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  • Warning: Spoilers
    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".
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Even for those who generally do not appreciate Westerns, 'Ride the High Country' is an absorbing and moving piece of entertainment... For Western buffs it is an item of study, with its accurate period detail and the vistas of the California Sierras, near Mammoth Lakes... The film firmly established Peckinpah as a director of unusual style, a man with the ability to create strange images, often ugly ones in beautiful settings, although his talent in staging scenes of violence is shockingly impressive...

    Peckinpah's mining community in this film is memorable for its spirited and dangerous atmosphere, with its one true gold mine being the whorehouse... The madam is a cheerful nightmare, and hidden in a corner is a drunken judge (Edgar Buchanan), with a bottle of whiskey, who comes alive only to remind us that people change...

    'Ride the High Country' gets additional poignancy from its choice of stars... They made so many Westerns over the years, and they had long been personal friends… It was the happiest inspiration that got them together for this afterglow ride that resulted in two unforgettable performances… But one wonders exact1y how they savor the situation—that after so much riding, over so many years, it has taken a late, almost afterthought ride, to place them securely among Western immortals… It is, indeed, a happy finale to a pleasing career and a nostalgic reminder of the simple virtues and values of the more traditional Western heroes...

    Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott had come to specialize in many fine westerns, set an admirable style in quiet heroism, always courageous, ever dignified, never vulgar... They ride this time together, ruminating over times that used to be... Both are heroic figures, having been noted lawmen, and yet they are now reduced to taking whatever comes their way in order to live...

    One is a man of moral rectitude who believes in fulfilling his obligations, 'doing the job' just like in his old days as lawman... The other out to make one last haul in order to retire with a measure of comfort... But both are old-timers striving to make ends meet in a changing West where they no longer belong...

    They are clearly past it—McCrea goes into a washroom so that he will not be seen putting on spectacles in order to read a contract; Scott asks his captor to cut him loose for the night, offering only one reason: 'I don't sleep so good anymore.' Both sleep in long combs and pause on a tiring journey to bathe their aching feet in a cold stream... And in the end they defend the old values against the new with pride, dignity, never forgotten their skill with six-guns...

    'Ride the High Country' had a number of interesting sub-plots and characters and an earthy but tasteful approach to sex... Its strength, however, lay in the sincere and moving portrayals of its two major stars, and in the beauty and poignancy of its final scene...

    The basic theme of the movie is strong, moving and valid, but, above all, it is the elegiac feel that makes it such a memorable motion picture—the serious thoughts of two veterans about 'how it was.'

    These are men with tired feet, caught up in the turn of the times... They are still there in the afterglow period of Western history... It's a long way back now to 'High Noon,' and the sun of 'Red River,' 'Shane,' 'Johnny Guitar,' and 'The Searchers' has left the sky forever...
  • Grrr87 September 2016
    This is an important western because the subplot of a young woman's life in the remote west is addressed. At this time many women were looked upon as chattel. Here a young woman escapes farm life with an overbearing religious father who beats her, to flee into marriage with a redneck miner who beats her and plans to share her with his brothers and father. The lead character played by veteran Joel McCrea is trying to earn an honorable living because there is no pension or social security benefits for him to rely on. Randolph Scott is trying to score some easy dough to last during his retirement. A fine movie about morality, honor, and duty.
  • Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea will probably be remembered as the top "B" western stars in movies. But their last film "Ride the High Country" stands as an "A" western and a very good one too.

    Perhaps they owe this final chance to director Sam Peckinpah who turns the story into a splendid film in its genre shot in beautiful outdoor sceneries, with very well managed action scenes, a credible script, great settings and a fine musical score too.

    Two moments are particularly outstanding in my opinion: the sort of "Fellinesc" sequence at the wedding with all those bizarre characters and the final showdown where Scott and McCrea face the mean Hammond brothers (John Anderson, James Drury and Warren Oates) in the "old fashioned way".

    A well deserved "A" product for both actors -that amused and thrilled us western fans- through their long careers in the genre.
  • "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
  • After a time working as director and writer of Western TV Series, Sam Peckinpah started his career on film with "The Deadly Companions",a romantic Western that seemed like an extension of his work on TV; however, his next film, "Ride the High Country", was an completely different beast, it was a deep meditation on the long-lived Western genre that introduced themes that would become Peckinpah's obsessions and signature: the end of an era and the quest for redemption and meaning in life. This raw masterpiece faced a cold reception when it premiered, but gained a tremendous success overseas (winning the Belgium Film Festival), demonstrating to the world that this newcomer was here to stay.

    Former lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is now an aging man, and is hired to transport gold from a mining community through a dangerous territory. As he has the need to hire assistants, he finds his old friend and former partner Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and hires him and Westrum's young protegé, Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) to assist him. However, Steve doesn't know that his two assistants are planning to steal the gold, with or without Steve's help. Things will get complicated when the trio is forced to help a young woman named Elsa (Mariette Hartley) to escape from her fianceé and his criminal brothers.

    Written by another veteran of Western TV series, N.B. Stone Jr. (who without a doubt worked with Peckinpah in "The Rifleman"), "Ride The High Country" is a clear step forward in the evolution of the Western as a film genre. As one of the first "revisionist" westerns, it shows a meditation on the genre and how two aging men become outdated by their world and suddenly obsolete. Through powerful lines of dialog and a slowly and carefully constructed plot, the film shows Peckinpah's favorite themes like honor, loyalty, redemption and the destruction of the West (both the historical one and the Western genre) for the first time in one of the most moving Westerns ever. As many have pointed out, one doesn't need to like Westerns to appreciate this film, as it's basic theme of humanity facing change is an immortal one.

