The Week In Movies: February 26 – March 04, 2023

the big trail poster

I watched eight movies this past week only one of which I’d seen before. Most of them were pretty good. Also, I did really well writing about a lot of these movies as I watched them. I’m proud of myself.

El Dorado (1966): I mentioned this one last week as it worked well as a double feature with Rio Bravo (1959). It follows a very similar plot structure as that movie with John Wayne playing a gunfighter for hire who teams with a drunk, a young buck with something to prove, and an old codger who stand against a villainous crew. It moves quicker than Rio Bravo and is funnier, but I’d give the earlier film a slight advantage.

Welcome to the Sticks (2008): A very silly, very funny comedy from France. I wrote about it here.

The Cariboo Trail (1950): A not particularly great western with Randolph Scott. I wrote a review which you can read here.

The Naked Spur (1953): A fantastic western with James Stewart, Janet Leigh, and Robert Ryan. I wrote about it here.

Sleepless (2001): Dario Argento’s late-career work has been fairly spotty, but this is a good one. I wrote about it in my Friday Night Horror column.

Looker (1981): I loved Michael Crichton’s books when I was a teenager. His method of blending slightly futuristic science with a very human story was right up my alley. As a director, his stories have remained interesting, but stylistically they tend to be pretty dull. Looker is my favorite of his films that I’ve seen so far.

I wrote a spoiler-y review of it on my Letterboxd.

Dark Phoenix (2019): I’d been putting off watching this film because the reviews have been generally terrible and I love the original comic. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but yeah, it is not good. It has been so long ago that I read the comic that I don’t have much to say about how faithful it is, except that it clearly added quite a bit of stuff. Which I get because the comic isn’t exactly cinematic.

I didn’t actually mind the story while watching it. Thinking back on it now there is a lot of stuff in it that doesn’t make much sense, but in the moment I followed along alright. But the direction, especially the many fight scenes, is just bad. It was directed by Simon Kinberg who has a long career as a writer/producer but had never directed a movie before. And it shows. The action is muddled and flat and really hard to follow.

The Big Trail (1930): Nine years before John Ford made him a movie star John Wayne got his first starring role in this Raoul Walsh western episode. I will be writing a full review soon but for now I’ll just say that while the story mostly didn’t work for me, Walsh’s use of the wide screen format and his depth of field is simply astonishing.

Westerns In March: The Cariboo Trail (1950)

cariboo trail poster

I’ve mentioned a few times in these pages how much I love Randolph Scott. Truth be told I don’t think he was that great of an actor, but he was one of those guys who figured out the type of character he could play well and he stuck to that. While he acted in many types of films, he mostly stuck to westerns and was almost always the hero.

He was also the sort of actor who seems like he would star in any movie the studios asked him to. He made over 100 films, both good and bad, well made and quickly shot b-films. I’ve been trying to watch as many of his movies as I can, and that means sometimes I get one that is not so good.

In The Cariboo Trail, he stars as Jim Redford who, along with his friend Mike Evans (Billy Williams) heads to Canada along the Cariboo Trail. They are looking for gold. For Jim the gold is a means to an end, it will finance his dreams of becoming a rancher, but for Mike the gold is the goal.

The two almost immediately find trouble. There is a short bridge over a small river. The builders of the bridge try to make them pay an expensive toll to cross, but our heroes are having none of that. They run their cattle over the bridge, wrecking it in the process, and making an enemy out of the man who owns the bridge. He owns a lot of the nearby town too.

Mike gets injured after a cattle stampede which was likely started by the men at the bridge. This makes him angry and bitter and he ultimately teams up with the enemy. Jim travels farther north and finds an untouched patch of land that will be just perfect for a cattle ranch.

He also finds Grizzly (Gabby Haynes in his final role) and an old prospector. The two team together to try to find some gold. There’s also a love interest. Actually, there are two, for every woman who comes in contact with Jim seems to fall immediately in love with him. But he has no interest in women, or anything other than finding gold and getting his ranch.

The film was clearly made on the cheap and most of its ideas don’t feel fully developed. My guess is either the writers didn’t have time to finish the story or the budget didn’t have enough money to film them. Either way the film feels a little disjointed.

Scotts is always enjoyable and Gabby Haynes is a lot of fun. This is mostly skippable unless you are a fan of Randolph Scott and even then I’d probably hold off on it until you’ve seen his classics.

