The Films of Budd Boetticher
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 380 minutes
The Tall T 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Decision at Sundown 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Buchanan Rides Alone 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Ride Lonesome 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
Comanche Station 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
Languages: English, French Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, French
At this stage  Boetticher fell in with Randolph Scott. After Seven Men From Now, they were joined by producer Harry Joe Brown for a remarkable series of Westerns, all made cheaply and quickly in desert or barren locations. They have a consistent and bleak preoccupation with life and death, sun and shade, and encompass treachery, cruelty, courage, and bluff with barely a trace of sentimentality or portentousness. The series added the austere image of a veteran Randolph Scott to the essential iconography of the Western and proved that Boetticher was a masterly observer of primitive man. – David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film
Five of the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott films which David Thomson refers to - The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, and Comanche Station - are making their long-awaited debuts on DVD in the new Sony/Columbia box set, The Films of Budd Boetticher (the other Boetticher/Scott film, Westbound, is a Warner Brothers release and to my knowledge has not been released on DVD). Admirers of Boetticher will not be disappointed.
The five discs present the films in chronological order, beginning with The Tall T (1957), which is adapted from The Captives, a short story by Elmore Leonard. Discerning viewers will note that there are some plot similarities between The Tall T and the Paul Newman film Hombre, which is based upon an Elmore Leonard novel (perhaps coincidentally, Richard Boone plays the primary villain in both films). Randolph Scott stars in The Tall T as Pat Brennan, a former ramrod for the largest cattle ranch in the area. The film opens with Brennan, now the owner of his own ranch, cheerfully on his way to the town of Contention to buy a bull. The easygoing and even comedic atmosphere set by the film’s opening scenes abruptly shifts to high drama when, during his return trip, Brennan discovers that a bloodthirsty gang led by Frank Usher (Richard Boone) has taken over the stagecoach station. Although the gang’s plan is to steal a strongbox, greater riches appear to be in the offing when they learn that one of the passengers (Maureen O’Sullivan) is the daughter of a wealthy copper miner. Arthur Hunnicutt and Henry Silva appear in supporting roles.
The opening of Decision at Sundown (1957) makes it clear that there is nothing easygoing or comedic about this film. Scott plays Bart Allison, a Confederate veteran who has spent three years tracking down a man named Tate Kimbrough (John Carroll). When Allison returned from the war he discovered that his wife, Mary, had committed suicide after having an affair with Kimbrough. Allison blames Kimbrough for Mary’s death, and he has sworn to take vengeance. With the help of his friend Sam (Noah Beery, Jr.), Allison tracks Kimbrough to the town of Sundown. Allison and Sam arrive in Sundown during the morning of Kimbrough’s wedding day, when he is to marry Lucy Summerton (Karen Steele), the daughter of a local businessman. Allison vows that by the end of the day Lucy will be a widow, and fireworks ensue. However, Allison gradually and reluctantly comes to realize that the relationship between his late wife and Kimbrough was not quite as one-sided as he believed.
Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) begins with Tom Buchanan (Scott) happily entering the United States from Mexico at the border town of Agry Town. The town gets its name from the Agry family. The Agrys seemingly own every business in town, but a feud within the family has spilled over into the affairs of the town and Buchanan finds himself caught up in the middle. When Buchanan decides to help out a Mexican who has been wronged by the Agrys, the entire family unites against him. Craig Stevens is featured as Buchanan’s worthy opponent, the gunfighter Abe Carbo. This film, incidentally, was released just seven weeks before the debut of Peter Gunn, the television series which would give Stevens his greatest fame.
Ride Lonesome (1959) gave Boetticher a chance to film in Cinemascope, and he makes excellent use of the true widescreen process. Scott stars as bounty hunter Ben Brigade, who has been tracking Billy John (James Best), a wanted murderer. Brigade is determined to bring his prisoner to Santa Cruz to be hanged, but complications arise when he picks up some unwanted companions after a way station comes under an Indian attack. Brigade then finds himself accompanied by two unsavory characters, Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) and his partner Whit (James Coburn, in his feature film debut), and a woman named Carrie Lane (Karen Steele). Brigade knows that the trip to Santa Cruz will not be easy because Billy John’s brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) is determined that the hanging will never take place. The situation is further complicated by the complex relationship between Brigade and Sam Boone. The film closes with one of the more iconic scenes in B westerns, which I will not spoil by describing here.
The final film in the set is Comanche Station (1960), another Cinemascope presentation. Here Scott plays Jefferson Cody, a loner who ventures into Comanche territory in an effort a rescue Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), a married woman who has been kidnapped by the Indians. However, gaining her release proves to be the easy part. Getting her back to her husband, who has promised a $5,000 reward for her rescue, is going to be difficult. Cody has an encounter with Ben Lane (Claude Akins), a shady character with whom Cody has a past. Lane likewise has been hoping to get the reward, and he and Cody are forced to join forces in order to fend off an Indian attack. Cody then has to keep one eye on the scheming Lane while at the same time avoiding the Comanches, who appear to have gone on the warpath.
This is a wonderful DVD set which any student or fan of westerns will want to own. These are brisk, multi-layered films which have great potential for repeat viewing. Budd Boetticher ranks with Edgar G. Ulmer as one of the true auteurs of B films.
All five of these films have been restored and remastered. Anyone who has only watched them in pan and scan versions on cable television has never seen them like this. Four of the five films were made at Lone Pine, California, and Buchanan Rides Alone was made at Old Tucson in Arizona. Boetticher knew how to make the most of magnificent vistas and interesting locations, and these films need to be seen in widescreen to be truly appreciated. There are some minor caveats, however.
