on September 1, 2004
This is one time that I have to take exception to the house reviewer. Yes, it's an essential piece of American cinema. Yes, it's one of Peckinpah's best films. But the review overlooks so much.
This was the cinematic swan song for two more-than-noteworthy stars of quintessentially American movies. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott both turn in magnificent performances, as do the extras-- notably Peckinpah regular (and perhaps the most under-appreciated American actor ever to grace the screen) Warren Oates. And you don't have to look fast for him, folks. He's a big part of the film.
In a way, Ride the High Country was deconstructionist before Unforgiven ever hit the big screen-- by thirty years or so. Like Eastwood's hit, the film manages to express reverence for and contempt of the mythology of the American West at the same time. All the stock players are here, but never presented as stereotypes. Bankers, prostitutes, prospectors, missionaries, young bucks, lawmen, hucksters and outlaws. Anyone familiar with westerns knows the drill. Only this time it's different.
Though recognized as a genius, Peckinpah is just as often derided as a misogynistic Hemingway-wannabe these days. What a shame. This film is no macho fantasy. Instead, it's a look at the seemingly inevitable (and lamentable) decay of principles that results when high-minded people find themselves in a situation and a setting that doesn't conform to their preconceptions of how things ought to be (Straw Dogs, anyone?)-- and what happens when they 'return to normalcy' in the wake of atrocity. When everything's on the line, one might just be faced with the sort of challenge to faith (in anything held dear) that we all dread confronting. Stand true and lose it all, or sell out and win? Or is there an easy out? This would be a theme throughout the director's work, but here it is ingeniously presented in an ostensibly straightforward horse opera that cleverly plays on viewer expectations. What appears to be another entry in a breezy, escapist genre ultimately reveals itself to be a meditation on just how difficult it is to ever escape the travails of life. And how much it can cost to achieve that same goal.
As much as the film points an accusing finger at the western, there are many ways in which the director expresses his own sense of hope that such fairy-tale wishes could come true. Guess I'll have to settle for the Police Academy box set while I wait for this one to turn up on DVD.....
on January 7, 2006
This is what they mean when they say, "they don't make them like that anymore." With all the praise inexplicably heaped on a piece of crap called "A History of Violence", a ridiculous, mindless film, based on a barely literate cartoon strip, you often wonder exactly what has happened to American films - which used to be the envy of the world for their craftsmanship and acting. "Ride the High Country" was apparently considered a very good little "B" movie in its first release - but time and care now reveals it to be an American classic. Two terrific actors, in their glorious twilight, working with an upcoming director, team up for a beautifully crafted, gorgeously filmed and scored, Western about character and justice. TCM has been showing the widescreen version of this gem for a couple of years - and now here it is where it belongs - on DVD for every true film fan to see. Forget Tarantino's mindless violence. Forget the quick cuts and lack of storytelling talent of practically every film director in the business right now: this is how it is done, and the director of this film never did as well (he too lapsed into cheap "slow motion" violence and other inhuman traits as his own film career lurched on). Here we have a story told with depth and clarity - and HUMANITY. Scott and McCrea are two great stars who know something about manhood, decency, wit, grace, and strength. Where are these kinds of films now? Where are the male actors who can inhabit these roles with some degree of class, grace, and strength? Why can't ANYONE do a simple, clear, human Western, as it was once done, which often had so much to say about contemporary times ("High Noon," as one example)? At least we have this and you can't argue with it: a spare, stunning Western, with one of the great climaxes in film history. A MUST!
on November 17, 2005
One of the best westerns made. It was released on laser disc a long time ago. Now they're finally getting around to DVD. Two venerable stars go out with a blaze of glory in this tale about the end of an era. Both in terms of time and setting of the film and also the end of Hollywood turning out westerns as standard movie fare. And as to the latter, I am sincerely regretfull. You have adequate folks laying out the story line here, suffice it to say it's about two old friends who have a falling out over a gold shipment they're transporting and their commitment to get it to the rightful owner, complicated by the marriage gone wrong of a young lady that joins them along the way. Just know that's it's done with class and a bit of reverence for the genre. As it should be.
This may be the best of all Peckinpah westerns and one of the all time great westerns...heck...films of all time IMHO.
