Thursday, August 18, 2011


Movie-wise, there are few experiences more pleasurable than kicking back with a Randolph Scott western.

Scott knew his audiences, understood what they wanted, and gave it to them. I have recollections of reading that Scott was among the most consistent moneymakers throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. While none of his films were blockbusters, they didn’t lose money either. I would think that an executive who green lighted a new Scott western did so with no trepidation.

Critics sing hosannas over the seven films he made towards the end of his career with director Budd Boetticher and you’ll get no argument from me. They’re jewels, filled with interesting, flawed, if not slightly eccentric characters who happen to play their dramas against the beautiful panoramas of the west.

The Scott westerns of the post-war era leading up to the Boetticher years are more traditional, but still very entertaining. While some may be better than others, I can’t think of any out and out clunkers. Indeed, I can’t think of a moment’s regret spent watching a Randolph Scott western.

“Albuquerque” (1948) is a case in point. I stayed engrossed and entertained over the course of its 89-minute running time. It was directed by Ray Enright (who coincidentally also directed Scott seven times, including a real winner, “Coroner Creek”, also from 1948), and Enright sure moves things along. There’s hardly a wasted scene.

At one point, Enright superimposes iris-like shots of townspeople placing bets on the success of a freight expedition leaving town, which we see in the background. That’s an effective way of showing two different images without cutting back and forth between them.

Randolph Scott plays Cole Armin, who comes to the town of Albuquerque to work for his uncle John Armin (George Cleveland). Fans of the Lassie TV series may be surprised to see Cleveland not playing a kindly Uncle John, but a martinet who rules the town and surrounding territory with ruthless efficiency.

Cole had come to Albuquerque on a stagecoach with fellow passengers Ted Wallace (Russell Hayden) and his sister Celia (Catherine Craig), along with a little girl played by Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu of Zuzu’s Petals fame).

The Wallaces traveled to Albuquerque to start a freight transportation operation but have their money stolen in a stagecoach robbery. Cole finds out that his uncle was behind the robbery. He retrieves the money, and throws in with the Wallaces to help them start their company in opposition to his uncle.

John Armin has the town sheriff in his back pocket, and a group of thugs headed by Lon Chaney to keep everyone in check. Enright must have liked Chaney’s features, because he gets more close-ups than anyone else in the movie, including Randolph Scott and leading lady Barbara Britton.

Scott and Chaney have a pretty good fisticuffs sequence. I was amused to see Chaney’s cigarette stay lodged in the corner of his mouth even after Scott delivers some pretty vicious punches. Finally, at the end Scott delivers a couple of terrific wallops which finally dislodge the cigarette.

Britton plays Letty Tyler, a spy planted in the Wallace operation by John Armin. She begins relaying information to Armin about the Wallace’s plans but soon changes her mind when she finds herself falling in love with Ted.

“Albuquerque” was shot on location in Sedona, Arizona in the two-tone Cinecolor process, which was one of the more acceptable Technicolor substitutes. It looks fine to me on the DVD transfer.

On loan from Republic Studios is George “Gabby” Hayes as Juke, who becomes a teamster driver for the Wallaces and participates in the film’s big action sequence towards the end, when Cole and Juke have to traverse wagons full of supplies down a narrow mountain ridge with the ledge only a step or two away. One of Armin’s men has sabotaged Cole’s brake, and the horses get skittish and erupt into a run. Cole desperately tries to control the horses and yell warnings at Juke as they both speed down the mountain. It’s a good action scene marred only by some obvious process screen work in the close-ups.

But the medium and far shots of the horses speeding down the mountain with the wagon wheels brushing against the drop off are very well done and satisfying in a way modern-day CGI can’t be. These are actual horses and stunt drivers accomplishing these stunts.

Also supporting the action is a first-rate score by Darrell Calker, a composer I’m not very familiar with. His opening title theme is a real winner, and I look forward to seeing what else of his is out there.

