Homage to Budd Boetticher

The films Budd Boetticher made in the 1950s with Randolph Scott reduced the genre to its essentials: a man with a horse and a gun, and a past which contained unfinished business. Boetticher and his collaborators jettisoned all the psychological and mythical baggage the Western had acquired. There’s no talk of manifest destiny or motivations, only sharply drawn characters, narrative tension, magnificent landscapes, leavened by a little humour.

Scott was perfect casting, an actor whose face expresses everything and nothing. You can read into it volumes, but you can also see only stoicism, a refusal to let emotion cloud his judgement. And in Lone Pine, California, Boetticher found the perfect location, a region of granite outcrops, glinting harshly under the burning sun, the dagger-tipped Mount Whitney always visible in the distance. Like Ford with Monument Valley, Boetticher wasn’t the first to work there (George Stevens had shot Gunga Din and it was a favourite spot for Gene Autry), but Boetticher made it his own.

All four of these restorations were scripted by Burt Kennedy (writer and director died within months of each other last year). It’s Kennedy who must be credited with the laconic wit and the terse epigrams such as «There’s some things a man can’t ride around», lines that encapsulate the quintessence of Western philosophy. The first script, Seven Men from Now, was written to order for John Wayne’s company. But Wayne never read it. A year later Kennedy showed it to Robert Mitchum and was offered $15,000 for it. So then Wayne got interested, and so did Warners. But Wayne was shooting The Searchers, so it was offered to Joel McCrea and then to Robert Preston. Only after they all turned it down did Randolph Scott come on board. Scott then hired Boetticher to direct. The rest is movie history.

Edward Buscombe