The story is not only a classic one but features the acting of two of the genres most well known stars (McCrea and Scott) playing parts that fit perfectly with their age at the time and ....well..
picture Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven era) and Duke Wayne (Rooster Cogburn era) in a Western together about aging cowpokes...on one last job....fighting their conscience and age and ...well...you unsterstand how impossible that is to film..that was a once in a lifetime opportunity and Peckinpah didn't squander a bit of it...from georgously backlit scenes in the old west to perfect dialog and believable story turns....this is a film to cherish and share with friends and loved ones....
anyone that discounts Peckinpah as a director because they think he is all slow motion bullets and blood...needs to see this and RE-think!
on April 10, 2005
"Ride The High Country" has got to be the best overlooked Western. Period. I am an enourmous fan of Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" and this is his "other" true masterpiece. The performances by McCrea and Scott are perfect - nothing feels forced. The scenery is a pleasant change to the beautiful landscape of Califonia. But what really holds the film together are its themes and values. "All I ever want to do is enter my house justified" - wow. Almost poetic at times. It breaks my heart when Elsa says, "My father says there's only right and wrong - good and evil. Nothing in between. It isn't that simple, is it?" and Judd responds simply "No, it isn't. It should be, but it isn't." I am grateful for Turner Classic Movies and the fact that they show this wonderful forgotten gem in letterbox. The print is looking weary, though, so it's high time we preserve this classic. It is one of the top ten best Westerns ever. PLEASE RELEASE THIS MASTERPIECE ON DVD!!!!!!!!!
on March 20, 2006
I first saw this movie in the early 90's. While watching the opening scene where Randolph Scott is working a carnival booth, I thought to myself, "This is going to be a corny movie. 'Not my style". Boy was I wrong. Ride the High Country is a masterpiece, one of my favorite Westerns of all time. The conversations between two old buddies, the "one-liners", the sarcastic remarks, the scenery and settings, it's all great. I'm not going to talk about the story. It's been told enough already. But I will say this. I am not easily moved by what happens in movies. After all, men aren't supposed to be emotional. But, the ending of this movie really got to me. It was the icing on the cake. What a terrific film. Ride The High Country is a must-see for Western buffs or any movie lover.
on November 5, 2006
Even for those who generally do not appreciate Westerns, 'Ride the High Country' is an absorbing and moving piece of entertainment... For Western buffs it is an item of study, with its accurate period detail and the vistas of the California Sierras, near Mammoth Lakes... The film firmly established Peckinpah as a director of unusual style, a man with the ability to create strange images, often ugly ones in beautiful settings, although his talent in staging scenes of violence is shockingly impressive...
Peckinpah's mining community in this film is memorable for its spirited and dangerous atmosphere, with its one true gold mine being the whorehouse... The madam is a cheerful nightmare, and hidden in a corner is a drunken judge (Edgar Buchanan), with a bottle of whiskey, who comes alive only to remind us that people change...
'Ride the High Country' gets additional poignancy from its choice of stars... They made so many Westerns over the years, and they had long been personal friends... It was the happiest inspiration that got them together for this afterglow ride that resulted in two unforgettable performances... But one wonders exact1y how they savor the situation--that after so much riding, over so many years, it has taken a late, almost afterthought ride, to place them securely among Western immortals... It is, indeed, a happy finale to a pleasing career and a nostalgic reminder of the simple virtues and values of the more traditional Western heroes...
Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott had come to specialize in many fine westerns, set an admirable style in quiet heroism, always courageous, ever dignified, never vulgar... They ride this time together, ruminating over times that used to be... Both are heroic figures, having been noted lawmen, and yet they are now reduced to taking whatever comes their way in order to live...
One is a man of moral rectitude who believes in fulfilling his obligations, 'doing the job' just like in his old days as lawman... The other out to make one last haul in order to retire with a measure of comfort... But both are old-timers striving to make ends meet in a changing West where they no longer belong...
They are clearly past it--McCrea goes into a washroom so that he will not be seen putting on spectacles in order to read a contract; Scott asks his captor to cut him loose for the night, offering only one reason: 'I don't sleep so good anymore.' Both sleep in long combs and pause on a tiring journey to bathe their aching feet in a cold stream... And in the end they defend the old values against the new with pride, dignity, never forgotten their skill with six-guns...
'Ride the High Country' had a number of interesting sub-plots and characters and an earthy but tasteful approach to sex... Its strength, however, lay in the sincere and moving portrayals of its two major stars, and in the beauty and poignancy of its final scene...
The basic theme of the movie is strong, moving and valid, but, above all, it is the elegiac feel that makes it such a memorable motion picture--the serious thoughts of two veterans about 'how it was.'
These are men with tired feet, caught up in the turn of the times... They are still there in the afterglow period of Western history... It's a long way back now to 'High Noon,' and the sun of 'Red River,' 'Shane,' 'Johnny Guitar,' and 'The Searchers' has left the sky forever...
on June 9, 2002
When this film came out in 1962 I went with my Dad to see it at the movie theater. Its images, its words, its story have remained with me ever since....
Sam Peckinpah's RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is one of the finest western adventures in cinematic history. Everything---the superb acting from old time veterans Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, the crisp and pointed dialogue, the camera work (and film editing), and the never-overdone elegiac underlay of farewell and warning, not just about the "old west" of the motion pictures (of the 1930-1960 period), but about the reality of the American frontier and the American spirit--adds up to excellence.