Margaret Mitchell wanted Scott to play Ashley Wilkes but he lost the role to Leslie Howard. A native of Virginia, I always felt Scott would have made a splendid Ashley.

Randolph Scott ended his screen career in 1962 with Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country”, one of the finest westerns ever. He had grown rich from real estate investments and didn’t need to work any further. Along with John Wayne, Randolph Scott can lay claim to ending his career with one of his very best films and performances. More distinguished and well-revered names cannot make that claim.

Family Lore: In the mid 1930s, my uncle was a young boy and sold newspapers at Chicago’s LaSalle Street station. In those days when air travel was far less common, travel by train was the way to go from coast to coast. Many a celebrity was spotted at LaSalle Street station waiting to transfer on a train to the West Coast, but my uncle only remembered seeing one celebrity. He heard a voice ask, “Son, can I get a paper” and he looked up and saw it was Randolph Scott. He sold him the paper and even got an autograph from him.

My dad remembered my uncle racing home to tell everyone he met Randolph Scott and showed them the autograph. Over the years the autograph got lost but even later in life my uncle always said Randolph Scot was the most handsome man he ever saw.


R. D. Finch said...

Kevin, a great post on a film I'd never heard of but will certainly be on the lookout for. I find that even the most modest Western holds my interest as long as it's competently made, and having Randolph Scott as the star is virtually a guarantee of a good time. The Boetticher series with Scott you mention is rightly admired. He was indeed one of the most popular stars of the early 50s. He was one of the annual top 10 box office stars four years in a row, 1950-53, alongside the likes of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, and James Stewart. That's good company!

Kevin Deany said...

Thanks, R.D. I know what you mean about Randolph Scott guaranteeing a good time. Couldn't agree more.

Thanks also for the box office figures. I would think that Scott's westerns probably brought more money into the studio's coffers since they didn't have the bigger budgets of the other names mentioned, but always turned a profit. They weren't exactly "A" films, but not "B" movies either. Maybe "A-"?

Katie B. said...

Thanks Kevin--it's a great post and I really enjoyed hearing the story about my dad -- one a had never heard before!!!!

Kevin Deany said...

Katie: I think your dad was amused I was always interested in this stuff. He was pretty insistent there were no other LaSalle Street Station celebrity stories, unfortunately.

R. D. Finch said...

Kevin, I just joined a new service called ClassicFlix that rents DVDs and BluRays on pretty much the same basis as Netflix, and I've put "Albuquerque" in my queue. Netflix doesn't have this title available. I should mention how much I enjoyed the anecdote about your uncle. Also, I'd never thought of it, but Randolph Scott would have been perfect as Ashley Wilkes. As much as I like Leslie Howard as an actor, I have to admit he wasn't the right person for this part. But he thought so too and said he only accepted it because Selznick offered so much money and also promised to produce "Intermezzo," which Howard really did want to make.

Kevin Deany said...

R.D: I do hope you like it. There's a store by me that has more than 20,000 movies to rent, and that's where I first saw "Albuquerque" and really enjoyed it.

About two months ago I was in Wal-Mart and they had a DVD collection with four titles: "Albuquerque"; Alan Ladd in "Whispering Smith"; Audie Murphy in "The Duel at Silver Creek"; and Maureen O'Hara and Jeff Chandler in "War Arrow." The set was $5. Of course, I snapped it up. The transfers are the same as the single-title DVD editions.

Rick29 said...

I haven't seen ALBUQUERQUE either, but I've always enjoyed Randolph Scott's Westerns. My favorite is is RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY which provided Scott with what I consider his best role. That's a great pic of Barbara Britton, who also teamed with Scott in GUNFIGHTERS and later starred in the MR. & MRS. NORTH tv series. Great review, as always. Loved the anecdote about your uncle.

Caftan Woman said...

"Movie-wise, there are few experiences more pleasurable than kicking back with a Randolph Scott western."

Truer words were never spoken. Scott is the most represented actor in my movie collection.

Kevin Deany said...

