Budd Boetticher
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Boetticher fu l'erede di Anthony Mann. I suoi sette western degli anni '50, interpretati da Randolph Scott e sceneggiati da Burt Kennedy, sono drammi allegorici di eroismo etico in cui l'individuo si costruisce una morale personale all'interno di un paesaggio umano senza valori umani. I protagonisti sono eroi duri e solitari, vittime di torti abnormi, di tradimenti abissali, di una violenza irrazionale. Il loro unico scopo e' ristabilire la giustizia. Il dualismo manicheo che li antepone al loro carnefice e' il loro stesso senso d'essere. La loro esistenza e' un lungo duello con il male. Il rituale classico del western (l'eroe che insegue e uccide il bandito) si ripete sempre uguale, ma questa volta si tratta di un fatto personale: l'eroe e' la vittima, non sta difendendo la comunita' bensi' la propria dignita'; invece di ergersi a simbolo della comunita', ne esce per affrontare solitario il suo destino. L'eroe ha bisogno di avere il deserto intorno, di essere lasciato solo con il suo fardello, con il suo compito. Scott e' freddo e riservato, integro, stoico ed essenziale, e cosi' la regia di Boetticher, alle prese con budget ristretti. Non succede nulla di eccezionale durante il film: l'azione e' gia' successa prima. Spesso scott, l'eroe positivo, appare meno vivo del villain, perche' la sua vita e' ormai finita; mentre il villain sta vivendo la sua fuga, e sembra piu' umano.

Seven Men From Now (1956) is a psychological western that has several narrative layers. The superficial story is a classic: a lonely hero obsessed with avenging a crime. But there is also an unspoken love story, between this man and the woman of another man. And there is a third story, the most intriguing, the story of this hero confronting his alter-ego, each representing two noble ways to live the myth of the Far West.