    Peckinpah's love for the genre is quite obvious and lead to an awesome use of the genre's elements. Starting with a great camera-work that stands as a heir of John Ford's, exchanging Ford's Monument Valley for the beauty nature of Inyo National Forest in California. Forecasting the Spaghetti Western revolution, Peckinpah's realistic Western makes its first appearance, and even when it's considerably less raw than the violent world of "The Wild Bunch", it's a step ahead of the classic Western. In many ways this was not only the beginning of Peckinpah's career, but also of the revisionism in Westerns and the evolution that would change the genre forever.

    The inspired casting of Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in the lead roles is simply brilliant, as no one else but this former legends of classic Western films could embody the meaning of their characters, two old men that easily could had been the future of the many lawmen these two actor played in their lives. It was Scott's last film before retiring, and really it couldn't been a better closure for a career. Newcomers Mariette Hartley and Ron Starr represent the new West, too naive and ignorant of the past that precedes them; and both actor's performances are top-notch, although Starr is definitely the weakest link in the cast.

    It's hard to believe that this movie almost was a failure in the U.S., but fortunately now it is receiving the attention it rightfully deserves. The natural landscape and the contrast of the new and the old make a great visual composition, almost as the missing link between the classic golden age of Ford and Wayne, and its modern counterparts. The film has few minor flaws, such as the average performance of some members of the cast, but nothing really annoying. Modern viewers may feel it moves too slow, but that slow pace actually enhances the feeling of that slow but steady change that suddenly caught the characters.

    "Ride the High Country" is not a very famous film, but it really deserves a wider audience, not only because it introduced us to Peckinpah's film-making, but also because of its deep meditation on the Western genre and its wonderful immortal theme of mankind facing change. All in all, this film is a very recommended one, and I dare to say it's Peckinpah's first raw masterpiece. 9/10
  • "In simple terms, Ride the High Country was about salvation and loneliness" - Sam Peckinpah

    Both in their 60s at the time, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott summed up their careers in Sam Peckinpah's second film, Ride the High Country. After two hundred films between them, this was Scott's final film and McCrea's second to last. The film was shot in only twenty-six days and played mostly as bottom filler for double bills. It was only after winning first prize at the Cannes Film Festival that it began to be appreciated for the true classic it is. Set in the early days of the century, the days of the cowpoke are giving way to the modern modes of transportation and communication. People like lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea), with a reputation for fierce integrity may be obsolete in the New West but his dignity and strength of character make him a hero worthy of admiration.

    The film is both a lament for the passing of the Old West and a gentle celebration of humanity's search for friendship, honor, and trust. Both men feel they have somehow failed to live up to their standards and want one more chance to redeem their honor. Judd wants to recapture some measure of self-respect while Westrum looks for the material wealth that has always eluded him. As the film opens, Judd hires his ex-deputy Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) to help him transport a shipment of gold bullion down from the high Sierras, a job in which six prior attempts ended in failure. Against Judd's advice, they bring along a third man - a wild, womanizing youth named Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), who proves to them that he can handle himself in a fistfight.

    Things get complicated when they spend the night at a farm run by puritanical Joshua Knudson (R.G. Armstrong) and Heck is taken with his beautiful daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley). Feeling thwarted by her possessive and moralizing father, Elsa runs away with the trio hoping to find a miner, Billy Hammond (James Drury) who has promised to marry her. As they ride up into the hills, the cinematography by Lucien Ballard reflects the beauty of the West as it has rarely been seen. When they arrive, things go from bad to worse for Elsa. Preceded by a marvelously comic horseback parade in which the boys sing When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, she is married to Billy in a saloon presided over by an inebriated judge.

    Unfortunately, she has to be rescued by Judd after Billy Boy plans to share his bride with his four redneck brothers on their wedding night. The wedding scene is shown from Elsa's point of view and it is sympathetic and touching. On the way back with the gold, however, Gil turns on his old friend, plotting with Heck to steal the gold. In a famous exchange, Gil asks Judd, `Pardner, you know what's on the back of a poor man when he dies? The clothes of pride. Is that all you want?' To this Judd replies `All I want is to enter my house justified.' When the travelers encounter the Hammond boys waiting to ambush them at the farm, both men must confront their deepest fears and their noblest truths.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Like John Wayne in The Shootist, Joel McCrea as Steven Judd rides into town a tired and tuckered old man. He's a former lawman who in his youth enjoyed some prestige. There's no Social Security for him, no company pension, he has to keep working and he takes it where he finds it. In this case it's being a guard for some gold from a distant mining camp.

    He recruits an old friend Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum who now makes a living as a carnival sideshow act and another younger man from the carnival, Ron Starr.

    The three of them set out for the mining camp and accept the hospitality of puritan farmer R.G. Armstrong who has a spirited daughter, Mariette Hartley.

    Joel McCrea was probably the biggest out and out movie hero, he never appeared on screen as anything less than an honorable man. Sam Peckinpah originally wanted him for the Gil Westrum part, but McCrea insisted it had to be Judd for him so Peckinpah reversed the casting.

    Good thing too because while McCrea is never less than honorable, Randolph Scott's western heroes always had an edge to them. He more easily fit into the Westrum character, the former lawman who is now cynical and contemplating going against the code he lived by.

    And that's what Ride the High Country is all about, how you live your life and can you look yourself in the mirror every day and feel justified as McCrea so eloquently put it.

    One of the fascinating things I find about Ride the High Country is that there are two morally upright people, McCrea and Armstrong. It's no big trick to stay morally upright as Armstrong has, shut off from the world and its temptations on his farm. McCrea however lives in the world and faces the same temptations every day. Those same temptations that Scott is thinking about giving into.

    They return from the gold camp with Hartley who ran away and got married to a family of inbreds named Hammond who seem to think if one of them gets married, the bride is some kind of communal property. Of course the Hammonds chase after her and a pair of our most gallant cowboy heroes come to her rescue.

    My personal opinion is that the most gallant screen death ever put on film is by Joel McCrea in this film. In a forgotten backwater of the west where few will see his sacrifice McCrea dies justified as he and Scott kill all of the Hammond brothers. Scott who was going to rob the gold tells McCrea he'll take the gold in. McCrea says he always knew that. And you believe it too because Randolph Scott says so. A cowboy hero gives his word. McCrea will enter heaven justified and you know that Scott will follow him as he said he would.

    John Anderson, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates, James Drury, and John Davis Chandler are the Hammond brothers as scurvy a lot as you'll ever find. Edgar Buchanan plays the alcoholic judge who married Drury and Hartley and Percy Helton is the bank president who hires McCrea and company to bring back the gold. They all fill their roles well.

    Randolph Scott made Ride the High Country his last film and resisted all kinds of offers to come back. Joel McCrea should have gone out on this one also, but he made a mistake and came back a few times, including one dreadful film with his son Jody, Cry Blood Apache.

    This film should be seen and seen again for the moral lessons it teaches and for the summation of the film lives it embodies for two of our greatest film heroes.
  • Director: Sam Peckinpah, Script: NB Stone Jr. Cast: Randolph Scott (Gill Westrum), Joel McCrea (Steve Judd), Mariette Hartley (Elsa Knudsen), Ron Starr(Heck Longtree)

    Many of Sam Peckinpah's westerns involve aging outlaws, cowboys or lawmen living in the late period west trying to deal with the disappearing frontier. In this early Peckinpah movie, the aging lawmen are Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. Randolph Scott plays the part of Steve Judd. Judd is hired to guard gold that is to be shipped from the nearby mine. He hires his old friend Gill Westrum and a young kid by the name of Heck(Ron Starr) to help him. Gill and Huck have other ideas. They want to steal the gold! Along the way, they meet a young women who Heck takes to right away. Trying to liberate herself from her strict and fundamentalist father, she gets involved with Bill Hammond. He is the leader of the Hammond brothers who work the mine. He is bad company. Gill, Steve and Huck save her from the abuse of Billy Hammond.

    This film is part of the Sam Pechinpah collection box set that Warner released a few months back.(It can be purchased separately,but I highly recommend the box set.) People that are very familiar with western film in particular and the work of Peckinpah in general, probably already know how good this movie is. If you only know Peckinpah for The Wild Bunch, I highly recommend that you buy this DVD. This is a great film. One thing that sets it apart from many of his other films is the scenery. Most if his westerns are filmed in the southwestern U.S. or Mexico with wide open and barren desert landscapes. This movie was filmed in California's Sierra Nevadas at Inyo National Forest. Consequently, the scenery is beautiful.

    Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea are legendary actors. This film is considered by many to be among their finest. I was very impressed by their performances. Gill turns against Steve when he tries to steal the gold but by films end they join forces along with Heck to do battle against the Hammond boys. This movie features a very early performance from Mariette Hartley. Although much younger, many will recognize her from the Polaroid and Celistial Seasonings Tea commercials. Peckinpah regulars LQ Jones and Warren Oats are also in this as two of the Hammond Brothers. This movie does have some violence but nothing compared to The wild Bunch. I believe this is Peckinpah's second feature film. It was released in 1962. You can see how his films changed with the times when one compares this with his works from the late sixties and seventies. This is one of my favourite Peckinpah films. Highly recommended!
  • An above average Western featuring two of the genres most recognizable stars, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott (in his last film). Both men have a history together as outlaws, but McCrea has gone straight and is now in charge of getting the gold from the mines to the bank. To help him, he hires his old friend Scott who, along with a young hothead (Ron Starr), is in town dressed up like "Buffalo Bill" and demonstrating his fancy shooting.

    Scott believes he can persuade his old partner to split the gold with him before they return, and must act as a buffer between the impatient young ruffian and his old friend. While en route, the three encounter a religious farmer (R. G. Armstrong) and his under socialized daughter (Mariette Hartley), who steals away to join them.

    The trouble really begins when they get to the remote mining town, encountering an inbred mountain family of hoodlums (which includes Warren Oates) and its judge (Edgar Buchanan).

    Directed by Sam Peckinpah, and written by N.B. Stone Jr., it was added to the National Film Registry in 1992.
  • slokes7 November 2006
    It was goodbye to two stars from the golden age of Westerns and hello to a director who would help transform the genre into something bloodier, nastier, and truer. A skillful compromise of those visions, "Ride The High Country" presents a kind of crossroads that feels more like a destination, a perfect summing-up of the legend and the reality of the American West.

    Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is a weary old lawman trying to make ends meet as he nears the end of the road. To transport some gold from a mining town to a bank, he takes on the services of an old buddy, Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott). Westrum's as sleek and angling as Judd is square, and has more on his mind than collecting $10 a day risking his neck guarding someone else's money. While this remains unsettled, the pair gets mixed up with a woman (Mariette Hartley) who thinks she's in love with a miner whose idea of a honeymoon means sharing the wealth with his hideous brothers.

