Randolph Scott in the Early 1950s

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 27, 2014

Randolph Scott, Western Hero


By 1946, Randolph Scott had begun to concentrate his acting career almost entirely on westerns.  He’d always done some good ones (Last of the Mohicans [1936], Frontier Marshal [1939], Virginia City [1940] and Western Union [1941], for example).  In those last two, he seemed to specialize in playing an uncommonly good bad guy, wrestling with moral dilemmas but eventually losing the girl to a less conflicted good guy.  As the decade developed he made only westerns, and seemed very at home in them, with his stern rectitude, his natural riding ability and his courtly North Carolina accent.  By 1950 Scott was the leading box office movie star in the country, ahead even of John Wayne.  Although his movies always made money, they tended to be formulaic and not terribly well written.  They are still engaging to watch for fans of westerns, but they are not really as good as some of the westerns of Joel McCrea during the same period or as good as the last westerns of Scott’s career that he made with Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah.

Boetticher referred to the early 1950s Scott movies as “the old Randolph Scott pictures,” and to the movies he made with Scott beginning in 1956 as “the real Scott pictures.”  One reason the old Randolph Scott pictures began to seem formulaic was Warner Brothers’ approach.  Ed Gorman describes Scott’s position in the industry and the production of Scott movies:


“Scott was the constant current running beneath ‘A’ westerns flourishing after the war.  He’d gone over completely to cowboy parts, profited handsomely on many he produced, and passed shooting breaks conferring with stockbrokers.  There were ongoing deals with Warners and Columbia, permitting Randy to knock off four and sometimes five a year while bigger names like Wayne, Stewart, and Cooper limited western output and spent themselves as heavily hammering out percentage memos and negative ownership.  Scott was on and off jobs within three or so weeks and traveled no further than Lone Pine to finish yearly quotas.  He was unstoppable in small towns and all his shows met payroll.  His southern accent was apple butter to kinsmen here in North Carolina where Scott grew up, and no frontiersman came more credibly of the times and places his westerns depicted ….

“[Studio head Jack] Warner had gathered his line producers and lower execs to map out the year’s program.  We’ll make the usual number of Randolph Scott westerns at seven hundred and fifty thousand apiece.  We can always count on rentals of a million and a quarter, he said.  Could I make a suggestion?, asked a young man in the room.  Why not spend a million dollars on the Scott westerns?  With improved quality, maybe they could bring back two million, he said hopefully.  Kid, you’re fired, replied Warner.  I’ll tell you why you were fired.  Those westerns are a dying market.  The public is getting all the shit-kickers they need on our TV shows.  Now, if you had said, “Why don’t we make Randy Scott westerns for half a million?”, I would have made you my assistant.


“This, unfortunately, was the backdrop against which Seven Men From Now was produced, for by then Scott grosses were declining.  Warner’s most recent with him, Tall Man Riding (1955), barely cracked a million in domestic rentals, while across-town Columbia saw just $777,000 from 1956’s 7th Cavalry.  [Warner Brothers] did try economizing to the extent of shooting in-house Shootout At Medicine Bend in black-and-white the following year, an act punishable in this instance with domestic rentals lowest of any so far–$655,000.  Budgets and profits both fell as tele-cowboys rose, with WB enthusiastically competing with itself.  Cheyenne was breaking big on ABC by 1956-57, having gone to new episodes every other week after an initial season among revolving wheels on the failed Warner Brothers Presents, and Maverick [of which Budd Boetticher directed the first three episodes] was in preparation for a 1957 premiere.”

For Gorman’s comments, see newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-randolph-scott-budd-boetticher.html

With this trend of declining revenues on his movies and competition from television, one might be forgiven for considering Randolph Scott over the hill.  Batjac, John Wayne’s production company, commissioned a script from Burt Kennedy, giving him only the title Seven Men From Now to work with.  Wayne liked the script but decided against starring in the film himself, since he had a bigger project with John Ford in the works (The Searchers).   Budd Boetticher, slated to direct, recalled a conversation with Wayne.  “I said, ‘Who do you want to play the lead, Duke?’ and he said, ‘Well, let’s use Randolph Scott, he’s through.'”

BoetticherWayneScottWayne, Scott and Boetticher.

Maybe Scott was not as through as Wayne thought.  The project meant that the now-aging Scott (58 years old in 1956) began his productive partnership with producer Harry Joe Brown, director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy, resulting in a series of excellent westerns now considered classics of the genre, including Seven Men From Now, The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, and Decision at Sundown, among others.  These did not have big budgets and were filmed at Lone PIne, but they were better in quality than Scott’s projects for Warner Brothers and Columbia had recently been.  Seven Men From Now, for example, was made for $719,000, which could not have happened if John Wayne had starred in it according to the original plan.  It made a modest $989,000 and was not initially recognized by the public as a gem, but it led to the Boetticher-Scott partnership and a series of western classics over the next five years.