A lonely man in a rainy night walks into the tent set up by two men who are drinking coffee. He says that Indians ate his horse. They briefly discuss a murder committed in his home town and then they shoot each other. The following morning (a sunny morning) the lonely man is riding away alone, clearly having shot dead the other two. He meets John and Annie, a pioneer couple whose wagon is stuck in the mud. The lonely man proves to be a good-mannered and generous man: he helps them and, without saying a word about his mission other than his name (Ben), agrees to ride along with them, in case more trouble is ahead. He is struck by the lady, particularly when she jumps into a river, but she is a bit disturbed by his noble but cold attitude. They meet the cavalry. The lieutenant tells them to go back because there are Indians on the war path. Ben disputes the version of the army (he thinks that the Indians are simply angry) but coldly tells the pioneers that they should obey and go back. However, the husband, John, is stubborn and would continue alone. Ben keeps following them, clearly humane despite his cold and arrogant attitude. When they reach a trade outpost, they meet an old man who is leaving, and who tells them that everybody has already left, and then two men, armed to their teeth. Ben happens to know one of them, Masters (Lee Marvin), who happens to know of the robbery and murder in Ben's hometown. Masters, who was arrested twice by Ben, says upfront that he had nothing to do with it, and Ben tells him that he suspected him. The pioneer couple learns from him that Ben was a sheriff and that he is on a mission. The mission has to do with something that happened in his hometown. Seven men committed an armed robbery and one person was killed: his wife. That explains his silent attitude. When the wife, Annie, tries to talk to Ben, he adds that he feels guilty: having lost his job as sheriff, he refuses to accept the job of deputy, and his wife had to accept a job at the bank. She was killed because of his pride. Masters confronts Ben alone. Ben has already shot dead two of the seven and is clearly obsessed with avenging the death of his wife by killing all of them. Masters is following him because he wants the money. Ben needs Masters because Masters knows the criminals, led by a gunfighter named Payte. The criminals know Ben (everybody knows a sheriff) but Ben does not know them. They all think that the criminals are in the same town to which the pioneer couple is heading.
Ben knows that Masters is a villain, but seems to believe in his innocence right away. Masters behaves but he tells his buddy that he has set his eyes on Annie. As they are crossing a desert, they see a white man chased by Indians. Masters and his buddy rush to shoot the Indians, killing some of them, while Ben rescues the man. The moment Ben turns his back to him, he pulls out his gun to shoot him in the back. Masters sees it and shoots, saving Ben's life. Ben says he never saw the man before, but clearly he must have been one of the seven.
Masters is Ben's perfect alter-ego: the same arrogant attitude and cold determination, just applied to the other side of morality (he wants stolen gold, he wants another man's wife). Ben offends them with his indifference, Masters offends them with his cynicism. They are both fascinated by Annie, although in two opposite ways: one is erotic and and the other one is the opposite of erotic (but no less persuasive as a potential lover for a woman who clearly does not admire his husband too much). During a rainy night Masters tells a story that sounds like a parable, of a gentleman (similar to Ben) who ran away with another man's girl (similar to Annie) and humiliated the other man (similar to John). When they are alone, Ben, who understood perfectly well the irony, hits Masters and tells him to stop following him.
Masters and his buddy ride ahead and get to the town where the four surviving members of the gang are hiding. Masters tells Payte that they killed Ben's wife, and that Ben is after them. Payte offers Masters a share of the gold that they stole. Masters asks to see the gold. Payte tells him that a man named John is carrying it for them. (John does not know that he is helping the very criminals who killed Ben's wife, and Ben doesn't know that he is helping deliver the gold for which his wife was killed).
Ben parts from the pioneer couple. Annie shows her affection and her apprehension for him, but he is not going to stop. Ben ride into a canyon alone, and is attacked by two of the gangsters. He kills them both but is wounded and left without a horse. John and Annie find him unconscious and save him. Annie would like for John to go and look for a doctor, but John refuses. John wants to reach the town before sunset and wants to take the unconscious Ben with them. Annie is appalled: they both know that the surviving criminals are waiting for Ben in that town, ready to kill him. John is forced to reveal the secret: he tells her that he is carrying the gold and has to deliver it before sunset. But Ben has already recovered and has overheard him. Ben tells him to drop the gold and get out. Ben's plan is to wait in the canyon for the criminals to come and look for the gold.
John takes off with his wagon and an even less impressed wife, but then decides to head for the town. The wagon rides into town. Payte and his only surviving pal come out of the saloon to welcome it. John tells him that Ben took the gold. Masters and his pal watch and listen. John, feeling that he owes Ben, challenges Payte and marches towards the sheriff office (presumably to call the sheriff, although obviously that is a lawless town), but Payte shoots him in the back and takes off. Masters rides after him.
Ben kills Payte's partner. Masters and his partner kill Payte. Then Masters coldly kills his own partner and lights a match on his beard. Then he starts walking towards the box of gold. Ben comes out limping. Now Ben's mission is over: all the seven men are dead. Now it is a different mission: Ben, the defender of the law, against Masters, who does not care about the law but, in his own mysterious way, seems to care for decent human beings (he could have waited for Payte and Ben to kill each other). Masters tells Ben that he would hate to kill him now that Annie is a widow.
They stare at each other, ready to shoot. Ben shoots. Masters doesn't even try. In his own way, Masters too was a defender of the order, and wanted Ben to rescue the gold and to marry the widow.
Days later, Ben says goodbye to Annie. He is going back to his hometown to take the deputy job that he had refused. Annie is taking the coach to California, where her husband always dreamed of settling. They part as coldly as they met. But Ben invites her to come and visit him. Ben leaves. Annie tells the coachman that she is not leaving anymore.

Decision at Sundown (1957) is set in a town. An implausible plot detracts from the mission-impossible theme.