    Ask anyone with a glancing knowledge of films what kind of movies Sam Peckinpah made, and they will likely describe a movie very different from this. There's some shooting, a little blood, and an unshaven Warren Oates, but otherwise "Ride The High Country" is a movie in the classic Western mold. There are some dissonances for Scott and McCrea's old-time fans to sort through, like Scott's ambiguous morality, but this is all-in-all the nicest movie Peckinpah ever made, decent characters set against an inspiring landscape, the kind of yarn John Ford or Anthony Mann would have delivered.

    Not that everything is too black-and-white. The girl, having escaped her stern father and the stump farm where they lived, asks Judd at one point about right and wrong: "It isn't that simple, is it?" "No, it isn't," Judd replies. "It should be, but it isn't."

    McCrea is the center of this film, a pillar of virtue. He quotes the Bible, but it's not clear he's especially religious or just stoic in the classic tradition. When he talks about his simple desire "to enter my house justified," he may have the Christian meaning in mind, or just the humanistic ideal of having been a good man when all is said and done. Nevertheless, there are intimations of a deeper truth in the redemption of Westrum and his unambiguous last line: "I'll see you later."

    Peckinpah does present a bull-headed Christian zealot in R.G. Armstrong as the girl's father, but he's essentially decent, afraid of life, what it did to him and can do to her. Some see a suggestion of incest in their relationship, when she tells him he doesn't want her with any man but him, but it's more likely that's her complaining about his being overprotective.

    There's a lot of humor here, too, much of it courtesy of Randolph Scott. Scott could be a stiff in other films; here he settles nicely into the role of a cut-up, like when he watches his young charge Heck get the tar beaten out of him twice without lifting a finger to help him. "Good fight, I enjoyed it," Westrum chirps as the boy licks his wounds.

    The film culminates in a good fight with the Hammonds, so ornery they jeer at Heck when he brings the girl to their doorstep and she assures them he was a gentleman: "How come? Something wrong with him?" It's the one gunfight in the film, and though its one more than some Peckinpah films like "Junior Bonner" had, it's another reason for the film sticking out as unusual in the director's oeuvre.

    But it's a good kind of difference, for the most part, as Peckinpah finds his métier while paying tribute to those who came before him with the help of McCrea and Scott. Like its heroes, "Ride The High Country" moves a little slowly in parts, but watching it, you'll likely agree with me the long journey is worth the ride.
  • Aging ex-lawman Joel McCrea is hired to protect gold shipment and asks old friend Randolph Scott to join him. Scott brings a young sidekick (Ron Starr) with him and has intentions of robbing the gold shipment, with or without McCrea's help. Last hurrah for western stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. Scott's last film completely and McCrea's last worth mentioning. It's funny but I never really think of Joel McCrea as a western star. I know he did a lot of them, particularly in the later half of his career, but I always preferred his comedy and drama roles from earlier on. The westerns he did were not that impressive to me. Scott, on the other hand, was a bona fide western legend on the basis of his Boetticher films alone. Mariette Hartley is good in her film debut. Ron Starr is the film's weak link. It's not surprising he would have a limited acting career. It's been said by many to be Sam Peckinpah's best film. Is it? I'm not quite there but I do believe it's one of his least self-indulgent films. He's not one of my favorite directors but he did do some good work. This is right up there. It's not a perfect film. The first half is kind of pedestrian for a film with such a high reputation. But the second half delivers and you can see why many call this a classic.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    For some reason, when "Ride the High Country" was released in 1962, MGM didn't seem to know what to do with it. It received scant distribution and was generally relegated to the bottom half of double bills or the drive-in circuit. But in spite of that the fans came to discover the genius of director Sam Peckinpah in what became his first film of note.

    It doesn't have the graphic violence of his later films, but it does have Peckinpah's emerging talent for character driven stories and the breathtaking color photography of the legendary Lucien Ballard. It also has two veteran stars in the leads and several of what would become the "Sam Peckinpah Stock Company" in the supporting roles.

    Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea had similar careers. Both started out as leading men in the 1930s and had moved on to medium budget westerns in the late 40s. Both had essentially retired in 1960 but were lured back with an opportunity to work together for the first time. In this film they basically play older versions of the characters they had played through the 40s and 50s.

    Former lawman Steve Judd (McCrea) rides into town amid a celebration which he mistakenly thinks is for him. It turns out that the townsfolk are watching a camel race against horses and he is told to "Get out of the way old man". Judd has come to take a job with the local bank to transport gold from the mine in the high country to the bank.

    Judd happens upon an old ex-lawman acquaintance Gil Westrum (Scott) running a side show sharpshooting show. Following his meeting with the bankers, (Percy Helton and Byron Foulger in a delightful bit), he convinces Westrum and his young partner Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) to hire on and accompany him. Westrum and Longtree plan to take the gold with or without Judd's cooperation for themselves.

    Along the way they stop overnight at the farm of a bible quoting farmer named Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong) who just happens to have a comely young daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley). Elsa and Heck are attracted to each other but Elsa tells him that she is engaged to a miner in the camp the party is headed for. When her father beats her for consorting with Heck, Elsa follows the party and joins up with them for the trip to the mining camp.

