Randolph Scott vs. Richard Boone in a fine, violent western from Budd Boetticher
Feb 27, 2011
"I'm not going to be shot in the belly because you feel sorry for yourself. They're going to kill us, Mrs. Mims," says Pat Brennan. "Think about that for awhile."
"Well, what can I do?" Mrs. Mims asks.
"I don't know. We've got to keep our eyes open...watch every move they make...and when our chance comes, we've got to take it!"
"I'm scared," she says.
"So am I," says Brennan.
Brennan (Randolph Scott) and Mrs. Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan) have every right to be scared. They're held captive in the scorching, rocky countryside 15 miles outside of Contention. There's Billy Jack (Skip Homeier), a young kid with a gun who doesn't much like being a virgin. There's Chink (Henry Silva), a dead-eyed killer who shot down his father when he was 12. He's up to seven notches now, and is looking forward to making Brennan and Mrs. Mims numbers eight and nine. Most of all, there's Frank Usher (Richard Boone), older and wiser than the two he runs with, and more ruthless than them both. He's the kind of man who laughs when a woman burns her hands on a hot coffee pot he could have warned her of.
Brennan and Mrs. Mims are in this fix because the three bad guys took over a stage station to rob the mail packet that was due. But up drove Mr. and Mrs. Mims in a stage they'd hired for their honeymoon, with Brennan riding on top because he'd gambled his horse for a chance at a seed bull and lost. He's heading back to the small spread he runs by himself. When Usher learns Mrs. Mims is the daughter of the man who owns the richest copper claim in the territory, and when the weasely Mr. Mims says he'll work with Frank on a ransom scheme to save his own skin...well, it's not long before a tense game of maneuver starts that leaves Mrs. Mims a widow. Frank Usher can't abide a weasel. Brennan knows Frank Usher will have Chink and Billy Jack gun them down as soon as he has the ransom. Brennan and Mrs. Mims must wait and take their chance. In the meantime, we get to see what makes Frank Usher tick (it ain't pretty) and what kind of man Pat Brennan is.
The Tall T is an excellent example of skill and craftsmanship applied in just 78 minutes by Budd Boetticher...a small cast of good actors...limited locations...a taut and efficient screenplay by Burt Kennedy...scenes that establish character and build tension. The relationship between Brennan and Usher is unstable, and both Scott and Boone know how to make the most of it. Scott in his later films thrived when he had a charismatic actor to play against. Just watch him versus Lee Marvin in Seven Men from Now. The last 18 minutes of The Tall T crams in a steadily building climate of violence that leaves the bad guys dead (this is no spoiler; what else would happen in a Randolph Scott western?). in some startlingly effective set pieces. You don't take on Randolph Scott, even on horseback, when he's carrying a double loaded shotgun
Richard Boone was so dynamic an actor, and so easily played fascinating and ruthless killers, that he almost stole his movies from the leading men. Just watch him against John Wayne in Big Jake or against Paul Newman in Hombre. Boone seemed to me to be a man out of place...too good for most of the movies he was in, too easily a charismatic bad guy to be given a chance at leading man roles, too effective an actor to be ignored. The characters he played, including all those bad guys, almost always carried a whiff of disgust at the doings they saw around them.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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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. Written by dinky-4 of Minneapolis