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The Tall T (1957)

by on 2012/06/03

“I sure don’t know why I like you, Brennan. You talk back and act proud when you should be bowing down.”

* * * *

Budd Boetticher, Burt Kennedy, and Randolph Scott . . . a fistful of years ago, these names didn’t mean much, if anything, to me. Today I think of them as the team behind Seven Men from Now. The “Val Lewtons” of the American western, they cranked out a run of B-pictures which still hold up very well.

Here working from a story by Elmore Leonard of 3:10 to Yuma fame, they missed the mark in the author’s eyes, though I found the result worth watching.

Scott stars as rancher Pat Brennan, a former “top ramrod man”. During a visit with an old boss, he loses his horse in a bet. He hitches a ride back home again, but picks an unlucky stagecoach, one intercepted by outlaws.

Led by Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel) as a lonely tormentor, Frank Usher, a trio of violent ne’er-do-wells is ready and willing to force their way to a ransom at any cost. They have no compunction about women and children suffering along with the men. Their rare mistake is believing that Brennan might prove good company. His taciturn sense of principle proves as dangerous as admirable.

This movie was one of those where I could rhyme off preceding influences in a row: Shane, plus Yuma, plus Seven Men, equals The Tall T. Trade soda pop for cherry candy, Evans and Wade for Brennan and Usher, and Gail Russell for Maureen O’Sullivan. Done, done, and done.

More than my flippant equation suggests, this oater is atypically dour. From the get-go, Brennan’s in high spirits, jovial even in adversity. When he suddenly goes all quiet, however, we understand it’s serious business. Despite a lack of nudity, swearing, or gore, we know what happens offscreen. The violence suggested is unusually brutal and, at one point, a rape is suggested.

Conversely, where the tale is ugliness rendered in elegant narrative, the image itself is a breathtaking vista run through a grainy stock. Less distracting than satisfyingly gritty, the film’s age helps play in its favour. Starkly attractive, the screen-filling scenery distracts from any budget limitations.

In fact, the economy may have led to some glitches I noticed, yet hardly resent. In addition to anachronisms and continuity issues, the editing sometimes feels off-pace, especially in the early town scenes. The music pushes “recurring motifs” into more “repetitious” territory. And I swear I saw the shadows of the crew against horses running by!

Oh now, who am I kidding? I just can’t bring myself to dislike The Tall T (even if its title is outright nonsense). While it isn’t Seven Men — which was a personal revelation, no doubt — it’s head and shoulders above its B-western contemporaries. If less compelling than its forebear, then at least it’s mature and insightful, qualities we could use more of in both features and leading men.

* * * *

Rated PG

78 minutes

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  1. R.I.P. Elmore Leonard (1925 – 2013) | Geek vs Goth

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