer was acting funky for over a week. I should be making a new post sometime soon.

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