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Buchanan Rides Alone | Columbia | Budd Boetticher | 1958

Budd Boetticher tended to stage his chamber Westerns in dioramic environments where scenery is built to human scale. The shape of the human figures dictates the compositions, the ghost towns are meticulously sandpapered miniatures and the rock formations made from construction foam. Everything is just-enough lived-in for a cross-sectional perspective, Randolph Scott the ever-intersecting plane. These weird-ass movies harvest the most rarefied slivers of the color wheel, yielding frosty denim blues and construction-paper yellows; acute pinks spit-fired from blazing sunsets and mountains of apricot nourished by sunrise.

Buchanan Rides Alone (’58) is wonderfully representative of the batch, host to a gathering of major absurdities and minor elegances. Scott’s Buchanan is but a few leagues away from staking out his claim to a slab of good ol’ American homestead, when he is caught up in the interfamilial disputes of the Agry brothers, joint barons of a particularly hostile border town. The Scott’s characteristic moral authority makes him a magnet for local enmity. But he is steadily joined by a few other unfortunate souls turned ready comrades (rides alone, indeed!), all of whom become players in a larger crossfire between Senator Agry and Sheriff Agry, with Hotel Proprietor Agry the perpetually sputtering go-between. Scott tends toward the peripheral protagonist, the witness-bearing hero of simple means and motives who finds himself in the midst of a drama that comes to suffocate him despite its not concerning him a whit. He is the independent variable of Western Heroism by which we are to measure the embroiled vice of this pestilential Agry outcrop. The virtues of framing and camera movement and even-keel cutting, those congregated visual elements without which any Western wilts, are everywhere displayed, though never with ostentation. A grin-plastering gallows humor meanwhile percolates, as Scott is rousted about the ribcage of this selectively fleshed-out narrative skeleton. For Western-heads, this is not to be missed!

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