    At the camp Heck takes Elsa to the Hammond Brothers claim where she is united with her fiancé Billy Hammond (James Drury). Billy also has four drooling brothers: Elder (John Anderson), Henry (Warren Oates), Sylvus (L.Q. Jones) and Jimmy (John Davis Chandler). In a hilarious sequence, the brothers grab Henry and throw him into a water trough because he refuses to bathe.

    In spite of her nervousness, Elsa agrees to proceed with the marriage, so she and the Hammonds ride into the camp to be married. It turns out the marriage is to be held in a brothel run by Kate (Jenie Jackson) and performed by a drunken sot of a judge, Judge Tolliver (Edgar Buchannan).

    After the ceremony Billy's brothers try to sample their brother's new bride's charms, but she is rescued by Judd and taken away to be returned to her father. The Hammonds pursue them and ambush the party on the trail. After a fight where two of the brothers die, the rest flee. Along the way Westrum tries to overpower Judd and take the gold but is foiled. He later manages to escape and return to the scene of the conflict and get himself the horse and gun of one of the slain Hammonds.

    Later Judd, Heck and Elsa arrive at the farm and are met by the three surviving Hammond Brothers and...............

    For Scott, this was his final film. McCrea essentially retired too but did appear in a few independent films involving his son Jody. For Peckinpah, he was just getting started.

    After a slow start, this film has grown to become a classic western, one that appears on many top 10 all time lists.
  • How the AFI missed this as one the Top 100 Movies, I'll never know. In a film career of peaks and valleys, I think this is STILL Peckinpah's best work. It contains all of the themes from the Wild Bunch, Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner, and while it does not possess the depth or complexity of the Wild Bunch, in some ways it works even better. Every character rings true, the photography is superb, and the writing matches that. Just a great, great film, and without the violence, and sometime- bitterness associated with Peckinpah's works. It is Randolph Scott's last film, and Mariette Hartley's first. He is riveting, and she is charming.
  • >What a winning combination! Peckingpaugh's unerring eye for character >development, an uncompromising script, great valedictory performances by >Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea all add up to the best western I have ever >seen. Mariette Hartley has said that she has never been able to equal her >first movie performance, and it's easy to see why -- she is perfection >itself as catalyst for all that happens around her. John Anderson and >Warren Oates are also excellent. A very insightful poem of human behavior >on the frontier. See it if you haven't already.
  • toonsido5 August 2005
    great movie for those who love cowboys and the great fading solitude of the high country, not to mention for us old guys, a chance to reflect, as they did, on how short life truly is and that it can end so quickly. The religious references were a nice touch since now days it is too hot of an issue to include but then, life was less complicated. I liked how there was the indication that changes were coming for this old cowboy, cars, police etc. and how he was becoming a dinosaur. Good interaction also between the old cowboys and the young spunky hotshot kid. Just a lot of good reflection for an old lover of the west and days gone by and hopefully you will also think aboutyour time here on earth.
  • Released in 1962, "Ride the High Country" was Sam Peckinpah's second feature film and arguably his best Western; yes, better than the overrated "Wild Bunch" (1969). While it lacks that movie's slow-motion ultra-violence, it has a superior story and more interesting characters.

    BASIC PLOT: Too aging ex-lawmen and old friends take a job transporting a gold shipment from a mountain mining settlement to the bank in the town below. One is a man of integrity (Joel McCrea) while the other has compromised his (Randolph Scott). Can he be redeemed? And at what cost? What about his young mentee (Ron Starr)?

    The conflict between puritanical religion and purity of purpose is spotlighted with Elsa's curmudgeonly father representing the former and Judd (McCrea) the latter.

    Yet there's so much more, like the five redneck brothers from hell at the wild mining camp, not to mention Mariette Hartley (Elsa) in her debut. The movie's short at 94 minutes, but seems longer (in a good way) because it's so dense with gems to mine, like Elsa's brief discussion with Judd:

    ELSA: "My father says there's only right and wrong, good and evil; nothing in between. It isn't that simple, is it?"

    JUDD: "No, it isn't. It should be, but it isn't."

    Elsa flees the stifling clutches of her legalistic father to marry some young buck at the hedonistic frontier camp. She's swings on the pendulum from legalism to libertinism, which is the opposite extreme, but they're actually two sides of the same bad coin. Judd represents the sound middle path of wisdom. Everyone near him recognizes this and is positively influenced by him, one way or another, even his old wayward friend. Kudos to the genius of writer N.B. Stone Jr.

    Both Scott and McCrea retired from acting after this winner, although the latter decided to return several years later. Some say "Ride the High Country" represents the non-official end of the traditional Western and the beginning of the new.

    The film was shot in Inyo National Forest, Malibu Creek State Park, Merrimac & Bronson Canyon, Griffith Park, California.

    GRADE: A
  • Warning: Spoilers
    There hadn't really been anything much like this Western on the screen before Pekinpah put it there. It's not predictable, the way life is not predictable.

    I guess there's nothing unusual in the story of two aging gunfighters teaming up for a last job (within the law) with one (Scott) being a bit more relaxed in his morals than the other (McRea). It must be tough to transport a bag full of gold around without being tempted. And it isn't unusual for a movie like this to have a handsome but inexperienced youngster (Starr) tagging along so that he can fall in love with the young woman who joins their merry group. So far it sounds a lot like something Randolph Scott might have made with Budd Boetticher a few years earlier.

    But there the expectability just about ends. The acting by all is above par, especially Scott who, for the first time in human memory, is someone burdened with unethical impulses.

