Thursday, July 1, 2010


Randolph Scott plays a rugged, happy-go-lucky, soldier-of-fortune in Budd Boetticher’s western “Buchanan Rides Alone,” and the eponymous character stirs up a lot of trouble with the powers-that-be in a corrupt little American border town in this brisk, well-photographed sagebrusher based on author Jonas Ward’s novel “The Name’s Buchanan.” Until Buchanan rides across the Mexican-American border into Argy Town, everything is rosy for our stalwart protagonist. He has spent enough time fighting in the Mexican revolution so that he has enough money to buy a ranch in West Texas. Buchanan is savoring a life of leisure when he clashes with the family Argy. Although this entertaining oater isn’t as memorable as either “Comanche Station” or “Ride Lonesome,” “Buchanan Rides Alone” (***1/2 out of ****) differs from those two straight-faced, dramatic dustraisers. Boetticher and “Decision at Sundown” scenarist Charles Lang put the accent on humor and the villains—while appropriately greedy with villainy—are neither as flawed nor narcissistic as most Boetticher foes. One of the third string villains played by L.Q. Jones is mildly reminiscent of the James Coburn villain in “Ride Lonesome.” At least one director who worshipped Boetticher believes that the feuding Argy clan that squabbles over the control of the town foreshadowed Sergio Leone’s similarly themed “Fistful of Dollars.” Scott and Boetticher teamed up for the fourth time as star and director of another compelling but low-budgeted horse opera.

No sooner has Tom Buchanan (Randolph Scott of “The Texans”) left Mexico and ridden into Agry Town than Sheriff Lew Agry (Barry Kelley of “The Tall Stranger”) and his deputy search him. The sheriff allows Buchanan in Agry Town but advises our hero not to “linger.” Buchanan reassures the sheriff: “I ain’t going to linger no place until I get back to where I belong.” After getting a $10 room at the Agry Hotel managed by Amos Agry (Peter Whitney of “Destination Tokyo”), Buchanan ambles over to the Agry Palace Saloon for whiskey and a steak. Earlier, the youngest Agry, Roy (William Leslie of “Return to Warbow”), had galloped into town from Mexico and gone into the saloon. Roy demands a drink. The bartender, Nacho (Nacho Galindo of “The Big Steal”), obeys Simon Agry’s strict orders not to let Roy drink. Initially, Buchanan knocks Roy down and disarms him. Later, Buchanan offers Roy a shot but Roy snatches the bottle. Roy swears that he’ll kill him. Roy gets so drunk that Buchanan walks out without a scratch. Not long afterward a Mexican, Juan de la Vega (Manuel Rojas of “The Magnificent Matador”), plunges into the saloon and kills Roy in a gunfight. Lew arrests Juan for Roy’s death and beats him up. When Buchanan tries to intervene for Juan, Lew throws Buchanan in jail, too. Initially, Lew doesn’t know Juan’s identity. Meanwhile, after his hired gunman Carbo (Craig Stevens of “Gunn”) contacts him about the death in the family, Roy’s father Judge Simon Agry (Tol Avery of “The Satan Bug”) refuses to let Lew string them up. Simon arrives in the nick of time to save them. Simon’s speech reeks of hypocrisy. Not only is wily Simon considering his future in politics, but he also is considering a suitable ransom that he could demand from the de la Vega clan for their son. The internecine strife between Agry brothers Simon and Lew puts them at loggerheads. Each man works at cross purposes when they hatch them individual schemes with their third brother Amos scrambling for crumbs.

At the trial, the jury clears Buchanan of any wrongdoing in the death of Roy Agry. They convict Juan, however, and Simon sentences him to swing an hour before sunset. Meanwhile, Buchanan discovers that Lew has looted his money belt that held $2000. Furthermore, Lew assigns Lafe (Don C. Harvey of “Utah Blaine”) and Pecos to escort Buchanan out of town. “I’m making sure you don’t show up in Agry Town again,” Lew says with relish. Of course, Lew plans to have Lafe liquidate Buchanan, but fellow West Texan Pecos finds this intolerable and he disposes of Lafe. While this is going on, Juan’s father sends an emissary, Esteban Gomez (Joe De Santis of “The Professionals”) to cut a deal with Simon. Gomez offers Simon 30 blooded horses in exchange for Juan, but instead Simon demands $50-thousand. Later, Lafe and Pecos take Buchanan out to the middle of nowhere. Lew’s two deputies aim their rifles at Buchanan and the crash of rifle fire fills the air as Buchanan dives to the ground. Pecos helps him up and they have to bury Lafe’s body on a tree because the gravesite filled with water. How many times do you see a western where they dig a grave and it fills up with water so they have to tie the corpse to a tree?

Anyway, Amos informs Lew about Simon’s plans to make Juan’s wealthy father fork over $50-thousand and he wants $10-thousand for helping him. The earlier reference to “Fistful of Dollars” holds from “Buchanan Rides Alone” and Amos is the equivalent of the bell ringer in Sergio Leone’s western. Lew sends Juan out of town with Waldo (Robert Anderson of “Mission over Korea”) his henchmen to stash him at an abandoned shack. Lew’s henchmen stumble onto Pecos at the shack as he is cooking bacon. Buchanan gets the drop on Waldo and company. Pecos and Juan tie up the henchmen and Buchanan heads back to Agry Town. Meantime, Pecos accompanies Juan to the border. Things become a little repetitive at this point. Waldo and his two gunmen untie themselves and ambush Pecos and Juan. Pecos dies and Juan is a prisoner again. At Simon’s ranch, Esteban shows up with the $50-thousand. Carbo goes to Agry Town to get Juan and discovers Lew’s perfidy. He leaves and Lew finds himself facing Buchanan. Our protagonist demands the return of his gunbelt and his money. Lew counts out all that is left of the loot: $1,700.

As Buchanan is leaving the jail, he runs into Waldo and company with Juan in their custody. Buchanan surrenders and Juan and he wind up in the hoosegow again. Carbo rides back into town with Simon and they find Gomez negotiating a deal with Lew. Carbo discovers that Juan is back in jail. Carbo misses Waldo and his henchmen as they head to see Lew. Carbo releases Juan and Buchanan. Meanwhile, Lew turns on Simon uses him as a shield to get into his own jail. Buchanan surprises them, takes Simon hostage, and Juan, Gomez, Buchanan and Simon flee. Gomez is wounded in the arm. Buchanan and Juan make it across the bridge at the border, but their vehicle overturns and the saddle bags with $50-thousand in them lay on the bridge. Buchanan negotiates the release of Gomez for Simon. Lew shoots Simon when he makes it to bridge and picks up the saddle bags. Buchanan scrambles for the saddle bags, but he runs out of bullets and Lew gets the drop on him. Simon musters his last breath to shoot his own brother. A fatally wounded Lew finishes off Simon. Buchanan retrieves the saddle bags and gives them to Juan. Carbo makes threats, but Buchanan points out that Agry Town now belongs to him. Carbo recommends that Buchanan ride.

Boetticher and “Prince Valiant” lenser Lucien Ballard shot “Buchanan Rides Alone” on location at Old Tucson so the film evokes a gritty, authentic feel for the old West. Nary a minute is wasted in this 78-minute, Columbia Pictures release that co-starred Craig Stevens as an elegant-looking gunman. If you are looking to a traditional, leathery-tough cowboy epic, “Buchanan Rides Alone” has more than enough action, irony, quotable dialogue and humor to keep you interested without wearing out its welcome.

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