For sustained and distinctive achievement in B-movie filmmaking, these collaborations between director Budd Boetticher and actor Randolph Scott – often referred to as “the Ranown cycle” after Scott and Harry Joe Brown’s production company Ranown (‘Ran’ from Randoplh, ‘own’ from Brown) – are rivaled only by the horror films Val Lewton produced for RKO in the 1940s. In each case the “B” is strictly a matter of budget and release pattern, not quality.
The series properly originated with Seven Men from Now, but it was not made for Columbia. That picture more or less accidentally brought together Scott, Boetticher, and neophyte screenwriter Burt Kennedy – an uncanny blending of talents and qualities to create a great, thoroughly original Western that became the paradigm for the Ranown cycle.
All the films run about an hour and a quarter and were shot in 10 days or so. In each, Scott plays a lone-riding man of few words with a personal, indeed private, mission to complete. Details of his backstory are few, and parceled out judiciously so that the understanding of both the audience and the other characters keeps evolving over the literal or figurative journey the film describes. In most cases, there’s a key rival or adversary who poses the greatest threat to Scott’s mission, yet is also the person closest to Scott in spirit or capability–often a disquietingly sympathetic figure whose necessary showdown with Scott occasions considerable regret. In keeping with Boetticher’s own experience in Mexican bullrings, the climactic action takes on the spatial and spiritual overtones of a corrida.
Seven Men from Now
Budd Boetticher | USA | 1956 | 78 minutes
Ex-sheriff Ben Stride tracks the seven men who held up a Wells Fargo office and killed his wife. Stride is tormented by the fact that his own failure to keep his job was the cause of his wife’s working in the express office and thus he is partly responsible for her death. Stride encounters a married couple heading west for California and helps them. Along the way they are joined by two n’er-do-wells, Masters and Clete, who know that Stride is after the express-office robbers. They plan to let Stride lead them to the bandits, then make away with the loot themselves. But they aren’t the only ones carrying a secret.
The Tall T
Budd Boetticher | USA | 1956 | 78 minutes
Having lost his horse in a bet, Pat Brennan hitches a ride with a stagecoach carrying newlyweds, Willard and Doretta Mims. At the next station the coach and its passengers fall into the hands of a trio of outlaws headed by a man named Usher. When Usher learns that Doretta is the daughter of a rich copper-mine owner, he decides to hold her for ransom. Tension builds over the next 24 hours as Usher awaits a response to his demands and as a romantic attachment grows between Brennan and Doretta.
Decision at Sundown
Budd Boetticher | USA | 1957 | 78 minutes
Bart Allison arrives in Sundown planning to kill Tate Kimbrough. Three years earlier he believed Kimbrough was responsible for the death of his wife. He finds Kimbrough and warns him he is going to kill him but gets pinned down in the livery stable with his friend Sam by Kimbrough’s stooge Sheriff and his men. When Sam is shot in the back after being told he could leave safely, some of the townsmen change sides and disarm the Sheriff’s men forcing him to face Allison alone. Taking care of the Sheriff, Allison injures his gun hand and must now face Kimbrough left-handed.
Buchanan Rides Alone
Budd Boetticher | USA | 1958 | 78 minutes
On his way home to West Texas, Tom Buchanan rides into the Californian border town of Agry, and into a feud between several members of the Agry family. In helping out a Mexican seeking revenge on one of them, Buchanan finds himself against the whole family.
Budd Boetticher | USA | 1959 | 73 minutes
A wanted murderer, Billy John, is captured by Ben Brigade, a bounty hunter, who intends to take him to Santa Cruz to be hanged. Brigade stops at a staging post, where he saves the manager’s wife from an Indian attack, and enlists the help of two outlaws to continue his journey more safely. However, the Indian attacks persist, the outlaws plan to take Billy for themselves, tempted by the offer of amnesty for his captor.
Budd Boetticher | USA | 1960 | 74 minutes
A man saves a woman who had been kidnapped by Comanches, then struggles to get both of them home alive.