    It's the script and Pekinpah's direction that make us aware of the fact that there is something new afoot in this ancient genre.

    The dialog, for one thing, is full of colloquial felicities. Scott accuses McRae of "ironbound ethics." And the two of them have a hilarious discursive conversation while McRae soaks his tired feet in a creek. Scott joins him and picks up one of McRae's boots, which has a hole through the sole. The exchange is something like this. Scott: "I see you believe in ventilation." McRae: "Those boots were made by Raoul in San Antonio. Special order. I had a hell of a time persuading him to put that hole in there." Scott: "I remember Raoul. Good man. He believed that the boot should always cover the foot." Neither actor cracks a smile while this absurd conversation is taking place. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the story that is unfolding.

    There is another distinctly non-lyrical interlude. The three men -- Scott, McRae, and Starr -- deliver Hartley to her boyfriend in the mining settlement of Coarse Gold. What follows is a perversion of everything that was so amusing about "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." Not only does Hartley almost get raped pronto by her boy friend, but his four brothers also expect to share his bounty, and at the wedding dance (in Kate's cathouse) they slaver over her and give her lengthy and disgusting smooches.

    McRae and Scott manage to rescue her from the clutches of these libidinous maniacs and ride off with her, but they are followed by the five brothers and in the final shootout, McRae is mortally wounded and left to die. (In the last shot, as he dies, he rolls gently out of the frame and the camera does not follow him.) I think either I or the editor lost something because the first brother, who looks like an inbred geek, is referred to as dead before the shootout, but I don't recall his being dispatched.

    At one point, Scott tells McRae: "You know what a poor man's clothes are? The ones on his back when they bury him. Is that all you want?" And McRae thinks for a moment and replies, "All I want is to enter my house justified." This is a pretty good Western from a new talent.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    There is a mystique about last films, or films that are really sign-off movies (even if the star appears in a few minor films before the end). Most actors don't leave with flags flying and sky ablaze. It is rare for that perfect last film to show up: Tracy and Hepburn together for the last time in GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER; Wayne in THE SHOOTIST; and Robinson in SOYLENT GREEN. Add to these films Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott in RIDE THE WILD COUNTRY.

    Both stars came out of retirement to do this, their only film together. It had been impossible to cast them before, as their Western images were so similar (with Scott given to be a bit edgier, but still the hero in the end). But the story dealt with the last days of two western heroes, and how they meet the conclusion of their way of life.

    That way of life is a code of honor: that one uses one's powers with a gun to uphold law and order and not to enrich oneself. Steve Judd (McCrea) has always upheld this point of view, and he is hired by two bankers (Percy Helton and Byron Folger) to take on the job of protecting gold shipments from a camp in the mountains. In dealing with the bankers we begin to see the moral strength and also the fiscal disaster in Judd's old age: his shirt cuffs are unraveling from being so old and used. Folger notes this with a look of disdain, which stings Judd a little. He agrees to the job for $40 a day and he will bring two men to assist him.

    He has already found them: Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and Heck Longtree (Ron Starr). But both are working at a carnival (McCrea actually was seeking out Scott, but notes Starr who was involved in a crazy race). He meets them that night to offer them the jobs (at $10.00/each per day). Both agree, but Westrum and Longtree actually plan to steal the gold for themselves. Westrum has become more cynical about living and aging, and he could use a small fortune in gold to make his old age comfortable. Longtree is equally willing. Westrum now hopes to convince Judd on the trail, with stories of how various people they knew and respected died poor and ignored.

    They come across a house on the way, owned by a fiercely religious farmer named Joshua Knudson (R. G. Armstrong), who lives with his daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley). Knudson allows them to spend the night (in the barn), and to feed them that night, but he stops Elsa from associating too much with Heck. This is not too difficult because she has gotten engaged to Billy Hammond (James Drury). But Knudson doesn't want her to be close to Billy either - he wants her always on the farm, away from the rest of the world, which is a cesspool in his opinion. Else flees the farm and catches up with McCrea and the others.

    After fighting off the clumsy advances of Heck (who gets punished by both Steve and Gil). Then they reach the mining camp, and take Else to her fiancé. Heck brings her to the claim of the Hammonds (John Anderson, Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, John Davis Chandler), and Heck finds them less than desirable. In fact Billy is the smoothest of the family - but we learn later that when he gets drunk he turns mean. Oates is nothing to like - he hates to wash and is quick to pull out a knife. Anderson seems "plausible" but he is looking forward to later - apparently when the marriage is over the brood will share Else's favors.

    The marriage scene is classic: in this God-forsaken camp the largest building to use is the local bordello, and the ceremony is a civil one under a drunken old judge (Edgar Buchanan in a nice performance). Once the Hammonds start drinking Else begins seeing the hideous error she has made. She is mauled first by Billy then by brother Henry (Oates). But Steve shows up and takes Else away at gun point. At a miner's camp court the next day, Buchanan says the wedding is no good (and later gets beaten as a result), so Else leaves with Steve, Gil, and Heck.

    Throughout the journey Gil has kept his comments about the ingratitude of the public to their law enforcement people at a boil. Steve has talked about regrets (a woman he loved married a rival - and they have grandkids now). But he refuses to admit that ingratitude for fiscal support is ever in his mind. Now though he catches the other two trying to flee with the gold. He arrests both, and plans to turn them over to the police - once Else is returned to her father's care.

    But the Hammonds start turning up, trying to take back Else. They have a fight that leaves two of them dead, and the party continuing - but Gil manages to escape and rearm himself.

