Saturday, 9 May 2009
"All I want is to enter my house justified" a review of "Ride The High Country" from 1962
My review from Amazon
5.0 out of 5 stars "All I want is to enter my house justified," 19 April 2009
Sam Peckinpah's elegaic western, also known as "Guns In The Afternoon", is surely one of the finest in its genre. The director explores the themes of friendship, honour and loyalty in pressing circumstances and changing times. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scotts' time-served experience of starring in B westerns is as present as the ageing and time-worn "lawmen" they portray. The banker's son (Byron Foulger), who laughably looks as old as his father (Percy Helton), shakes Steve Judd's (McCrea's) hand to seal the deal for McCrea fetching the gold from the miner's camp only to turn it over to inspect Judd's fraying cuff. A life of integrity, honesty and disappointed hopes has led the now desperate Judd to this new venture.
The film is about transformation and ultimately, redemption. Ron Star's Heck Longtree is a young man whose moral compass is finally influenced by Judd as it had been earlier by Westrum. The young man always had courage but he learns about the importance of honour and integrity from Judd as he changes from a selfish, womaniser and potential murderer to a young man capable of sacrifice and the faithful love of Elsa Knudsen (Mariette Hartley).
However, Scott's Gil Westrum is not the only character capable of transformation. In what must be one of the most moving scenes in cinema, let alone westerns, the audience knows that Westrum will carry out Judd's last wishes to the letter - and in doing so will be worthy of joining Judd "later" in "The High Country".
"Gil Westrum: Don't worry about? About anything. I'll take care of it, just like you would have.
Steve Judd: Hell, I know that. I always did... You just forgot it for a while, that's all."
The film's intelligent script is worth pausing over for its ironic quips and its amusing repartee. Peckinpah's approach to right and wrong is more tonal in this part revisionist western than, for instance, John Ford's black hat - white hat, clear cut vision of good and evil. There again, Peckinpah's film was made during a more cynical, post-war period in the early Sixties, which Gil Westrum embodies for most of the film. Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence", another excellent film in its own right, differs from Peckinpah's in almost every way and yet it was released in the same year, 1962. Its treatment of honour, age, integrity, friendship and love are also very different.
The next time you you watch "Ride The High Country" pause over the sign as Joshua Knudsen prays over his wife's grave. The message on it is intriguing, particularly for the representation of women in this and other Peckinpath films.
The formerly blacklisted, George Bassman's elegaic score amplifies the ambiguity of of the film's title, "Ride The High Country". With its journeys, to and from the gold camp, the moral high ground and, perhaps, the journey to heaven implied for Judd. Lucien Ballard's cinematography and Peckinpah's shot-making in several sequences, particularly the final shootout, elevates the film far above most classical westerns.
In an age when integrity, honesty, loyalty and honour are more absent in public life than ever, Peckinpah's western is a moral lesson on the lasting importance of these virtues.