Friday, 22 September 2017

Movie Review: Ride The High Country (1962)


A western exploring the changing times, Ride The High Country (also known as Guns In The Afternoon) gets bogged down in a tedious subplot and plods its way into blandness.

Former respected Marshall Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) has fallen on hard times. He arrives in the gold rush town of Hornitos, California, where he accepts an assignment from the local bank to provide security services on the dangerous trail to and from the Coarse Gold mining camp. Steve recruits his old friend Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) as backup. Gil himself is also past his glory days and along with his young sidekick Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) is now part of a cheesy traveling wild west show.

The trio head out to the gold camp, with Steve unaware that Gil and Heck have intentions to double cross him. Along the way they rest at the ranch of religious zealot Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong) and his daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley). Heck is immediately attracted to Elsa, but she has already decided to marry Billy Hammond, who is working the gold mines. Elsa is desperate to escape her father and joins Steve, Gil and Heck as they journey to the mines. Once there, her husband-to-be Billy (James Drury) and his boorish brothers Elder (John Anderson), Sylvus (L. Q. Jones), Jimmy (John Davis Chandler) and Henry (Warren Oates) prove to be nothing but trouble, making Steve's security assignment much more complicated.

The second film directed by Sam Peckinpah and the final screen role of Randolph Scott's career, Ride The High Country contains some points of interest. Filmed in CinemaScope and featuring some stunning mountainous scenery bathed in rich colours, the film carries strong visual appeal. The story of two aging and imperfect veterans in the twilight of their life experiencing the dying days of the old west, the film contains many of the themes Peckinpah would return to in later efforts.

Ride The High Country is punctuated with reminders that the past was better, the glory days have been firmly left behind, and final acts should be invested to either polish a legacy or chase a final pay day. However, after a slow but steady start, that appealing narrative stumbles, and badly.

The intrusion of Heck, Elsa, Billy and his idiot band of brothers starts as an irritating distraction and is allowed to morph into the dominant story. Heck and Elsa have nowhere near the depth of Steve and Gil, and yet many precious scenes are burned on their non-romance and the rough treatment she receives at the hands of her father and then the Hammond clan. Steve's mission to protect the gold trail is forgotten, the simmering tension with Gil taking a firm back seat for long stretches, much to the film's detriment.

Peckinpah also falls into the trap of inserting unnecessary juvenile fistfights or face slaps at regular intervals, the film often descending into literal and only partially intended slapstick.

McCrea and Scott bring grizzled maturity to their roles, and are by far the best thing about Ride The High Country. Their journey to atonement would have been worthwhile, but this western drama rides the wrong horse.






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