    I'll leave it at that - there will be a final shoot-out, but the issue of codes of honor remains. Whatever happens, will that code be upheld?

    Sam Peckinpah shot his first major film here, and did it very well. Together with the later THE WILD BUNCH he created a coda to the age of the Great West. He did a marvelous job here - and gave Scott and McCrea their last glorious moments on the screen.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This was a wonderful Western that avoided the usual clichés of the genre and has quite a bit of depth to it--the characters are fully developed and believable. And, for director Peckinpah, it represents what I think is probably his best work. Unlike some of his later and very self-indulgent films that focus more on gore than acting (the best example is BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA), this film focuses first and foremost on acting and characterizations. Because of this, it was a fantastic way for Randolph Scott to wrap up his long career (it was his last film).

    However, despite Scott doing an excellent job, the film really is Joel McCrea's movie (he did a few films after this, but this was probably his last GREAT film). He plays the doggedly determined and decent man who, despite the odds, always makes himself do the right thing. He is a tower of decency and manliness--and not all that different than Gary Cooper as the sheriff in HIGH NOON. However, unlike in HIGH NOON, the age of the character is important to the story. Cooper is old but this isn't really talked about in his film, but McCrea is tough but worn down by age and the long-term effects of being a law man. He talks about arthritis as well as his many bullet wounds he's incurred over the years. Despite being older, achier and pretty poor after a lifetime of service to others, he is not bitter but content with himself and his life choices.

    Scott, on the other hand, has a similar back story, but unlike McCrea, he feels that life owes him something. So, instead of helping McCrea to bring the gold to town, he plans on stealing it since "he deserves it". However, despite being so jaded and cynical, Scott is, down deep, also a decent man--it just isn't apparent through most of the film! This makes him less of a central focus, but probably a more complicated and interesting man, since he is more 'human'.

    While I could explain the plot more, it's best just to watch it yourself. The film is beautifully filmed and acted. Its moral questions and depth of the characters make it a standout film. If you liked this type of film, you should also see Gregory Peck's THE BIG COUNTRY or THE GUNFIGHTER. I love Westerns, like these, that make you think and don't look just like any other film of the genre.
  • A Bank assigns to veteran with noble purposes named Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) a dangerous mission , guarding a gold shipment . He hires an old friend gunfighter named Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott in his last movie) alongside a young pal (Starr), the trio join forces against risks and enemies . In the journey pick up a beautiful girl named Elsa (Mariette Hartley in his first movie) , daughter of a tyrant (R.G.Armstrong) and puritan old man . Elsa goes to marry to Billy Hammond (James Drury) in a ceremony celebrated by a boozy judge (Edgar Buchanan) . But she flees and is pursued by Billy's brothers (John Anderson,Warren Oates,LQ Jones and James Davies Chandler) . Meanwhile , respectable Joel McCrea justly to make a correct job , is double-crossed by his partners .

    The picture is based on an interesting novel titled ¨Guns in the afternoon¨ by W. Stone . It was shot in California where is developed the plot and occurs the Western events although in limited budget . Two old men , tough Scott and upright McCrea , similarly their veteran characters play with great feeling and lyricism . The movie contains flawless performances , adventure , shootouts , villainy , romance and heroism with a terrific climax final including a mortal duel . The picture is a poem about the twilight Western and results to be a prophecy on the Western genre's downfall . This classic story comes to life enriched in color magnificence , splendidly photographed in Widescreen Metrocolor by Lucien Ballard although at the Television set loses its splendor . Besides , an evocative Western musical score by George Bassman . The two protagonists decided to leave the cinema business , but they retired with an excellent film , though Joel McCrea starred some film more for his son Jody McCrea . The motion picture is magnificently directed by Sam Peckimpah , an expert director and writer.

    Sam Peckimpah , after beginning his career as a writer , he was soon involved in TV Westerns . Filming popular Western as ¨Rifleman¨ , ¨Westener¨ , and ¨Gunsmoke¨ . Moving into pictures in 1961 giving fine impression with ¨Deadly companions¨ starred by Brian Keith and Mauren O'Hara . After that , he did the prestigious ¨Ride the high county¨ that along with ¨Wild Bunch¨ , at the peak of his popularity , remain Sam's best films . Later on , he made ¨Major Dundee¨ that was heavily re-cutting . He subsequently filmed tougher-than-tough action movies , including gushing blood and guts with particular images in slow-moving , such as : ¨The getaway¨ , ¨the killer elite¨, the most popular ¨Straw dogs¨ , Convoy¨, and ¨The Osterman weekend¨ , until his early death .
  • The just don't make movies like this any more. In genre that no longer sees many worthy entries, this movie stands high. Especially interesting is the fact that it is Randolph Scott's last movie and Joel McCrea's last starring role. These last two giants of the American Western shine in this wonderful film. When you watch this movie, you are looking into the past: both the old west and an America where the good guys triumphed in the end. Some may argue it is unrealistic, and some may prefer the murky line in between good and bad, but as McCrea and Scott prove, doing the right thing isn't always the easiest path to take.
  • Most classic Westerns are set during the period between 1865 and 1890, the quarter-century following the end of the American Civil War. Those set after that date, especially those set in the early years of the twentieth century, tend to be elegiac in tone, dominated by a wistful acknowledgement that the Wild West has now become the Tame West, a safer but also a duller place. The heroes of such films are often older men, looking back and trying to recapture the glory days of their youth. Don Siegel's "The Shootist" and Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" are both films of this type, as is "Ride the High Country", also by Peckinpah.