If two actors truly symbolized the Old West of public imagination, certainly those actors were Randy Scott and Joel McCrea. How fitting that RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY should be their "so long, pardner" to the genre! In 1962 the classic Western was dying, the genre changing, just as America was changing. The spirit of American innocence and optimism was subtly being transformed--while we longed for the return of Randy Scott, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and moral certainties, Vietnam would soon make us a nation of cynics and skeptics. Thus, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is more than just a salute to two great Western actors and their farewell to that enduring American film creation the classic Western; RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY tells us, through two of the most admired cowboy actors of all time, about ouselves, about changing American society, and presents us with a classic morality tale. Steve (McCrea)Judd's remarkable words to Gil (Scott) Westrum, when Westrum gently suggests they might skip out with the gold they are charged with transporting, says it all: "All I want to do is enter my house justifed." It was the classic, optimistic American dream that motivated the pioneers of the old West just as it did the pioneers of Virginia or Massachusetts, the foundation of our society "to enter our house justified," to make a just and fair life for ourselves in a new land. RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY reminds us, this one last time, of our original national purpose, and shows us the pitfalls along the way--not just temptation but the "times" that threaten us.
In the end Westrum (Scott) returns (repents of his deviation from the moral course) to Judd's rescue...and Judd's response is: "I knew you would [return] all the time." Perhaps it is indeed too late, for Judd dies, alone, in one of the most amazing scenes in all cinema. Does his fervent dream of a "house justified" die with him? Does the older America of undbounded optimism and a moral code disappear with his departure and the end of the western frontier---and the end of "old time" Westerns? Peckinpah does not answer, and we are left to ponder. But one thing IS certain...we are never the same after watcbing this marvelous film.
Ride The High Country is one of those curious works of art that bridges the past and the present, combining the best of both worlds while being extremely enriching and satisfying on its own merits. The first major film of legendary film director Sam Peckinpah, it stands with his other Western film The Wild Bunch as two of the greatest film of its, or any other genre.
Featuring two actors who were indivisibly synomous with Western films, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, and featuring supporting performances by Ron Starr, Mariette Hartley, RG Armstrong, Warren Oates, LQ Jones, James Drury and Edgar Buchanan, the film tells what seems like a fairly simple story, and makes it violently poetic and elegiac all at once.
McCrea and Scott play two aging ex-lawmen who are living out their remaining years in vastly different ways. McCrea picks up odd transport and security jobs because he's now too old to be a lawman. Scott performs in a Wild West show because he'd rather act that cling to a life of serving the law. When McCrea asks Scott's help in transporting miners' gold, Scott sees an opportunity to get rich quick, and along with his young sidekick, join McCrea in the hopes of convincing McCrea of running off with the gold. Along the way, they run into a sheltered farm girl who runs off and marries Drury, who comes from a family of backwoods maniacs. And so the story goes...
Ride The High Country is traditional in its casting of solid, if older Western stars like McCrea and Scott, traditional in the values espoused by McCrea, those of loyalty, honor, and sacrifice. The film is modern in how it depicts the two older men as products of a rapidly bygone era that is not loyal, does not honor, and in fact sacrifices them at the expense of modern life. The film has its cake and eats it too because it is wonderfully made, wonderful written, and wonderfully acted.
Randolph Scott, who had become a very wealthy man and made movies for the enjoyment and not out of necessity, left acting forever after appearing in Ride The High Country. He knew he would never make a greater film, and in fact, this was the best Western he ever made, even surpassing the great Westerns he made with Budd Boetticher.
Ride The High Country will always be mentioned when great Westerns and great films of all kinds are discussed.
"Ride the High Country" is a remarkable film, probably one of the 10 best westerns ever made. Directed by a young Sam Peckinpah fresh off his successes on TV ("Gunsmoke", "Broken Arrow", "The Rifleman" and the best damn TV western ever "The Westerner"), it stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea.
Joel McCrea was in his late 50s when the film was made. He had a long career starting in the silent film era, and appeared in more than 50 films, usually as a hero in westerns - "Wells Fargo" (1937), "Union Pacific" (1939), "The Virginian" (1946), and "Four Faces West" (1948). But McCrea wasn't limited to western films, and he gave good performances in films such as "Foreign Correspondent" (1940) and "Sullivan's Travels" (1941). By the time of "High Country" his career had faltered and he was making forgettable westerns at 1 to 3 per year. Although some people claim McCrea retired after "High Country", the truth is he did 4 more films, retiring in 1976.
