"Ride Lonesome" is one of the best movies I have seen and to some that will be a surprise because unlike many movies it only has a running time of 73 minutes. But "Ride Lonesome" has so much going for it from Budd Boetticher's direction which gives us some simply brilliant imagery to the actual storyline, simple but with depth. Even Randolph Scott, an actor who starred in more than his fair share of middle of the road westerns delivers a superior performance as do the rest of the cast which includes James Coburn who makes his movie debut.
Having captured Billy John (James Best - Firecreek), Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott - Westbound) starts the slow journey to Santa Cruz where Billy John faces the hangman's noose. Along the way he finds himself accompanied by a couple of outlaws looking to reform and a widow who doesn't understand the need for killing. But on their trail is Billy John's brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) and as Ben is in no hurry to get to Santa Cruz it becomes clear that he has an ulterior motive as do the outlaws who help him out.
As storylines go "Ride Lonesome" is simple as we have Ben Brigade a bounty hunter taking Billy John back to Santa Cruz to be hung for murder, along the way he is joined by a couple of outlaws as well as a young, attractive widow. And what seems quite generic is the fact that along the way there are various issues from Indians wanting the widow, Billy John's brother Frank on their trail as well as Billy John who tries to talk various people into helping him. All of which has been seen before and as such we have a familiarity about this western but it also makes it easy to follow.
But then you get an extra layer or two starting with outlaws Sam and Whit who want to take Billy John back themselves so they can get amnesty and start a fresh. The irony of which is that whilst they help Ben escort him across the open plain and battle what ever trouble comes their way they are just biding time till they will kill him. Then there is the fact that Ben is in no hurry to get to Santa Cruz, purposefully taking his time as we discover what he really wants is Frank to catch up to them. Why, well we discover why in impressive fashion as the journey comes to the hanging tree giving us some brilliant imagery.
Talking of which the imagery in "Ride Lonesome" is absolutely brilliant especially when it comes to all the drama at the hanging tree, a marvellous location and set of scenes. But even before that we get some brilliant framing, a shot which focus on Billy John with Ben half covering the shot, handcuffs over the back of his belt is simple yet stunning. In fact you can see elements in the way Boetticher directs and frames "Ride Lonesome" which have influenced other directors since.
Adding to all that is good about "Ride Lonesome" are the performances and there is not a bad performance in the entire cast be it the youthful cockiness of both James Best and James Coburn as Billy John and Whit or the emotional ride of Karen Steele as Carrie Lane. But it is two performances which stand out those of Randolph Scott and Pernell Roberts. Scott as Ben Brigade delivers such a sombre performance, straight faced and tight lipped he moodily moves through the movie in such a way that you know he has an ulterior motive to his escorting of Billy John. And in the same way Roberts as Sam Boone also delivers that element of ulterior motive, being congenial and nice but you know that all the time he is waiting till the perfect moment arises to take Billy John for his own.
What this all boils down to is that "Ride Lonesome" proves the old adage that size doesn't matter because in 73 minutes Budd Boetticher delivers a fantastic western. A western which is simple but with depth and features some classic imagery which makes it a treat for the eyes.