4 March 2008 | Spikeopath
Revisonist splendour as Peckinpah starts his thematic obsession.
"All I want is to Enter My House Justified"
Sam Peckinpah's second feature film is today standing up as a must see and must own for those interested in the Western genre.
The film sees ageing lawman Steve Judd land a job of escorting a gold shipment safely to a bank in Hornitos. After running into old friend, and fellow aged lawman Gil Westrun, he hires both he and his young sparky sidekick Heck Longtree to hopefully see the job through to a successful conclusion. Yet Gil has other ideas, for where Steve is upstanding and adhering to the values he has lived his life by, Gil sees this as one last chance to actually get a big payday. The journey takes a further twist as the three men meet and then save Elsa Knudsen from a brutal marriage, it's an incident that puts them all on a collision course with the Hammond brothers.
What we have here is Sam Peckinpah's first film dealing with men who have outlived their time. We witness some emotionally poignant stuff as the two main protagonists know that they have aged beyond their world, yet as alike as they are, they have different ideals in how to deal with the advent of time. The masterstroke here is the casting of genre legends Joel McRea & Randolph Scott as Steve & Gil respectively. It's evident from the off that both men are identifying with their characters, with both men hitting top emotional form to fully realise the thematic heart of the story. Mariette Hartley makes her film debut as Elsa, and she fits in nicely with the quality on show behind and in front of the camera. Lucien Ballard's cinematography is gorgeous as the various California locations envelope the protagonists in a sort of elegiac way, and Peckinpah directs with his heart as well as his head.
Bookended by two heart-achingly super sequences, of which the finale has rightly passed into Western genre legend, this really is a strong and beautiful film, one that simultaneously shows a truly great director was at work. For here he was left alone, and the final result is a quality Western beating far more than just a cowboy heart. The supporting cast is strong, notably Edgar Buchanan, L.Q. Jones & John Anderson, while the undervalued George Bassman provides a narratively fitting tonal music score. If there is a criticism? it's that Peckinpah doesn't let the younger characters breath, but given the film's core focus on aged men in an aged passing era, well it's easily forgiven. A precursor to The Wild Bunch for sure, but while the theme is the same for both films, this one impacts in a very different way. Highly recommended, not just for the Oater crowd, but for fans of classic cinema too. 9/10