Saturday, July 28, 2012

National Day of the Cowboy

When a colleague offered to make me one of his famous-person portraits as a retirement gift, he was already prepared for me to pick Randolph Scott as a subject. The two of us had spoken often of Scott’s cowboy roles. I remember the day he encouraged me to see Seven Men From Now (1956), a Budd Boetticher western that continues to be one of my favorites.

A lot of western fans will pick John Wayne as their consummate cowboy actor, but Scott has been a personal favorite of mine for a long time. He kept his chiseled good looks to the end of his career, not to mention his lean, six-foot-two bearing, always walking and riding with an easy, square-shouldered grace. The craggy face as he aged suggested a lifetime spent in the sun and wind. It was a western face.

I’ll give Wayne his grin and his warmth when the role called for them, but Scott could also be coolly stern and reserved in a way that could bring a chill to a scene. The rage behind his steady gaze in Seven Men From Now gives a depth to his character that you might only see in Clint Eastwood, for whom it has been a trademark.

Scott didn’t just play himself in his westerns. He was equally good in different kinds of roles. In Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) he’s the man who gets by with a smile and a wry comment when he’s outnumbered by a town full of miserable crooks. You believe him in roles like this that call for his character to stand up for himself, alone and with no one else to depend on but often with people depending on him, as in another Boetticher film, The Tall T (1957).

In The Man Behind the Gun (1953), he’s a man of more than one identity, pretending to be an easy-going tenderfoot while he’s really on a mission to stop a vicious plot to arm secessionists. In Riding Shotgun (1954), he is a fugitive from a lynch mob, wrongly believed to have held up a stagecoach. And before his retirement from the screen, he left fans with a memorable performance as an aging ex-lawman in Sam Peckinpah’s classic Ride the High Country (1962).

So that’s my cowboy western hero for National Day of the Cowboy. Fortunate for me, he made a whole bunch of westerns, and I look forward to seeing them all, and then seeing them all again.

Image credit: Artist, Bill Feuer

Coming up: Tom Lea, The Wonderful Country (1952)


  1. I'm with you on Randolph Scott. My favorite western actor also. I've seen and have on dvd just about all his westerns. When he is at his best, everything looks like the west: his clothes, the way he rides his horse, wears his gun, his hat, the way he walks, looks, and speaks.

  2. For me, it's gotta be Clint Eastwood. I liked Wayne OK but was never a huge fan. Haven't watched many of Scott's movies. Does that make me have to turn in my western cred card?

    1. I enjoy Eastwood, too, especially as he grew older. The early films, even HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, which is a favorite of many fans, does not appeal to me. JOE KIDD is another.

  3. My generation will probably go with Eastwood as I do. But Mr. Scott is in my top ten.

  4. Scott's my pick, too. Easy.

    Looking forward to your post on Wonderful Country.