“Ride Lonesome” is among the finest of the seven Westerns made by veteran star Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher. By the time the duo got around to this, the sixth in what some refer to as the “Ranown cycle”, they had fine-tuned the formula behind these movies – a protagonist driven by revenge, charming bad guys (sometimes more charming than the hero) and richly drawn characters that overcame all the shortcomings of the miniscule budgets they were working with. 

Ageing bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) is on his way to Santa Cruz with murderous outlaw Billy John (James Best), wanted for shooting several men in the back. Despite knowing that Billy’s elder brother Frank John (Lee Van Cleef) and his gang are pursuing him, Brigade stops at a deserted stagecoach way station to rescue the recently widowed Carrie Lane (Karen Steele). 

Brigade’s group is also joined by amiable outlaws Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Wid (James Coburn in his feature film debut), who want to turn Billy John in themselves so that they can benefit from an amnesty announced by the authorities.

As the group evade a group of Red Indians that has already killed Carrie’s husband and make their way through the desert towards Santa Cruz, it becomes evident that Brigade actually wants Frank John to catch up with them. The two men have a history – it turns out that Brigade is the former sheriff of Santa Cruz whose wife was hanged by Frank John.

Randolph Scott and his campanions repulse an attack by Red Indians in “Ride Lonesome”

Unlike the other Westerns he made with Boetticher, Randolph Scott’s character is up against two villains in “Ride Lonsome” – Lee Van Cleef as the traditional bad guy and Pernell Roberts (probably best known for his turn on TV as “Trapper John MD”) as the charming outlaw who needs Billy John to secure an amnesty so that he can turn his life around.

At times, Sam Boone is more charismatic than Randolph Scott’s “hero”, a taciturn man who seems driven only by the desire to avenge the murder of his wife and even spurns the advances of Carrie. The sparring between Brigade and Boone keeps the audience on tenterhooks, as we don’t know right till the end whether Brigade will deliver on his promise to prevent Boone from taking in Billy John into Santa Cruz to claim the amnesty.

James Coburn in “Ride Lonesome”

Like other movies in the Ranown cycle, “Ride Lonesome” is a small film but the story it tells has the sweep of an epic, thanks largely to a great script from Boetticher’s frequent collaborator Burt Kennedy and the gorgeous cinematography of Charles Lawton Jr.

This was the first of the Ranown Westerns filmed in Cinemascope, which opens up the scale of the movie. The wider screen both captures the grandeur of Boetticher’s favourite locations at Lone Pine in California and emphasises the loneliness of the characters of “Ride Lonesome”.

“Ride Lonesome” is available in a fine transfer in a DVD box set of five of the Westerns made by Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott. 

(For more on the backstory of “Ride Lonesome”, go here. Budd Boetticher provided some insights on the making of the film in this interview.)

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