Magic Lanterns

YEEHAW: Xmas In July!

Pat takes the long way around but finally brings a harpoon to a gunfight

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For Western fans, it’s Christmas in July. The five-film collaboration of director Budd Boetticher, producer Harry Joe Brown and star Randolph Scott is out in a limited edition HD package. Film fans and scholars call the collection the Ranown Cycle (a mashup of names): The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station.

The set’s title, Five Tall Tales, is a bit misleading. The subtitle is more apropos: Budd Boetticher & Randolph Scott at Columbia, 1957-1960. Endorsements from filmmakers Douglas Sirk and Sergio Leone are on the box. Sirk opines, “I thought Boetticher had a completely new, fresh, modern approach to his westerns. I like his work a lot.” Italian maestro Leone, who made Clint Eastwood a star, gushes: “Budd! I stole everything from you!”

An obscure but important delineation about the hotly contested Ranown Cycle is that Burt Kennedy (later a distinguished director of Westerns) wrote five of them, four of which (the best of the best) are in the new package.

Despite my build-up, though, I’m not really writing about Ranown films. Actually, I want to discuss a lesser-known Randolph Scott Western, one that’s only fair-to-middling compared to the Ranown choices, but it’s still notable for several reasons. A Lawless Street (1955) was the last of 20 Westerns Randolph Scott made in the five years before 7 Men from Now.

Scott plays Marshal Calem Ware, a man of honor (like Gary Cooper’s Will Kane in High Noon), almost done in by the bad guys. As in High Noon, Calem’s wife Tally (played by a 30-year-old Angela Lansbury) at first abandons him but eventually supports him, as do the townspeople.

A Lawless Street is a fairly typical oater: Honor triumphs over greed, courage conquers cowardice. Given an unassuming B-script by Kenneth Gamet, Scott had little to do other than look tough and forthright. Unlike the Ranown films, he’s rarely on horseback here, even though it was said that no one could ride a horse like he could, a real-life accomplished equestrian.

By 1955, Angela Lansbury had already made 18 films, including The Harvey Girls, with dubbed singing, and Samson and Delilah, the second-biggest-grossing movie of the decade. In A Lawless Street, the future J.B. Fletcher gets to show off her vocal talents; she did well enough to sing again in productions as diverse as Sweeney Todd and Beauty & the Beast.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of A Lawless Street is director Joseph H. Lewis, a competent journeyman with at least four major highlights on his résumé, including noir thrillers My Name is Julia Ross (’45) and Gun Crazy (’50), superb crime drama The Big Combo (’55) with cinematographer John Alton, and his last feature—and a Western—Terror in a Texas Town (’58).

Terror has quite an unusual stand-off scene, when hero George (Sterling Hayden) brings a harpoon to a gunfight.

It may not be the greatest, but A Lawless Street has delights and quirks enough for Randolph Scott fans, particularly as a harbinger of his great films to come.

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