Pre-dating the revisionist westerns we know and love, Ride Lonesome is that rare thing — a cheap chamber western shot in CinemaScope in Lone Pine, California, starring Randolph Scott. Basically, a Budd Boetticher film.
Through hot and dangerous terrain, Scott rides, his jaw a jut. Equally adept at killing and riding lonesome, he gets the bad guys (and the loving respect of a gorgeous gal) through a modicum of force and a ton of restraint. In short, he’s a hero.
Thin though the plot is, the film is really about what it means to be a man of character and dignity. A gentleman — with balls. Wise, worn and strong, and played with a straight back and little to no affectation, Scott is the classic “tough old bird with a past”. He doesn’t have to flash his gun to make a point. And when he does, he’s a good shot.
The movie also examines issues of trust, particularly the way it refracts off the Scott character: Trust, as we hear so often in movies and life, is hard to come by. You never know who someone is until the chips are down and the time for action is now. Right up until the end of this film, you wonder if Scott will kill the men with whom he rides, and not merely the ones from whom he rides.
Ride Lonesome came out in 1959, so it’s no surprise the violence almost always happens off-screen (and/or a character recounts it). Boetticher, though, treats violence (as incident or threat) solemnly. As I said, the film is about a certain comportment, one that Scott personifies and is illustrated by the dynamics between people he runs into — and the tension inherent in those relationships. Younger viewers may feel cheated of action, but the action is mostly dialogue and the faces that speak it. It’s pointed talk, the kind that says a lot but never gabs. (“He was trying to talk me out of my gun” is the best line here.)
I recommend the film.