Tag Archives: Burt Kennedy

Comanche Station

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 12, 2013

Comanche Station—Randolph Scott, Claude Akins, Nancy Gates, Skip Homeier, Richard Rust (1959; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)


Jefferson Cody’s wife was stolen by Comanches ten years ago, and now every time he hears of a white woman among the Comanches he goes out and buys her back.  The movie opens with a typical Budd Boetticher shot of a lone horseman making his way through the Lone Pine rocks, and the horseman is Cody (Randolph Scott) on another such errand.  This time the white woman is Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), and she’s grateful for the rescue but uncertain how she’ll be received when Cody returns her to her husband and family.


Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) barters with the Comanches for Mrs. Lowe (Nancy Gates).

Cody and the newly liberated Mrs. Lowe are resting up at Comanche Station, a stagecoach swing station locked up for now, when three other riders come up, engaged in a running battle with the Indians.  They turn out to be Ben Lane (Claude Akins), cashiered from the cavalry by Cody years earlier when Cody was a major, along with two younger henchmen.  Cody helps them fend off the Comanches, and they form an uneasy alliance until they can all get through to Lordsburg and safety.

One of Lane’s young guns is killed by the Comanches, and Lane saves Cody when Cody is attacked while reconnoitering—this despite the fact that everybody knows that Lane hates Cody and plans to kill him so he can collect for himself the $5000 reward offered by Mrs. Lowe’s husband.  So the question isn’t what he’ll try, but how and when, as it was in Seven Men from Now, The Tall T and Ride Lonesome.  We even have a pretty good idea of what the outcome will be (this is a Randolph Scott character we’re talking about, after all), but the interplay between the adversaries and the drawing of moral lines (or not) are what make it interesting. 


Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) and Ben Lane (Claude Akins), adversaries temporarily riding together.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Lowe thinks that Cody is only bringing her back to Lordsburg for the reward, too.  She clearly doesn’t understand either the degree of obsession that takes over Randolph Scott characters in these Boetticher westerns, or their unyielding moral rectitude.  So that has to play out, too.  Maybe her husband isn’t worthy of her and she’ll decide to ride off with Cody.  After all, Lowe can’t be much of a man if he doesn’t go after her himself, can he?

There are a couple of twists at the end, and this is one of the best of the Boetticher-Scott films.  As with the best of them, this one was written by Burt Kennedy, and there’s some good dialogue that provides character development and differentiation in very few words.  Scott doesn’t talk much, as usual, and when he does it’s in a convincing quasi-Southern accent.  (Scott grew up in North Carolina.)  Claude Akins as Ben Lane is playing a slightly more sympathetic bad guy than he is normally given, although the character of Lane doesn’t have the layers that, say, Lee Marvin or Richard Boone might have brought to the role.  His two young guns as played by Skip Homier and Richard Rust are excellent.  Nancy Gates, who retired from movies after this film, is attractive, feisty and convincing as Mrs. Lowe, although not as much is required of her. 

Much of the movie is spent either fighting Comanches or trying to get away from them, but there’s an undercurrent of sympathy for Indians that runs through this, as in other Boetticher films.  It’s usually voiced tersely by Scott at some point in the film.


Cody (Randolph Scott) is surrounded by Comanches.

This was the last of the Ranown westerns directed by Boetticher, and although there are remarkable similarities in plot, casting, location and production team for all of them, they never become too formulaic.  Or if there is a formula, it’s so skillfully executed that they’re compelling nevertheless.  They’re enjoyable individually as westerns, and taken together they constitute a remarkable body of work within a short period of time.  For decades, this and the others were not available on video or DVD, but in late 2008 five of them were released in a set.  Boetticher’s and Scott’s best work can now be much more widely appreciated, as it deserves.  There could easily be two more of the Boetticher-Scott westerns on this list of greatest westerns –The Tall T and Ride Lonesome.   Randolph Scott hung up his spurs and retired from movies after Comanche Station, to be lured out of retirement only for one last movie:  the superb Ride the High Country with Joel McCrea.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Support Your Local Sheriff

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 29, 2013

Support Your Local Sheriff—James Garner, Joan Hackett, Jack Elam, Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, Bruce Dern (1969; Dir:  Burt Kennedy)

This is probably the best western satire ever made.  Yes, that includes Mel Brooks’ broader Blazing Saddles.   The plot seems to follow Rio Bravo from ten years earlier, but that’s not an uncommon plot for westerns.  (See 2008’s Appaloosa for a later, but more serious, example.)  The title comes from a law-and-order bumper sticker popular with some in the late 1960s.

In a small western town, settlers and prospectors discover gold in Boot Hill while burying one of their own.  That sets off a gold rush and overnight the town develops aspirations to respectability—except for the many rowdies attracted by the gold strike.  Among those with newfound wealth are Mayor Ollie Perkins (played by Harry Morgan) and his daughter Prudence (Joan Hackett), along with others on the town council.  The prosperity brings a fair amount of disorder with it, however, and the town council is unable to keep a live sheriff for long until they happen on Jason McCullough (James Garner, in his good-natured mode).  McCullough is just passing through “on my way to Australia” when he decides to check out the gold rush.  He seems handy enough with a gun, and he’ll actually take the job, however temporarily.  So he’s hired.

supportlocal1 Basically on his way to Australia.

His first act is to imprison Joe Danby (Bruce Dern), whom he sees kill a man in a saloon.  Danby is part of an important Clanton-esque family of quasi-outlaws; the Clanton connection is strengthened because Pa Danby, head of the clan, is played by veteran character actor Walter Brennan in a role reminiscent of his Old Man Clanton in My Darling Clementine twenty years earlier.  The Danbys can muster legions of relatives and gunmen, while McCullough’s support is mostly the town “character” (or drunk) Jake (Jack Elam) who becomes McCullough’s unwilling deputy, along with Prudy, to whom McCullough is attracted romantically.

support2 Romancing the mayor’s daughter.

The writing is sprightly enough, but the genius of the film lies in the casting.  This is the sort of role James Garner played better than anybody else; he’s basically reprising his Maverick character from the television series.  If you want to see what a good job Joan Hackett does as Prudence, compare her with Suzanne Pleshette in the sequel Support Your Local Gunfighter.  Pleshette is fine; she just doesn’t have the comic intensity and daffiness that Hackett does.  Elam is marvelous.  He demonstrates here that he has made the transition from playing criminals, villains and evildoers to full-blown character parts.  As Elam’s Jake says while striking a pose at the end of the movie, he “goes on to become one of the most beloved characters in western folklore.”  And we believe him, mostly.

Harry Morgan’s appearance as the town’s mayor and Prudence’s father is particularly interesting when compared with another role from earlier in his career.  He played one of the townspeople who wouldn’t help Marshal Will Kane in 1952’s High Noon.  When it comes to the showdown here, he doesn’t help Jason McCullough, either, although he is much more charming about it.  And McCullough never seems all that threatened, anyway.  Jack Elam’s “town character” also echoes his town drunk role from High Noon, but he comes through better here in a much meatier role.

support3 The town character takes a hand.

Director Burt Kennedy has done a fair number of workmanlike westerns spread over several decades.  He’s also known as the writer for the best of the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns of the late 1950s.  This movie represents the best of his work as a director.  The script by writer-producer William Bowers is terrific.  Too bad Bowers didn’t write the sequel.  The Gunfighter sequel, with the same director, Garner, Elam and Morgan, is enjoyable, too, but not as perfect as this film.  For more of Garner in his amiable con-man mode, see Skin Game, with Louis Gossett and Susan Clark.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone