blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Ride the High Country (1962, Sam Peckinpah)

Ride the High Country is a fine attempt. It’s not a successful attempt, but it’s a fine one. Director Peckinpah seems to know what he wants to do, but he’s too trapped in Western genre tradition. Having icons Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott as his leads (they’re both great), George Bassman’s intrusive score and Lucien Ballard’s strangely flat photography might all be forgivable if N.B. Stone Jr.’s script were all right but it’s not.

The plotting is awkward. Retired lawman McCrea hires old partner Scott to help him transport gold, not knowing Scott is planning on taking said gold with the help of his new, youthful partner, played by Ron Starr. Along the way, they meet farm girl Mariette Hartley, who Starr gets involved with, much to the chagrin of the older men. Country runs just over ninety minutes and most of the important scenes involve Hartley and her poor choice to marry James Drury. McCrea and Scott spend their time talking about their glory days, which is cute the first couple times, but tiring when it’s clear Stone doesn’t have any other ideas for them and Peckinpah doesn’t seem to care.

Peckinpah doesn’t seem particularly interested in the film until the shootouts at the end; he does spend some time on the scenery, which should be prettier (that drab photography).

Both McCrea and Scott get pretty decent iconic moments at one point or another in the film, they just don’t get actual characters to play. It’s too bad.

8 responses to “Ride the High Country (1962, Sam Peckinpah)”

  1. Rich

    Hmm. I agree that perhaps a disproportionate amount of time is spent on Hartley’s plot thread, but I thought it was good. Maybe it’s not in the same league as ‘The Wild Bunch,’ but I’ve never seen that one all the way through, so I can’t say.

    Thanks for your post.

    1. Thanks for hosting the blogathon!

  2. I’m always interested when a blogger discusses a movie that he does not think works in so many ways. I have not seen this in years, so I can’t really say how I felt about it. However, your description of the story as “awkward” makes me think of plenty of other movies suffering the same fate. How on earth could any filmmaker make a movie that is drab when they have Cinemascope to work with? Very interesting review, Andrew!

    1. Sometimes I wonder if directors didn’t realize how cool it was to have CinemaScope… like it had become the bland Panavision-framing of DV today. Or maybe Lucien Ballard and Peckinpah tried something with the colors and it just didn’t work.

      Thanks for hosting the blogathon!

  3. I haven’t seen this one as yet, but have been getting a bit more into Westerns lately, so am hoping to do so. Will bear your comments in mind when I get to it.

    1. Westerns are an awesome genre to get into 🙂 I never thought so as a kid, but by college was known (by my movie-literate friends) for my Western affections!

  4. This film does sound a bit disappointing, which is too bad considering the cast and the premise. I bet John Ford wouldn’t have squandered this opportunity! 😉

  5. I’ve always been on the fence with this one – always thought it was my disinterest of the genre in general. I’ve always justified the love by reasoning that it was the film that put Peckinpah on the Western map, so to speak, and (in my humble opinion) his output improves after.

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