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Ride The High Country (1962)

Ride The High Country. Feature film. (1962, 94 mins) IMDB

...Peckinpah directing his first feature film...

N

ot your typical western. There are signs in the film that it takes place around 1900 when the west was dead or dying yet it was released in 1962 at a time when Hollywood was still turning out the product for theatres and TV.

One thing that surprised me was an old looking Joel McCrae. Not the same man we remember from the FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT or SULLIVAN'S TRAVEL. He didn't age well. Randolph Scott on the other hand had Hollywood good looks, and even more surprising, retired from acting after this film. He could have acted for another decade or more had he chose to do so.

I haven't watched a lot of Westerns so I can't comment on the genre or even the famous Sam Peckinpah. I only know his famous film, THE WILD BUNCH, famous for its violence. There is violence in this film--bar room fights, shoot outs, but it's tame--even for its time.

McCrae plays Steve Judd who rides into a one-road Western town--the typical start to a Western. His past isn't explicitly stated, but it appears he was a lawman of sorts but because of age or circumstances forced to do something else. That something else is work for the town's bank to bring gold back from a mine high up in the mountains. He recruits Gil (Scott) to ride with him and Heck--an impetuous kid--to be the third man in this security guard group for hire. It wouldn't be a movie if the job wasn't dangerous--all that gold, the wild west etc.

With the three in place, they saddle up and begin their journey. They stop at a farmhouse for the night where they meet a young Elsa. Her father is a bible-thumper who scolds her daughter for being flirtatious with Heck. She's bored her life on the farm.

The next day, the three travel on higher up the mountain and discover Elsa has tagged alone. There's a twist for a Western. If there are women in a Western they are wives at home or prostitutes in the back rooms of saloons. They aren't on horseback riding into danger.

Heck and Elsa have a thing going, but she's travelling to the mine to meet up with Billy whom she promised to marry. That's the subplot or maybe the plot for much of the second act deals with this love triangle. The second act also takes place in this rugged, primitive tent city.

The city is peopled with miners looking for riches and businessmen looking to cash in on their fortunes.

At the city, Steve and Gil setup a tent where they collect gold, measure it and issue receipts against the bank.

So far our story is straightforward. Steve gets the job with the bank, rides up to collect the gold and bring it back. Simple.

It's complicated by the marriage of Elsa and Billy. We see Billy is an ignorant, violent thug. He doesn't deserve Elsa. On the wedding night, his brothers try to get a piece of the action with attempted rape. Our hero comes to the rescue and in the process creates enemies. He blackmails the judge into saying he wasn't allowed to marry people and therefore the marriage isn't valid. If she's married, she has to stay with her husband. Unmarried she can leave with our hero and the rest and that is what happens.

It's also complicated by the fact Gil and his sidekick Heck want to steal the gold and try to do so. When the angry husband and his gang come after our hero, it's just him and Elsa. He tied up Gil and Heck as criminals.

We have the first shoot out in the high mountains. The good guys prevail, but Billy and company get away to fight another day.

Enter the final showdown. They made it down the mountain with the gold and the girl. They return her to the farm but are ambushed. The gang murdered her father and wait inside for Steve and Elsa to arrive. Steve is killed in the final shoot out. Gil promises to get the gold to the bank. Heck and Elsa embrace.

It's a simple story that didn't move me. For some reason I didn't get caught up in any of it. I feel suspense.

There are some great shots--scenes of the mountains--those expansive vistas, it's pretty to look at, but that's not enough for a film.

Posted 2009/03/22 at 20h34ET in Movie Commentary.

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