The Tall T and Ride Lonesome


From 1954 to 1960 actor Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher (usually with writer Burt Kennedy) made six westerns together which are collectively called the Ranown Cycle. I watched all of them a few years ago. For some reason yesterday morning, I had an image from one of the films – that of a tall, bare tree standing all alone in the center of a grove – and it made me desperate to watch that film again.

I wasn’t quite sure which film it was from, but I made a guess that it was The Tall T (1957) since the tree in question looked like a giant letter T. Turns out I was wrong, but by the time I had figured that out I was already well into rewatching the movie and I didn’t mind finishing it. Then I actually did a little research and determined it was Ride Lonesome (1959) that had that tree and I watched it too.

Boetticher’s direction is a bit like Randolph’s acting – not flashy or particularly nuanced, but good and solid. The films are tricky. They at first seem simple, perhaps too simple, just basic westerns without much to them, but they grow on you. The more I think about them the more I love them.

In The Tall T Scott plays a lonesome rancher who, having lost his horse in a bet while trying to buy a bull steer has to catch a ride with a private coach to the next waystation. The coach is carrying two newlyweds. At the station, he finds not his friend, but three outlaws. They mistake his private coach for the public one which they had planned to rob. Since they have already killed the station’s manager and his young son, they must take the rancher and newlyweds hostage.

The groom tells the outlaws that his wife’s father is wealthy and he will surely put up a big ransom to get her back alive. The film considers this act cowardly. Real men, I suppose, don’t use their wives’ fortunes to get the out of a jam. They would fight their way out. Randolph Scott will do exactly that by the film’s end. The groom will prove his cowardice in other ways and his wife will learn he only married her for her money.

Boetticher keeps things tight. With a run time of just over 70 minutes, there isn’t an ounce of fat on the bone. What’s really interesting about the film, and many of the Ranown Cycle of films is that the villain here has nuance. The leader of the outlaws (Richard Boone) isn’t a bad man. Or at least he isn’t straight-up evil like so many western villains are. He’s just a guy who wound up on the wrong side of the law. By the film’s end, he seems to like Scott’s character more than the guys he’s riding with (including Henry Silva in one of his earliest roles.)

In Ride Lonesome (1959) Scott plays Ben Brigade another lonesome cowboy, and it is fantastic. Here he is a bounty hunter instead of a rancher. As the film begins he’s grabbed Billy John (James Best) a man wanted for murder. Billy John is none too worried though because his brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) will most certainly rescue him and kill Ben in the process. At yet another waystation Ben finds not the manager but more rifles pointed at his face. The outlaws this time around are Sam (Pernell Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn). They aren’t looking for money or to set Billy John free. Rather they want to turn Billy John in themselves because the bounty includes clemency for any crimes they committed in the past. The men are ready to settle down and want to start with a clean slate.

The three men will work together to get Billy John to town, but Ben says he wants the cash bounty and the other guys say they’ll kill him before they let him screw them out of their amnesty. But as we’ll find out Ben has other things in mind for this journey. The film takes its time letting us know what that other things are, but when it gets there it is a good one.

Karen Steele plays the wife of the waystation manager and she’s as tough as she is beautiful. The film subverts your expectations as a romance doesn’t blossom between her and Ben. Sam does hit on her, and there are more than a few longing gazes that the camera gives her, but unlike so many westerns no one tries to have his way with her.

Boetticher lets the film take its time getting anywhere. He allows the story to come naturally, without rushing it, and it is all the better for it. The first time I watched it, about three years ago, I didn’t love it. I don’t remember why. It probably had something to do with watching all the Ranown Westerns within a few days. I may have grown a bit tired of them by the time I got to this one. But on this viewing I absolutely loved it. Scott is so good in it and the story is really something special.

Hot Saturday (1932)

hot saturday blu-ray

I love a good Pre-Code movie (movies made after the advent of sound in 1927 and before the Production Code went into full effect in 1934). While often tame by today’s standards these films often dealt with taboo subjects and could be quite racy.

Hot Saturday is a film that couldn’t have been made just a few years later. It also stars Cary Grant in one of his earliest starring roles (and it’s also before Cary Grant became “Cary Grant” the star we all love and adore).

Kino Lorber released a nice Blu-ray of it a few months ago and I wrote a review for Cinema Sentries.