Ride the High Country (1962) Peckinpah Takes the High Road

Synopsis: Aging ex-lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is hired to transport a shipment of gold across dangerous territory, and he enlists old friend Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and his apprentice Ron Starr (Heck Longtree) to help. Little does he know that Gil and Ron are plotting to steal the gold from the start.

Review: Ride the High Country was a movie of firsts and lasts. It was the first film of Sam Peckinpah’s to gain acclaim (making some dub him the “new John Ford”) and many say his first classic film (I haven't seen The Deadly Companions (1961) so I can’t say.) It was also the last film of Western star Randolph Scott who retired after saying it was his best work. Joel McCray also intended High Country to be his last film as well, but he was lured back to make four more pictures with his career finally culminating in 1976’s Mustang Country. Both do strong work, and the supporting cast is also well rounded, the youthful love story doesn’t seem intrusive, and small roles from actors such as a Warren Oates make the film.

While the film making shows little of the visual grit that Peckinpah would bring to the genre, the style is highly in the mode of Ford, the thematic grit is already apparent. The themes of honor and loyalty among men, death, and justice all appear here as themes that the director would continue to explore throughout his career. The climatic shoot out (No spoilers there, this is a Western, you were expecting a climatic game of Faro, maybe?) does house some of the kind of action notes expected of Sam later in his career. In the most stunning and historically accurate moment, Scott charges the bad guys, guns blazing, passing though a cloud of black powder smoke as he rides forward, an elegant and perfect moment.

Final Note: Charlton Heston, who starred in Peckinpah’s Major Dundee, attempted to get a remake of Ride the High Country off the ground in the 1980s. His hand picked co-star, Clint Eastwood.

Rating: 8.5

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