The movies below are examples of Scott’s solid cinematic output during the early 1950s.  For other good (perhaps better) Randolph Scott movies from the early 1950s, see also Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men, The Cariboo Trail, Thunder Over the Plains and The Bounty HunterIt may be that upon re-viewing, one or more of the titles briefly described below may seem worthy of its own post.  If you like Randolph Scott, these are still worth watching.  With Scott movies from the 1950s, look for a frequent, although uncredited, co-star:  his beautiful dark palomino horse, Stardust (Tall Man Riding, Seven Men From Now).  Another Scott trademark from this period is his worn leather jacket, seen in such films as Hangman’s Knot, Ten Wanted Men and his last, Ride the High Country.


Fighting Man of the Plains—Randolph Scott, Dale Robertson, Victor Jory (1949; Dir.  Edwin L. Marin)

The most notable feature of this film is that the James gang, led by an improbably well-dressed Jesse (Dale Robertson), shows up at the very end to save the life of Marshal Jim Dancer (Randolph Scott), who is otherwise about to be lynched by Jimmy Tancred for his outlaw past.  He rode with Quantrill in the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, a plot quirk that is also used in another Scott western of the period, The Stranger Wore a Gun.  Victor Jory is Dancer’s friend, rather than a villain.

The Nevadan—Randolph Scott, Dorothy Malone, Forrest Tucker, George Macready (1950; Dir:  George Douglas)

A dark-haired Dorothy Malone as Karen Galt may do the best acting in this.  Scott plays Andrew Barclay, a federal marshal, who tracks and befriends escaped outlaw Tom Tanner to find where he’s hidden his loot.   Also after the loot is local boss Ed Galt, father of Karen.  In color.

Colt .45—Randolph Scott, Zachary Scott, Lloyd Bridges, Ruth Roman, Alan Hale (1950; Dir:  Edwin L. Marin)

Clunky western full of anachronisms, supposedly set in 1851.  Randolph Scott is Steve Farrell, a firearms salesman trying to get back a couple of new .45s stolen by Zachary Scott, head of an outlaw gang.  Bridges is a miner working with the outlaws, married to Roman.  Hale is a corrupt sheriff, also working with the outlaws.


Fort Worth—Randolph Scott, Phyllis Thaxter (1950; Dir.  Edward L. Marin)

The railroad comes to Fort Worth; Randolph Scott is a fighting newspaperman exposing outlaw gangs and greedy real estate operators cheating local folks out of their rights to land the railroad wants.  In color.

Riding Shotgun—Randolph Scott, James Millican, Joan Weldon (1954; Dir:  Andre De Toth)

One of those 1950s stories in which a town doesn’t support those who are trying to defend it.  It features an early appearance by Charles Bronson, as bad guy Pinto under the name of Charles Buchinsky.  Larry Delong (Randolph Scott) rides shotgun on the stage.  When he survives a stage robbery, he is figured by the town to be either a coward or in cahoots with bandits.  So he has to go after the Maraday (James Millican) gang himself, while the town is trying to lynch him.  Delong’s romantic interest is the daughter (Joan Weldon) of Col. Flynn, the proprietor of the town’s Bank Club, which the gang is trying to rob while all the competent men in town are out in the posse chasing them.  Improbably, Delong wins.  Lots of voice-over narration by Scott.  One of several westerns that find Randolph Scott besieged (e.g., Decision at Sundown).  A better-than-average Scott movie of his pre-Boetticher period—a workmanlike job by director DeToth.  In color.


Rage at Dawn—Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker, Mala Powers, J. Carroll Naish, Edgar Buchanan, Ray Teal (1955; Dir:  Tim Whelan)

Not much of a western, since it takes place just after the Civil War (1866) in Indiana and Missouri.  James Barlow (Scott) is an undercover agent and former Confederate spy working for a Pinkerton-type agency to infiltrate a gang of bank and train robbers led by the Reno brothers.  He develops feelings for Laura (Powers), the Reno sister.  He sets them up for capture during a train robbery, but is too late to save them from an early-morning lynching while they’re in jail.  Based on a story by Frank Gruber; the Reno brothers were actual historical characters (the first train robbers in American history), as was their sister Laura.  Barlow is fictional.  In color.


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