    The action takes place in California in and around a mining camp in the Sierra Nevada. Several miners have recently been murdered by bandits while trying to transport their gold down from the camp, so the bank in the local town hires a former lawman, Steve Judd, to bring the next shipment down. Judd realises that he will not be able to accomplish this task himself, so hires his former partner Gil Westrum and a young man named Heck Longtree to assist him.

    If this were a standard Western set around 1870 or 1880, Judd and Westrum would have been played by actors in the prime of life, which in 1962 would have meant someone like Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston or Paul Newman. The action, however, takes place sometime around 1905, by which time tough, sharp-shooting lawmen were a dying breed and those who survived were no longer in their prime. Judd and Westrum are ageing men in their fifties or sixties, played by those ageing veterans of the Western, Joel McCrea, and Randolph Scott.

    Along the way, the three men stay briefly at for the night at a farm where they discover that the farmer's daughter, Elsa, is engaged to one of the miners. Knowing that her domineering, deeply religious father Joshua (who despises miners in general and Elsa's fiancé Billy in particular) will never consent to her marriage, Elsa runs away from home and joins the three men on their journey to the camp. Upon arrival Elsa and Billy are reunited and quickly married, but almost as soon as the marriage has taken place she realises that her father was right all along. Billy proves himself to be a drunken, violent lout. To make matters worse, Billy intends to prostitute her to his four brothers, all even less desirable than he is. (The film hints at this but never makes matters too explicit, doubtless because the Production Code was still in force in 1962).

    The screenplay is officially credited to one N. B. Stone, but in fact Stone was a chronic alcoholic whose original draft was virtually unusable. His friend William S. Roberts produced an amended version which was then further amended by Peckinpah himself to produce the script which was eventually used. There is a curious parallel with Peckinpah's next film, "Major Dundee", from three years later. On this occasion it was Peckinpah himself who was incapacitated through drink and the film's star, Charlton Heston, who had no previous directorial experience, was forced to take over as director, although he was not credited for this.

    Given its tangled history, therefore, it is perhaps no surprise that the plot of "Ride the High ends up as rather baggy and shapeless. There are essentially two plots, the Story of the Gold and the Story of the Girl. In the first, Westrum (who is far less trustworthy than Judd assumed) and Heck have secretly agreed to double-cross Judd and steal the gold. In the second, all three men agree to help Elsa escape from her dreadful marriage and return safely to her father.

    The main difficulty is how we should regard Westrum and Heck. In the Story of the Gold they are the bad guys. In the Story of the Girl they are (along with Judd) the good guys, the bad guys in that story being Billy and his brothers. Scott and Ron Starr never seem to know how they should play their characters, whether as heroes or as villains. They are not the only characters whose portrayal seems inconsistent. Elsa's father, old Knudsen, is at one minute kindly and hospitable, at the next a bigoted domestic tyrant. Billy turns, in the space of a few minutes, from a personable young man to a complete and utter swine, so much so that it becomes difficult to understand what Elsa could ever have seen in him.

    On the positive side there is a reasonably good performance from McCrea as Judd, a John Wayne-style man of honour who is horrified by the idea of stealing the gold, despite the meagre wages the bank are paying him. (There is a suggestion that Judd is trying to atone for some misdeeds in his wild youth). The action sequences are well handled and the film is visually attractive with fine photography of the mountain scenery. I found the storyline too confused, however, for the film to merit the label "classic" which some have tried to pin on it. It is not in the same class as something like "The Shootist". 6/10
  • After six miners r murdered trying to transport gold, Steve Judd (Joel McCrea), a respected n aged ex lawman is hired to guard a shipment of gold from a high country mining camp. He enlists the help of his old pal Westrum (Randolph Scott) n Westrum's young sidekick, unaware that the two enlisters are planning to steal the gold for themselves.

    It is a very simple film with moral themes. Peckinpah always succeeded in potraying the theme of honor, ideals, right n wrong in an unjust world, the heroes of the west and the importance of loyalty between men. In fact this movie is an unofficial prequel to The Wild Bunch, regarding loyalty between men. The acting by both the leads is sober, the afternoon gunfight at the ranch isnt that violent compared to Peckinpah's other films but it is impactful. The exchange of Biblical quotes between Judd n the ranch owner is another highlight but the line uttered by Judd, 'All I want is to enter my house justified' is top notch. I first saw this in the mid 90s on a vhs. Revisited it recently.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The beginning is a bit odd; how did the camel get where it did? But no matter; an elderly former lawman is hired by a bank to retrieve some gold from a nearby mine through a dangerous mountain area. The lawman finds an old friend and Heck, his young protégé, to help him with his task. Trouble is, the friend and the protégé both plan to steal the gold for themselves.

    On the trip, they visit the home of a Bible-quoting man and his daughter and stay overnight, and Heck develops an interest in her. But the daughter is unhappy living with her overprotective and tyrannical father, and goes with the others to the mining town where a boy lives that she had previously met and liked. The men get the gold as planned, and the daughter marries the boy...only to discover that the boy, his family, and the mining town they live in are much less wonderful than she had anticipated, and she wants to leave. The ex-lawman and company take her back with them...and the trouble really begins.

    The movie succeeds because the characters are all credible; none are entirely heroes or villains. Even the psychotic Hammond family proves willing to fight with honor. Also the movie isn't overlong or rushed. and there's some humor without the movie becoming a comedy. Recommended.
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