Something for the weekend. Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott by the Statler Brothers. A 1974 lament of how tawdry the movies had become, it fastened on Randolph Scott, king of B-movie westerns, as an icon for a better day when kids could be taken to the movies without parents being concerned about what they would be exposed to. I heard this song endlessly when it came out, my parents’ radio blaring it most mornings in the kitchen in 74 in the hour before I and my brother got up to prepare for yet another day in high school.
Scott was born as far from the West as it was possible to be in Virginia and raised in North Carolina. His family had money so he was educated in private schools. During World War I he served as an artillery observer in France, a highly dangerous post. (After Pearl Harbor, the 43 year old Scott attempted to enlist as a Marine, but was rejected due to his bad back.)
After his service in World War I, he worked for a time with his father in the textile industry in North Carolina. In 1927 he moved to California to embark on an acting career with a letter of introduction from his father to Howard Hughes. The next few years saw him develop his acting skills with bit parts and small roles. In 1931 he had his first leading role in the film Women Men Marry. In the film Heritage of the Desert (1932) Scott played his first leading role in a Western, the first of ten films he would make based on Zane Grey novels.
Until the conclusion of World War II, Scott starred in a variety of film genres, but after the War he concentrated solely on Westerns. Scott was a modest man and always underestimated his considerable skill as an actor. He was comfortable in Westerns and decided to stick with them. It was an inspired choice. As he aged his handsome features took on a weathered, stoic look, and helped make him a Western icon.
Scott did not financially need to make films after the War. Shrewd land purchases in California helped make him a multi-millionaire, and he increasingly looked upon his acting as a hobby. By 1962 he was ready to retire, but he was convinced to make one last Western with his friend Joel McCrea. McCrea and Scott had much in common: both had become very wealthy through land purchases and neither needed to work in film, post World War II McCrea had gravitated to B Westerns, and both he and Scott were staunch Republicans.
The film that they made in 1962 is now regarded as a classic. Ride the High Country was the second film to be directed by Sam Pekinpah. It tells the tale of two former Old West lawmen who have fallen on hard times. Steve Judd, Joel McCrea, has been hired by a bank in the early years of the last century to bring back 20,000 in gold from a mining camp. Judd is elated because this is the first lawman like job that he has had in a very long time. He runs into his old friend Gil Westrum, Randolph Scott, who is making a meager living running a shooting gallery in a circus. Judd invites Westrum and his young friend Heck Longtree, Ron Starr, to join him in the job. They agree, Westrum and Longtree planning to steal the gold. As the film proceeds it becomes obvious that Judd still holds to the same code of honor and honesty that he upheld as a law man. Westrum does not, having grown bitter with age and viewing the gold as his reward for his courage as a law man, a courage that was not rewarded monetarily and has left him facing a hard scrabble old age. Ultimately Judd realizes what Westrum is up to and disarms both him and Longtree, planning to put them on trial for attempted robbery. The plot is complicated by Elsa Knudsen, Mariette Hartley in her screen debut, who the trio rescue from a miner she has just married who plans to have her serve not only as his bride but also as the “bride” of his four brothers. Longtree grows to admire Judd for his courage and stubborn honesty while Westrum escapes, only to ride to the rescue at the end of the film to help Judd.
In the finale of the film Judd and Westrum confront the remaining three deranged brothers in a point blank gun fight in the best B movie Western tradition: