BUDD BOETTICHER: RIDING LONESOME at Cinematheque Ontario (Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas West) from Thursday (June 20) to June 29 at various times. 416-968-FILM. For this week's schedule, see Rep Cinemas, page 91. Rating: NNNN
people who complain that genre pictures are all the same may want to avoid Cinematheque Ontario's retrospective of the films of the late Budd Boetticher, who died last year at 85.Boetticher's seven Randolph Scott westerns are almost exactly "the same."
By the late 1950s, Scott was slowly turning to granite, a taciturn professional with almost three decades in the Hollywood trenches behind him. In Boetticher's films he plays a man bent on avenging some unspeakable personal slight. He confronts a colourful villain and various subsidiary bad guys, and wins -- sort of.
These films are more baroque concertos than romantic symphonies, working elaborate variations within a narrow range of options. Inside that framework, Boetticher became a master of delicate gestures and a great director of undervalued actors.
His remarkably economical B-movies, none of which runs more than 77 minutes, were designed to fill the bottom half of double bills. Impressively, these short films turned out to be dark comic fables, all with an unusual sensitivity to landscape and a tremendous gallery of bad guys: Richard Boone in The Tall T (Thursday, June 20, 6:30 pm), James Coburn in Ride Lonesome (Friday, June 21, 6:30 pm), Lee Marvin in Seven Men From Now (Tuesday, June 25, 6:30 pm) and Claude Atkins in Comanche Station (Friday, June 28, 6:30 pm).
The villains are so good -- watch Marvin's performance in Seven Men From Now, arguably his best performance between The Big Heat in 1952 and Point Blank in 1967 -- that it's easy to understand the assertion that the villains are in fact the protagonists of Boetticher's films. Scott's characters are psychologically burned away to the point of abstraction.
In addition to their own virtues as entertainments, Boetticher's westerns were influential. The tight-lipped, revenge-driven protagonists were certainly role models for Clint Eastwood (who was working around the fringes of Hollywood when these films came out), and the slow, close-up final confrontations between hero and villain served as inspiration for the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.
The other treat in this short series is the restored director's cut of Bullfighter And The Lady. The first of Boetticher's bullfighting pictures, it reflects his own lifelong passion for the sport -- he actually went to Mexico in the 1930s and trained as a matador. Though stuck with the astonishingly stiff Robert Stack as the American who wants to be a bullfighter, Boetticher uses an almost documentary approach in the bullfighting sequences that reveals the blood sport's artistry.
In case you want to know why you should go out to see these old movies rather than just renting them, renting isn't an option -- none of them is available on DVD, and only Comanche Station is available on tape, and not in wide-screen.