The Tall T

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THE TALL T —–“Come on now. It’s gonna be a nice day.” That’s Randolph Scott reassuring  Maureen O’Sullivan after he’s just blasted three bad guys, two of ’em with a shotgun to the face. But then, there are “Some things a man can’t ride around” in this trim and taut second act for Scott, director Budd Boetticher and scenarist Burt Kennedy.

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A dare (‘bet that horse of yours you can’t ride this bull’) leaves genial independent rancher ‘Pat Brennan’ (Scott, initially chipper) hitching a stagecoach ride with haughty newlyweds ‘Doretta’ and ‘Willard Mims’ (Maureen O’Sullivan and John Hubbard). The travel friction becomes survival force majeure when they are captured by three calmly murderous outlaws. ‘Frank Usher’ (Richard Boone) is the cruel but practical alpha dog of the pack, ‘Billy Jack’ (Skip Homeier) the lethal but not-bright pup, ‘Chink (Henry Silva) the kill-crazy psychopath. The escalating peril of the hostage scenario reveals who’s got ‘the sand’ and how much they carry.

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From now on, when you walk, you walk noisy.

Boetticher’s tight direction knows just how to frame Kennedy’s sharp script, which presages the later Paul Newman vehicle, Hombre, no surprise in that both came from stories written by the venerated Elmore Leonard. This one was from Leonard’s 1955 “The Captives”, featured in Argosy magazine (1882-1978). Though the bonding between Scott and O’Sullivan is shaky (an odd and thankless role for her), the arrow-pointed Scott v. Boone parrying is amusing. Homeier plays a typical Skip sleaze with his usual twisted brio, but the real steal is 29-year-old Silva, brazenly flaunting his weird glory in a j.d./ hipster riff as the notch-hungry triggerman. *

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This is a good one. 78 minutes, with Arthur Hunnicutt, Robert Burton and Robert Anderson. Cinematography by Charles Lawton, Jr., shooting once again in the rock-strewn Alabama Hills around Lone Pine, California, those rugged Sierras on the clear blue horizon. Receipts of $2,900,000 put it a comfortable #89 in the cash corral of long lost ’57.

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* The rather unearthly-looking Henry Silva quit school at 13 to attend drama classes. In a few years he was one of five hopefuls picked to join The Actor’s Studio, from a list of 2,500. A bit part in 1952s Viva Zapata! led to A Hatful Of Rain and this show-off stint, followed quickly by nastiness in The Law And Jake Wade, The Bravados, Green Mansions and a long career making people feel unsettled. This same year, Boone, toiling diligently since 1949 and coming off a two-season role as The Medic, started six-years and 225 episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel. 

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