Scott Takes Center Stage
As a western fan I've seen my fair share of Randolph Scott westerns and whilst enjoyable most of them are just b-westerns, churned out at the height of the genres popularity. But then there are some of Scott's westerns which stand out and "The Tall T" is most certainly one of them as it draws you into the drama of a trio of outlaws holding a man and woman hostage. The irony is that "The Tall T" has a routine storyline, the action is routine, the romantic subplot is routine yet it is more interesting because of a sense of belief. Director Budd Boetticher crafts a movie rather than just churns it out whilst Randolph Scott and his co-stars deliver characters rather than just going through the motions and it makes this routine western more especially with the vibrant Technicolor making it look magnificent.
After losing his horse in a bet, rancher Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott - 7th Cavalry) hitches a ride on the stage carrying newly weds Willard (John Hubbard) and Doretta Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan). But when they reach the swing station they come face to face with 3 outlaws. Squirming for his life Willard tells the outlaws lead by Frank Usher (Richard Boone - Man Without a Star) that Doretta's father is wealthy and will pay handsomely for her return and so with one of the outlaws he heads back to town to deliver the ransom note, leaving Pat and Doretta to get close till they return.
As already mentioned "The Tall T" has your basic b-western storyline as we have outlaws holding up a stagecoach and holding the travellers prisoner. You can guess how it is going to play out with Brennan finding a way to out smart the outlaws before he can kill them and ride off into the sunlight with Doretta. It's not a criticism because the storyline itself isn't bad and this movie goes to show that something routine can be turned into something quite special.
It all starts with director Budd Boetticher because you get a real sense that he has crafted this movie, had belief in it rather than just churning out another western. Ever single scene is full of atmosphere as Brennan finds himself getting close not just to Doretta but also Usher who takes a shine to him because he shows no fear. And then there is the depth of shot with so many scenes featuring action at the front and back of a shot which plays out against a fantastic backdrop. In fact the setting also needs to be mentioned as well as the score because both are huge parts to why this b-western feels more, feels like it was made with passion. And as already mentioned the vibrant Technicolor makes it feel like it was filmed yesterday
I would guess that because of what appears to be Boetticher's belief in the movie that those actors involved also upped their game. In Pat Brennan Randolph Scott maybe playing what is quite a typical character for him but you can see that Scott adds layers to the characters, when he delivers the dialogue he gets across either the anger, compassion or bravery. The same with Richard Boone as Frank Usher because he makes him a fascinating outlaw who when he says he has never killed a man you strangely believe, he gives him layers of villainy but also compassion which makes us fooled into liking him. Even the lesser characters which see Skip Homeier and Henry Silva as trigger happy outlaws are just as good because their characters end up more than just stooges.
What this all boils down to is that "The Tall T" shows what could have been done with so many 50s b-westerns if they hadn't just been churned out. Because you can see that scenes have been crafted and the actors are trying to deliver multi-layered characters the movie comes to life with real atmosphere and drama.