The Tall T is the most problematical. The transfer exhibits a considerable amount of film grain. The problem is not the grain itself, but the fact that there are a number of instances of grain shift during scene transitions. That is, as one scene transitions into another, the grain is momentarily enhanced before returning to its normal level. An excellent example of this occurs at 17:10, where the scene shifts from Scott’s character leaving a cattle ranch to him walking along the road to the stagecoach station. Similar examples occur at various points during the film. It is noticeable and viewers may or may not find it to be distracting. Otherwise, the anamorphic 1.85:1 Technicolor image is strong and reasonably sharp, with excellent color fidelity. The framing appears to be accurate throughout.
Addendum: Robert Harris had kindly explained the "grain shift" in another thread:
What you're seeing are function dupes, ie. fades or dissolves, that were duped and cut into the OCN at the point of the function, as opposed to creating A and B rolls for clean original negative functions. There is nothing that could have been done to make these in any way more transparent. Grover Crisp knows these elements better than anyone, and I have total faith that what we have is the absolute best attainable.
Film grain is less noticeable in Decision at Sundown. I detected a few subtle instances of grain shift, similar to what I saw in The Tall T but far less obtrusive. Apart from those brief instances, the anamorphic 1.85:1 Technicolor image is very pleasing. The images are sharp and stable and the colors have been superbly restored. Contrasts are strong and shadow detail is fine. The 1.85:1 framing looks to be accurate.
Buchanan Rides Alone was filmed in 1.85:1 Columbia Color. I admit to knowing nothing about Columbia Color, which I assume was an attempt by the studio to create its own proprietary color process. Apparently it did not last long, because Columbia soon began filming its B westerns in Eastman Color. If any readers know more about Columbia Color, I would be interested in learning more. In any event, this transfer exhibits a moderate level of grain which appears to be appropriate. The colors are vivid and stable and the images are sharp and well-defined. Contrasts are strong and shadow detail is very good. The framing is accurate and the overall presentation is very pleasing.
As noted, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station were filmed in Cinemascope, and both have been superbly transferred for this DVD release. Both films were made in the notorious Eastman Color process, but if the colors of these films ever faded you would never know it because here they are vivid, accurate and solid. The transfers exhibit moderate levels of film grain which leave them with satisfying, film-like textures. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratios appear to be framed properly, and Boetticher makes excellent use of every inch of the screen. Contrasts, black levels and shadow detail leave nothing to complain about.
All in all, Sony has done an excellent job of restoring these half-century old films.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks offer nothing which will tax your sound system, but the mono sound is clear, intelligible, and devoid of annoying hiss and distortion. The music scores were mostly composed by Heinz Romheld and they effectively convey the mood swings and plot twists which punctuate Boetticher’s films.
This set includes some very worth supplemental materials which feature the likes of Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Taylor Hackford, and two film historians.
The disc of The Tall T includes the Turner Movies Classics documentary “Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That.” Narrated by Ed Harris, the documentary covers Boetticher’s colorful life and career and includes footage of Randolph Scott, Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn, John Ford and other. A commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger is very informative and interesting. There also is an “introduction” to the film by Martin Scorsese, but viewers who have never seen The Tall T would be well advised to look at Scorsese’s take on the film after watching the feature, as it contains more than a few spoilers.
Decision at Sundown includes an introduction by filmmaker Taylor Hackford. It avoids significant spoilers, but Hackford makes the inaccurate assertion that Boetticher was once married to Karen Steele (he likely is confusing Steele with Debra Paget, who was briefly married to Boetticher). In addition, while Hackford is talking about Steele a black and white still of Valerie French appears on the screen. French does have an important role in the film, but Hackford never mentions her. Hackford also inexplicably refers to the character Tate Kimbrough as "Kimbo." Whoever edited this piece was asleep at the wheel.
Buchanan Rides Alone also includes an introduction by Taylor Hackford, but this one includes no obvious errors. It does include a spoiler, however, so leave it until after the feature.
Ride Lonesome features a commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold, who became friendly with Boetticher during the last years of the director’s life. The commentary is supplemented with an introduction by Martin Scorsese, which again should be avoided until the feature has been viewed.
The final disc, Comanche Station, includes a commentary by Taylor Hackford. This commentary is less compelling than the two done by the film historians. An introduction by Clint Eastwood is a relaxed discussion of how effective Boetticher was in making much out of little.
The viewer comes away from these extras with the understanding that Boetticher’s influence on today’s filmmakers is remarkable, given that his films were relatively modest and that he was not particularly well-known during the period when he was making movies.
Each film's original theatrical trailer also is included.
The five discs are secured in a fold-out digipack. Discs One and Two overlap one another, as do discs Three and Four. The digipack in turn is encased in a slipcase. The packaging includes a number of thumbnail stills from the films.
I would have preferred to see each disc in its own slimcase, but as is the packaging is sturdy enough.
The Final Analysis
I have no idea if Sony plans to release these films individually, but I do not see that as a major issue because if you want one of these titles you will want all five. At a street price of approximately $9/film, this set is a bargain.
The only reason for pause is the possibility that these fine films will one day be released on Blu-ray, but as of now there is no Blu-ray release on the horizon. Budd Boetticher was one of the more influential movie directors of the Fifties. Film students and aficionados alike are advised to seize upon this opportunity to become familiar with Boetticher’s work.
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba HD-XA-2 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: November 4, 2008