Comanche Station (1960)
Comanche Commotion for Scott & Boetticher
Always check the brand to make sure you're not driving another man's stock - Ben Lane
Director Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott made some good westerns together but whilst good they weren't what you could call genre defining, they were solid B-movie westerns made better by some clever writing and the presence of Randolph Scott playing the lonesome hero. And that is what "Comanche Station" is, a B-movie western made more impressive by some clever writing and interesting characters because strip away these elements and it's not the most original of stories. In a way "Comanche Station" could have been a more impressive movie, a sort of companion piece to "The Searchers" because it is about the hazardous journey home of Cody having traded with the Comanche's for the release of white woman Nancy but other than a few good moments it is just average.
Having learnt of a white woman taken captive by Comanches, lone cowboy Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott - Westbound) puts his life in danger to trade with the Commanches for her release not even knowing who she is. But it turns out that there are other men interested in the release of this white woman, Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), including Ben Lane (Claude Akins - Return of the Seven) an Outlaw who wants the $5000 reward for her return. Having ended up travelling together Cody realises that trouble may not only come in the shape of angry Indians but also Lane who he has known for some time.
So as previously mentioned "Comanche Station" has the potential to be something very good and the basis of it all is there, just never really explored. What I mean is that for example we have Cody trading for the release of Nancy, we learn his reasoning isn't about money as he knew nothing of the reward and later on we do learn why he traded, which makes sense of an earlier scene. But whilst this is a clever element surrounding his motive, almost a twist, it's frustratingly underplayed.
This issue of being underplayed and under explored comes from the strained friendship between Cody and outlaw Ben, we learn something of their passed but we need something more, something to make it all very crystal clear rather than overly ambiguous. And then there is Ben who knows about the reward for Nancy playing mind games with her as to why her husband didn't go after her himself. It provides what is a major twist but then the side plot of a semi romantic element then gets lost in the process.
It's almost frustrating that there is so much cleverness in "Comanche Station" as it explores motives and character traits yet never full delivers on what it creates. And it is also frustrating that we have the old fashioned viewpoint of Comanche's being evil, especially considering that in the years prior to the movies release attitudes had changed on the subject. It is equally frustrating when it comes to the action as the handful of scenes whilst typical are well choreographed with a touch of unexpected violence. It is very much a case that for everything which is good about "Comanche Station" there is something frustrating.
And to be honest that issue of being both good and frustrating inhabits the performances as well. Now Randolph Scott starts of so well as Cody, almost abrupt to Nancy when he rescues her and mysterious for being so but by the half way point he ends up delivering a typical Randolph Scott performance of the handsome hero in black, the nice guy who isn't afraid to die. The same can be said of Claude Akins who plays Outlaw Ben Lane as to start with he's interesting especially in the way he plays psychological games but like with Scott by the half way point he becomes very ordinary as the bad guy. Ironically whilst Nancy Gates doesn't have to do much as Nancy Lowe she does bring a nice touch of vulnerability through out the movie and does such a wonderful job of delivering the power of the movies major twist.
What this all boils down to is that "Comanche Station" ends up frustrating not because it is a bad movie but because it has the potential to be more than just a good Randolph Scott & Budd Boetticher western. The cleverness of the story, characters and motives ends up being underplayed in favour of what is a lot of western cliche and you just feel that this could have been one of the great genre defining westerns.
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