Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)

What you immediately notice in this Boetticher-Scott western is that Randolph Scott is smiling most of the time. His character, Buchanan, is dead serious behind that smile, but he's "alone" in a bad border town, and the smile is open admission that he's outnumbered from the start. Gotta go along to get along.

It’s a family-run town. The businesses, the hotel, and law enforcement are all in the hands of the Agrys. Services are expensive--everything seems to cost $10. Scott casts a passing glance at a blonde in the saloon as he makes this observation. All of them ethically compromised, two Agrys eventually fall out over the promised payment of $50,000 for the release of a Mexican prisoner. The young man has killed the ill-behaved son of one of them, apparently over the assault of a woman. 

Scott gets involved because he’s already been aggravated by the victim, a mean drunk, and comes to the young Mexican’s defense when Agry henchmen gang up on him. There’s a quickly organized trial, and very shortly both end up with ropes around their necks.

What follows is a swiftly moving chess match, as the offer of a ransom brings a halt to the hanging.  Buchanan is released only to be attended in his departure from town by two men with instructions to kill him. One of them a Texan (L. Q. Jones) is a friendly sort and draws the line at killing another Texan. Soon he’s switched sides and is helping Buchanan get the Mexican safely back to Mexico.

Randolph Scott as Buchanan
In a closely plotted story that is far from over at this point, greed sets two of the Agrys at each other’s throat. Meanwhile, the prisoner is retaken and becomes a pawn in their attempts to outwit each other. Buchanan is called upon again for some quick thinking, and a final shootout leaves the street littered with corpses.

Craig Stevens (aka Peter Gunn) is a gunslinger dressed in black who gets mixed up as something of a bodyguard for one of the Agrys who’s running for public office. Dressed appropriately in black, he’s cool and professional. Clearly the smartest one of the lot, he’s capable of doing a better job of running the town than the Agrys. In the last scene, as one of the last ones standing, he gets his chance. Buchanan wishes him well with a smile, and rides off—alone.

Scott with his craggy face, mellow deep voice, and smooth physical presence is a pleasure to watch as usual.  L. Q. Jones, with his authentic western drawl, is a comic delight. The dusty border town and desert landscape look good and authentic, too. Neatly plotted, the story unfolds at a brisk pace. Lighter in tone than his other westerns, it’s another Budd Boetticher gem.

Buchanan Rides Alone is currently available at netflix and at amazon. Overlooked Movies is a much-appreciated enterprise of Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: James Oliver Curwood, The Courage of Captain Plum (1908)


  1. When I saw you mentioned this last post I thought you were talking about the book series about Buchanan. Didn't know about this movie.

  2. Charles, the film is based on a 1956 novel by William Ard (writing as Jonas Ward) (1922-1960), THE NAME'S BUCHANAN.

  3. Have seen this movie!Didnt think much of it, it had something missing, still dont know what? Anyway, Scott made better movies!!

  4. Love him in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and MY FAVORITE WIFE, but I have not seen many more of his films.

  5. I've been told (not least by THE MIDDLEMAN, that fine shortlived lighthearted fantasy-adventure series) that RIDE LONESOME is the first of these collaborations to see, but I'll definitely get to them all (RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY being the best Peckinpah I've seen, by far).

  6. Cheyenne, parts of this one seemed a little contrived and the final shootout seems almost a parody of a western, but I still found things to like.

    Patti, I haven't seen RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY in a couple of decades; need to get back to it.

    Todd, I've seen several of them and like SEVEN MEN FROM NOW best.