Tuesday, December 27, 2005

THIS is what happened to Randolph Scott

"Whatever happened to Randolph Scott, riding the trail along?" The Statler Brothers asked back in the early 1970s.

It was a timely question. Scott and that style of filmmaking had already disappeared when the country act sang their ode to the B westerns they enjoyed as youth. By the early 70s, everything seemed to be on its head. Westerns included.

John Wayne was still churning out an old-fashioned oater every year or so (hence that great line in the song: "True Grit" is the only movie I've really understood in years"). But even the classically American movie genre had been subverted by directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. Nothing was sacred anymore.

Younger viewers and East Coast movie critics loved the change. But longtime fans yearned for the type of movie only The Duke seemed able to still make.

Randolph Scott turned up on Turner Classic Movies last week. The tall, gangly actor with the wonderfully distinctive voice rode tall in the saddle once again in one of his best, but lesser-known efforts.

The movie was "7 Men From Now." Released in 1956 under the B-wing of John Wayne's Batjac production company, "Now" featured an original story written by Burt Kennedy and an outstanding cast, including Scott, Gail Russell and the incomparable Lee Marvin. Its director, Budd Boetticher, became something of an auteur himself and according to a TCM documentary that preceded the movie, was quite a character.

Duke Wayne himself wanted to star in the movie. But he was busy making a little film called "The Searchers" with John Ford. Needless to say, it worked out.

Scott plays Ben Stride, a former sheriff who is hunting down the seven men responsible for his wife's death during a Wells Fargo robbery. Along the way, he meets John and Annie Greer (Walter Reed and Russell). They are easterners headed west looking for a new start.

Stride also bumps into Bill Masters (Marvin), an outlaw with a big mouth and an evil streak a mile long. Together, the group heads toward the final showdown with the killers.

The problem with most B westerns is that the storylines tend to be cliched. But Burt Kennedy delivered a fine script complete with enough twist and turns to satisfy even the most anal-retentive fans. Boetticher makes good use of the sparse landscape and turns in one memorable movie.

"7 Men From Now" has long been out of circulation. It was restored by the UCLA Film Archives in 2000 and has finally been released on DVD. Head and shoulders above most such pictures, the movie may be Scott's best.

Don't miss Lee Marvin's speech in the covered wagon about a man who was "short on spine." It may be Kennedy's finest moment as a screenwriter.

So this is what happened to Randolph Scott. He's still out there, still riding the trail, still tracking down outlaws and standing up for what's right.

Yeah, it's anachronistic. And, yeah, we need it now more than ever.


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