The five briskly entertaining, vividly performed westerns made by director Budd Boetticher and strapping star Randolph Scott in the second half of the 1950s transcend their B-movie origins to become rich, unexpectedly profound explorations of loyalty, greed, honor, and revenge. Often grouped under the name Ranown (after producer Harry Joe Brown and Scott’s production company) and colorfully scripted by Burt Kennedy and Charles Lang, these films seem to unfold in a world unto themselves, staking a claim between traditional westerns and the subversive genre revisionism of the 1960s—and representing the crowning achievement of the underappreciated auteur Boetticher.
Based on a story by Elmore Leonard, this collaboration between director Budd Boetticher, actor Randolph Scott, and screenwriter Burt Kennedy is a model of elegantly economical storytelling charged with psychological tension. Here, Scott is the easygoing rancher who, along with the newlywed daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) of a wealthy mining baron, must use his wits to stay alive when he is taken hostage by a band of ruthless stagecoach robbers. He is memorably matched by Richard Boone’s dangerously charming, nearly sympathetic villain in a performance that exemplifies the fine moral shading that distinguishes the Ranown westerns.
Randolph Scott boldly subverts his upstanding image in this stark, often startlingly bleak tale of revenge and a man’s misguided quest for redemption. He plays the mysterious stranger who, consumed by hatred for the man he blames for his wife’s suicide, rides into the corrupt town of Sundown hell-bent on vengeance. There, both he and the townspeople face a reckoning that forces them to confront disturbing truths about themselves. All but annihilating the myth of the righteous western hero, Decision at Sundown edges the Ranown films into increasingly dark, despairing territory.
Welcome to Agry Town, a corrupt border outpost presided over by a pair of rival brothers whose bottomless greed corrupts everything in their orbit. Into this moral cesspool rides drifter Tom Buchanan (Randolph Scott), who soon finds himself railroaded for murder and, alongside a vengeful young Mexican vaquero, forced to take a stand for justice. The noir-tinged narrative—replete with twists, double crosses, and the kind of richly drawn villains who are hallmarks of the Ranown westerns—moves with entertaining economy toward a memorably ironic climax.
Mysterious motivations drive taciturn bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) to capture a wanted murderer—but his quest is complicated when he is accosted by a pair of outlaws who have their own inscrutable reasons for riding along. Masterfully scripted by Burt Kennedy, who weaves a complex web of ambiguous loyalties and motives, and featuring supporting turns by genre icons James Coburn (in his film debut) and Lee Van Cleef, the first of the Ranown westerns to be shot in CinemaScope makes striking use of the enlarged frame—with a final shot that stands as perhaps the single most unforgettable image in the series.
The last collaboration between Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott brings the Ranown westerns full circle, reexamining many of the films’ key themes and tropes: greed, loyalty, hidden motivations, and the fine moral line that separates heroes from villains. Scott stars as the enigmatic Jefferson Cody, who rescues a woman kidnapped by Comanches for reasons that may have nothing to do with the bounty offered for her return. But before he can bring her to safety, he’ll have to contend with the dangers of the Comanche warpath and a trio of bounty hunters who have designs on the reward.