Randolph Scott was in his early 60s when "High Country" was filmed. Like McCrea, he started in silent films and like McCrea his early career involved playing a variety of characters in a variety of films - "My Favorite Wife" (1940), "To the Shores of Tripoli" (1941), "Captain Kidd" (1945), "Home Sweet Homicide" (1946) - but by the 50s he too was appearing exclusively in B westerns - "Sugarfoot" (1951), "Carson City" (1952), "The Bounty Hunter" (1954), "7th Calvary" (1956), "Westbound" (1958) - most of which were directed by Budd Boetticher (7 films) or Andre de Toth (6 films). By the time of "High Country" Scott had amassed a fortune from California real estate investments, and he retired from film making because he considered his performance in "High Country" to be a good note to go out on.
Scott and McCreas are virtually interchangeable for the two parts. In fact, they were originally signed to play the other's part, but changed their minds and swapped. Indeed the original ending was also swapped around. Billing for the film was also decided by the toss of a coin, which Scott won.
"High Country" was Peckinpah's second film. He would follow this with "Major Dundee" (1965) and then go on to make "The Wild Bunch" (1969) and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973), two of the finest westerns ever made, giving Peckinpah 3 of the top 10. But here at the beginning there is none of the slow motion violence that would characterize his later films. Instead, this film is character based, as are his later films, and focused on the transition when the old west was ending and the new west hadn't yet begun. In such times, what is a man's obligation to himself and to his friends? This was Peckinpah's gold and he mined it better than any other director.
Peckinpah regulars Warren Oates and L.Q. Jones appear in "High Country". Jones met Peckinpah while he was doing the "Klondike" TV series and followed him to the big screen where he would be the one actor to appear in more Peckinpah films than any other (5). Jones continued to act well into his 70s with roles in "Prairie Home Companion" (2006) and "The Mask of Zorro" (1998)
Warren Oates met Peckinpah during filming of "The Westerner" and like Jones, followed him for the next two decades, appearing in "Major Dundee" (1965), "The Wild Bunch" (1969), and "Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974). Oates was a prolific actor, appearing in more than 50 films and more than 100 TV shows. He starred as "Dillinger" (1973) in which gave one of the best performances ever.
Mariette Hartley makes her screen debut in "High Country" but quickly found more
fertile ground in TV appearing in episodes of "Twilight Zone", "Star Trek", "Peyton Place" etc. She won an Emmy for her role in "The Incredible Hulk" (1978) and had 5 more nominations. In "High Country" she plays a teenage girl trying to get out from under the harsh hand of her religious father.
R.G. Armstrong, as the religious fanatic, is a scene stealer which is saying something for a film that has such a distinguished cast. Like Scott and McCrea, Armstrong was generally known for playing westerns. He met Peckinpah on the set of "The Westerner" and he would appear in "Major Dundee" (1965), "Cable Hogue" (1970) and is best remembered as Bob Ollinger, the religious deputy who is killed by a shotgun blast filled with dimes, in "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973). In real life Armstrong had strong conflicts about his religious beliefs, and Peckinpah purposefully used this to cinematic advantage in casting him.
Lucien Ballard shoots the film as if it were a lullaby. The location is beautiful and Ballard captures it to full advantage. The New York Times said: "excellently photographed in color against some lovely vistas". Over his 50 year career Ballard was voted Best Cinematographer at the Venice Film festival ("The Devil is a Woman") in 1935, was Oscar nominated ("The Caretakers" )in 1963 and won an NSFC award for his work on "The Wild Bunch" (1969). He worked with Peckinpah on the TV series "The Westerner" and then on many other films, including "Cable Hogue" (1970), "Junior Bonner" (1972), and "The Getaway" (1972). He was a favorite cinematographer of director Budd Boetticher who worked on 7 Randolph Scott films.
The beautiful musical score is by George Bassman, known for his work with the Marx Brothers ("Day at the Races", "Go West") and "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). While his work on "High Country" is excellent, he clashed several times with Peckinpah, and this was one of his last films.
The film was released by MGM as part of a 2 film double feature(along with "The Tartars"), but critics found it nonetheless and were impressed. Newsweek called is the "best film of the year" and "pure gold" and Time put it on its list of top 10 films. While it was a box office bomb in the US, it was a smash in Europe (where it was called "Guns in the Afternoon") and became one of MGM's highest grossing European releases ever. It won first prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Grand Prize in Brussels, and Best Foreign Film in Mexico.
Much of what you see in "High Country" you'll see in later Peckinpah films. Interplay between Scott and McCrea will be recast in the interplay between Robert Ryan and William Holden in "The Wild Bunch" and the final scene in "High Country" with one of the fallen men looking out into the mountains will be recast as the dying scene of Slim Pickins, looking out alone over the river, in "Pat Garrett".