Rick: I agree with you about "Ride the High Country" and adore every frame of that movie. I remember seeing "Gunfighters" years ago and liking it. Barbara Britton was really appealing. I liked her alot in the Joel McCrea version of "The Virginian."

The one 1950s Scott western I have yet to see is "Sugarfoot" also known as "A Swirl of Glory." I'm hoping it will be a future Warner Archive title.

CW, I even have a Randolph Scott section in my DVD cabinet. You have excellent taste.

ClassicBecky said...

Kevin, good heavens, I really missed this one! Sorry I'm so tardy! I've never been a western gal (I'm from the MIDwest, hardy har). But I just love Randolph Scott. He's masculine, handsome and just likable! For that reason, the westerns I've seen usually have him in them!

I've not seen this one - I loved the whole funny cigarette thing BTW. It sounds good, and frankly, seeing Gabby Hayes makes me feel very young! My memory seems to include Gabby in a lot of things I used to watch!

Nice post, Kevin! I will actually look for a western, this one!

Laura said...

Thanks for a great review of a Scott film I haven't yet seen, as well as a great family story!

Scott is one of my "go to" names for "movie comfort food" -- especially if it's been a long day, it feels so nice to curl up with a Randolph Scott Western. As you say, he knew what his audiences wanted. I really value his dependability.

Best wishes,

Classicfilmboy said...

As usual, you pick a film I've never heard of and do a magnificent job of making me want to see it. The western is an interesting genre in that so many were made as B movies yet you had stars like Randolph Scott doing more than a servicable job as he found the right vehicles for his style. I really need to see more of these.

Kevin Deany said...

Laura - movie comfort food. I like that phrase. I'll have to remember that, and Randolph Scott westerns certainly qualify.

CFB, I do hope you get the chance to see some of these. The Boetticher ones I mentioned are especially worthwhile, like "Seven Men From Now" and "The Tall T."

Among the more traditional ones I like one he did at Columbia called "Man in the Saddle" (1951) which includes a fight scene that literally demolishes an entire cabin.

Kevin Deany said...

Becky, I hope you enjoy it. The cigarette thing reminds me something that would wind up in a film noir, rather than a western.

ClassicBecky said...

Hi Kevin - just an update. Other than a movie store that might still be in existence for renting movies, my only access to classic films now is my own collection and Netflix Instant Streaming. I checked it out, and they don't have a single one of the movies we talked about here. However, there were 2 Scott westerns and an early 1930s movie of Haggard's "She". I watched it the other night - it was fun, and Scott was good, very young. The 2 westerns that Streaming has are "Thunder Over The Plains: and "Belle of the Yukon". I'll give them a try!

Kevin Deany said...

Becky: I like "Thunder Over the Plains." He pairs up well with Phyllis Thaxter. "Belle of the Yukon" is pleasant and is more of a musical than a western.

Another option is using the Internet archive. There's a ton of public domain titles available for free downloading. Quality varies according to the title, but you won't run out of titles to watch.

Go to Click on the Moving Images tab at the top. On the field that reads Sub Collections click on Movies. Then click on the Feature Films tab.

You can browse by title or category. I don't recommend the search function, because if you type in Randolph Scott, only "To the Last Man" pops up, but there are other Scott westerns available for viewing. For instance, both "Abilene Town" (1946) and "Man of the Forest" (1933) are there. Just remember, these are public domain titles, so some look and sound better than others.

The Lady Eve said...

I don't see that many Westerns and didn't know of "Albuquerque," but loved your post. You mentioned one of my favorite films of any kind - "Ride the High Country" - Scott and McCrea together in their late years, directed by Peckinpah, just sublime.

I agree that Randolph Scott would've been a great Ashley Wilkes, and more credible as someone Scarlett O'Hara would be smitten with - + not be completely overshadowed by Gable's Rhett Butler.

Kevin Deany said...

Lady Eve: "Ride the High Country" is a genuinely great movie, and one that seems even to appeal to people who don't like westerns. Randolph Scott certainly ended his career on a high note.