In the late 1950s, the "Adult" western was at its zenith. There were several men responsible for this (James Stewart and Anthony Mann, notable among them), but three men stand out - Budd Boetticher (director), Burt Kennedy (writer) and Randolph Scott (actor). Scott, along with his partner, Harry Joe Brown, produced them through his production company - Ranown Productions. With Scott, Boetticher, and often Kennedy, they made seven westerns - the Ranown Westerns - that stand as the model for the genre, and set the stage for the more realistic (and often more violent) westerns that would come in the 1960s (films like Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch")
Two of these seven Ranown westerns are not actually from Ranown, though they were made with Scott, Beotticher, and Kennedy. Those two - Seven Men From Now (1956) and Westbound (1959) are not in this set. The other five are. I have seen each, and here is my take on them.
"The Tall T" (1957) Ranown starts off with a bang. Perhaps the best of them. Scott was never better. Richard Boone played the heavy - I'd say the best of them in all the Ranown westerns. Henry Silva is also very good as another heavy. Maureen O'Sullivan was perfect in the female lead. A great early story from Elmore Leonard. Boetticher did a great job directing a taut, lean story, scripted by Kennedy. Many say it was the best of the Ranowns. This film includes a horrible way to "dispose of" two people (father and his young son) that is not shown, just described. The horror created by the description is more frightening than anything you could feel if you actually saw it. While there may be one Ranown western that was as good - "Commanche Station" (1960) - none were better.
"Decision at Sundown" (1957) A misfire. Scott again plays the lead, a man who was wronged long ago by the villain. But in this film, he has no one to play off of. John Carroll is ordinary as the man who wronged Scott. Karen Steele, an extraordinary beauty, plays the female lead, but there is little she is asked to do, other than look extraordinarily beautiful. There is very little action, and surprisingly little drama. Altough Boetticher did his best (he himself said it was the weakest of the Ranowns), it is telling that this film is one of the Ranowns that Burt Kennedy did not script. All in all, this film is the most forgettable of the 5 in this set.
"Buchanan Rides Alone" (1958) Getting better. Not great, but good. Also, possibly the funniest of the set. The eulogy that Pecos Hill (LQ Jones) gives for one of his "friends", whom he has just killed to save the life of Scott is simply not to be missed. At the end of it, Scott says the only thing he can say that could top it. While the plot is not too strong - Scott is fine, but there are too may heavies to focus on the classic good vs. evil conflict that is necessary to all good drama. Actually, outside of Craig Stevens, none of the villains were very notable. And there is no female lead to speak of. All in all, this poorly constructed story, albeit with some very amusing quirks, is good, but no more.
"Ride Lonesome" (1958) Very good. Not the best, but very good. Scott plays a wronged man who is now a bounty hunter. He captures an outlaw with a price on his head (a great turn by James Best). By the way, this is a Kennedy script. How do you know? When he captures the outlaw (Best), the outlaw says "whatever they are payin' you...it's not nearly enough". To which Scott replies, "I'd hunt you free". There is another outlaw that figures into this - Best's brother, (a young Lee van Cleef, also great here). Pernell Roberts and James Coburn (his film debut, Scott, the producer, liked him and expanded his part) are also very good, although Roberts is a bit too mannered in his acting of some of his scenes. Karen Steele is the female lead here also, and is given more to do. She is quite good here as well. One more thing: The final scene is perhaps the most memorable image in all the Ranown westerns.
"Comanche Station" (1960) Perfect. The last of the Ranown westerns, perhaps the best (though some might give that distinction to "The Tall T"). An excellent story (again, a great Kennedy script). The ending is one you will not see coming (kudos to Kennedy and Boetticher). A perfect performance from Scott - a man accepting a task that defies explanation - until you learn why. Claude Akin is excellent as the heavy - not quite as good as Richard Boone in "The Tall T", but close (his smile is pure evil). Richard Rust was also quite good as the young heavy, trying to reform. And the beautiful Nancy Gates is perfect - especially in the scenes where she and Scott are alone - in the female lead. What makes this a great film is the direction by Boetticher, working with another great script by Kennedy. It is filled with great scenes, and there are no weak scenes. Most important, the story is distilled to perfection. Boetticher included only those scenes that were needed to advance the story and cover the themes he wanted to illustrate (courage, determination, and, above all, honor). And he included no scenes that were redundant or otherwise non-essential. This is the mark of a great director. Scott was so good in this that he retired afterwards, only to be talked out of it to make one more film - the classic "Ride the High Country" (1962) with Joel McCrea and directed by a young Sam Peckinpah. Then he retired for good. Even if he did not make that final film, "Commanche Station" would have been a perfect swan song for Randolph Scott.
Seeing these five films, plus two others - "Seven Men From Now' (1956) and the previously mentioned "Ride the High Country" (1962) - will give you an appreciation of why Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher have such a high reputation among a growing number of classic film lovers.