Made in 1962 MGM's RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is not only one of the last of the great classic westerns but is significant in the respect that it was the one and only time that two of Hollywood's most iconic western stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea would appear together in the same film. Also, unlike McCrea it turned out to be Scott's final movie. McCrea, on the other hand, went on to appear in three or four more movies all of little account and finishing with a thing called "Mustang Country" in 1970. Both actors were very wealthy men by the time they started filming RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY in 1961 especially McCrea who by 1950 had become a multi-millionaire through shrewd investments and business interests. He would say of himself "I'm a businessman - acting in motion pictures is my hobby". He also laid claim to having the longest marriage in Hollywood. He was married to the actress Francis Dee for 57 years until his death in 1990.
Also known as "Guns In The Afternoon" RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is again significant for being the first movie that brought notice, from critics and public alike, on a young director called Sam Peckinpah. Produced by Richard E. Lions for Metro RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY was nicely written for the screen by N.B. Stone Jr. and stunningly photographed in Cinemascope and Metrocolor by the great Lucien Ballard. The story concerns two retired lawmen (Scott & McCrea) who take on the job of transporting gold from a mining camp to the bank in town some distance away but one of them isn't too keen on bringing it to the bank which causes great tension and enmity between them. Then at the mining camp, with the gold all packed and ready to go, trouble erupts when they save a young bride (the resistible Mariette Hartley) from her ne'er do well husband (James Drury) and take her with them. But with his four errant brothers the irate husband sets out after them to retrieve his wife by any and every means. The picture comes to an explosive finish when the two old timers reconcile with each other and take on the gang in a well staged traditional style shootout in which the brothers perish along with one of the protagonists.
RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY has become something of a cult western and has awoken in a new generation an interest in past classics that starred either Scott or McCrea. Beautifully directed by Peckinpah it is regarded by many to be his finest western. With wonderful characterisations throughout the picture is notable for some outstanding portrayals from an excellent supporting cast particularly Edgar Buchanan as the perpetually hammered preacher, R.G. Armstrong (a perennial Peckinpah favourite) as the irascible father of the girl and Warren Oates in one of his early roles as the leering and creepy brother of the groom. And complimenting the proceedings is the engaging score by the little known composer George Bassman featuring a lingering and beguiling main theme that adds greatly to the lovely outdoor locations.
With splendid performances, a creditable screenplay, excellent production values and a memorable score RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY remains an unforgettable classic western. And lest we forget it also bids a fond farewell to two of the screens mightiest western icons - Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea.
Classic exchange from RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY:
Towards the end and just before the final confrontation with the gang McCrea suggests to Scott "Let's meet them head on - just like always". To which Scott, with a wry smile, responds "My sentiments exactly".
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