Tall T, The (DVD Review)12 Nov, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Stars Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry Silva.
Because Randolph Scott was among the most agreeably stalwart constants in the history of movies, the famed Scott-Budd Boetticher Westerns mostly rise or fall (though to my mind, nothing in even their second tier ever really fell) on the quality of their villains. Often, in their good-and-bad-guy mutual sizing-up process, Scott and his designated nemesis find they have one or two things in common in a way that the latter’s subordinates (sometimes also second-tier, in terms of on-the-ball-ness) can’t claim. This makes for a superb degree of cinematic tension on a meager budget, especially when the villain is portrayed by an actor as interesting as Lee Marvin in Seven Men From Now or Richard Boone in The Tall T.
Boone was among the ultimate players in movie malevolence (check out 1968’s Irving Ravetch-Harriet Frank Jr.-Martin Ritt Hombre), though at this period in his career, he was also pulling halfway good-guy duty on TV’s “Have Gun, Will Travel” and had slightly shifting screen personas. Here, he’s in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with Scott — courtesy of a Burt Kennedy script that just barely led to the first movie adapted from an Elmore Leonard story (same-studio Columbia also released 3:10 to Yuma later in ’57).
Boetticher and producer Harry Joe Brown were either lucky or shrewd in their casting process all the way down the line here — with an already seasoned veteran (former child actor Skip Homeier, who later played Gregory Peck’s super-punk killer in The Gunfighter) to play one of Boone’s hangers-on. A parallel role went to future Sinatra martial arts nemesis Henry Silva in The Manchurian Candidate (a role that put him in a rather specialized club, let me tell you). The most intriguing casting decision here was to present Maureen O’ Sullivan as a rather plain object of sympathy when she had of course, taken a famed 1934 swim in a revealing loin cloth wannabe (no cloth over the thighs) opposite Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan and His Mate’s bedrock scene of “ungawa” screen erotica.
But here, she’s daughter of the richest guy in the territory — an action item that her brand new gold-digging husband (John Hubbard, as another Western weakling with a mustache) is all too anxious to divulge to Boone’s abducting band because he thinks it might just save his skin. Scott doesn’t have to say too much for us to comprehend his disgust over the action, even if Boone does express some amazement when Hubbard asks for goodbye private-time to be with his wife after he has just thrown her under … well, not the bus but maybe some wagon wheels.
At the time, Westerns like The Tall T fell into that elusive domain between the “shaky-A” and “expressive-B” — though in my hometown, this very high-end collaboration between a now-revered creative team got something fairly close to an “A” booking. It played the RKO Grand, which was enough of a Western haven to give even the showier Republic releases downtown showcases. But look what TT was up against in the competing theaters: the Ohio was playing the second week of Vincente Minnelli’s Designing Woman (a coming Oscar winner for original story & screenplay); the Broad was in the eighth week of The Ten Commandments; and the Palace had a re-issue of Disney’s Cinderella atop second-billed Kelly and Me with Van Johnson (a canine-driven obscurity I’ve always been anxious to see). Screen history of the past 40 years has always been about rediscovery, though even the Grand patrons probably figure it out that TT had it over a co-feature Naked Gun (no, obviously not that one — but a Willard Parker/Mara Corday oater that wouldn’t have strengthened the bill).