Scott Goes Westbound and Hellbound
This isn't going to sound like much of an endorsement but I have seen worse westerns that "Westbound" but then I've watched plenty which are a lot better. The thing about "Westbound" is that despite having the basis for an interesting storyline which sees Randolph Scott playing a Union Captain tasked with the mission of setting up a stage line to bring gold down to the front line it all ends up just going through the motions. And as such whilst there are subplots which sees him come face to face with a previous lover, a soldier who is struggling to live a normal life having lost an arm in battle and of course the main storyline which sees a group who back the South trying to stop him there is no depth to it. Instead we have the almost routine moments of action whilst Scott plays the upright hero who only resorts to fighting when he has to, all quite similar to the other westerns which Scott made with director Budd Boetticher.
With war going on between the Union and the Confederates, Captain John Hayes (Randolph Scott - The Bounty Hunter) is given the special mission of using his knowledge to set up a stage line to bring Gold down to the front line as they are desperate for it. But when he reaches the town of Julesberg he discovers that the existing Stage Company has been forced out by Clay Putnam (Andrew Duggan - The Bravados) and his gang of heavies who are Southern sympathisers. Determined to achieve what he was ordered to Hayes enlists the help of one armed soldier Rod Miller (Michael Dante - Kid Galahad) and his wife Jeannie (Karen Steele) to help set up a new stage station on their farm but find themselves facing not only Clay, who has married Hayes's former love Norma (Virginia Mayo), but also Mace (Michael Pate) Clay's chief henchman who loves killing.
As storylines go "Westbound" isn't that bad or at least in concept with plenty of stories to weave together. The main storyline surrounds Capt. John Hayes trying to set up a daily stage line out of Julesberg but finding opposition from the locals especially local big wig Clay Putnam and his group of heavies as supporters of the South don't want him to succeed. This ties in nicely with Clay now married to Norma a former lover of Hayes and to add to the set up you have Rod Miller the soldier returning home having lost an arm and only feeling half a man until Hayes tries to help him and his wife. But whilst these stories have the potential to create a strong western what you end up with is rather lack lustre and really just routine.
It almost feels like director Budd Boetticher didn't really care for the storyline and just trotted out a very average western. It means that the complexity of feelings you would expect to arise from Hayes seeing Norma again barely surface or at least in a believable manner and that means the rivalry between Hayes and Clay never really manifests itself on more than just the one level of Clay not wanting him to succeed. The same can be sad when it comes to Rod Miller struggling to deal with the loss of his arm as the depth and emotion of this side of things barely comes to the surface and when they do it almost feels like throw away emotion. Although having said that there are some pleasant and not so pleasant surprises which come from all of these storylines and one is an ambiguity when it comes to Captain Hayes and Rod Miller's wife Jeannie.
What this really means is that "Westbound" ends up a very routine western from Randolph Scott playing the upright hero through to those moments of action, culminating in the less than surprising battles between Hayes and head bad guy Mace. For the most the action is uninspiring text book stuff which rarely gets you to the edge of your seat although scenes which see Rod Miller cocking a rifle one handed are entertaining purely because they stand out as being different.
Talking of Rod Miller it has to be said that former baseball star Michael Dante delivers the best performance in the movie because at least he shows signs of life and emotion. Sadly the rest of the cast don't follow suit because Randolph Scott, Michael Pate as Mace and Andrew Duggan as Clay all seem to be going through the motions, delivering performances which never make their characters more than generic. And as for the women well Karen Steele as Jeanie Miller and Virginia Mayo as Norma Putnam both add a much needed touch of beauty but little more as there characters end up sadly underused.
What this all boils down to is that "Westbound" is not the worst western ever made but feels every ounce like one made on a production line, churned out by a director and stars who are just going through the motions. And to be honest it is a shame as the storyline has the basis for being dramatic and complex but never once comes across as such. At just 72 minutes "Westbound" is not long and in a way that is its strength because in those 72 minutes it packs in just enough routine action so that it doesn't become dull.