Bart (Scott) who is riding in a stagecoach pulls out the gun to stop the coach and get off. His friend Sam is waiting for him with a horse. They ride into town. They are there for a man, Tate, who rules the town and is about to get married to the prettiest girl in town, Lucy. Tate is in fact getting ready at the hotel, bidding goodbye to the girl who has been his girl until then, Ruby. Bart shaves and dresses up for the occasion. The pair soon find out that only the doctor is willing to speak out against Tate. The rest are either afraid or on his side, including the sheriff. At the wedding Bart warns the bride that she will be a widow by sundown: he came to kill Tate. Then he leaves the church and of course Tate's man chase him (so it is not clear why he went to provoke them). He and Sam barricade themselves in the stables. The wedding is upset and leaves the church. He is surrounded by men shooting at him (so it is not clear how he was planning to kill Tate). Even his friend Sam is surprised to hear Bart's real motive: avenge the suicide of his wife, which he clearly blames on Tate. Lucy demands an explanation from Tate, who admits that he had an affair with Bart's wife. Lucy confronts Tate and insults the memory of his wife. Sam himself tries to tell Bart that his wife was no saint. Bart hits him before Sam can finish his story. Bart kicks him out of the stables. Sam eats at the restaurant and then is about to leave when he is shot in the back. The coward citizens who have never found the guts to oppose Tate are shaken. The doctor stirs up the crowd. Lucy's father admits that he has lost his self-respect. The men walk outside and force the sheriff to face Bart alone. Bart wins the duel and kills the sheriff. Lucy thanks Bart for saving her from a terrible wedding and for saving the town, and tries to talk sense into him: Tate has already lost everything he had, because he lost control of the town. But Bart cannot be stopped. Tate has to face him in duel. Tate's old girlfriend Ruby, the only way who really loves him, finds the only way to stop Bart: she shoots Tate in the arm, so he cannot carry out the duel. Then she shouts the truth at Bart: his wife always cheated on him, and not because Tate forced her. The doctor walks out and tells Bart that Sam had told him the same. Bart's mission has saved the town from Tate's dictatorship, but it was all based on a colossal lie. Bart leaves more desperate than he came.

Tall T (1958) is set in a paradisiac environment. Everybody smiles and is polite. The idyllic lifestyle is interrupted by the bandits and by the coward husband. It is up to the loner (a morally impeccable loner) to restore Paradise. He is so good at it that even the devil envies his life.

Pat is an ever smiling loner who seems to be constantly riding a horse. He stops at the stagecoach station of his friend Hank, a good man who has lived by himself with his little boy Jeff since Jeff's mother died. Hank is old and tired of living alone. His son doesn't know what a city is. They rarely see people, and Hank has to be continuously on the defensive in case they are attacked by bandits. He dreams of retirement, and doesn't understand why Pat would want to live the lonely life he lives. Pat rides to town and meets his old grumpy friend Rintoon, the stagecoach driver. Rintoon has just been hired by the arrogant and elegant Willard, who just married Doretta, the daughter of the local tycoon. Rintoon cannot stand Willard's aristocratic attitude but can't refuse to drive their personal stagecoach for their honeymoon. Pat rides to the ranch where he used to work. The owner wants him back and disapproves of Pat's new venture in raising goats. The old boss bets a bull against Pat's horse if horse would ride the bull. Pat loses the bet but doesn't lose his good mood. He walks back in the prairie and eventually hitches a ride from Rintoon's stagecoach. Willard objects because it's a private ride, but his wife intercedes and lets Pat ride next to Rintoon. They stop at Hank's station but there is no sign of life. Three bandits emerge from the station. Rintoon tries to shoot but is killed by gunslinger Chink. The bandits realize that they assaulted the wrong stagecoach (the one with money, mail and passengers is due in two hours) and that this one only carries a couple on a honeymoon. Pat learns that they ruthlessly killed Hank and the boy. Pat doesn't say a word. Jeff, the leader of the trio, orders Doretta to stay and cook for them, while Willard, desperate, tells them that Doretta is the daughter of a millionaire and therefore they shouldn't kill him but send him to ask for ransom. Frank accepts and sends the third bandit, Billy, along with Willard.
Frank likes Pat. Frank tells Pat that he doesn't like Chink and Billy, and that he dreams of having his own ranch. Frank seems jealous of Pat's life. Maybe that's why he doesn't kill Pat. When Willard comes back with news that the old man accepted to pay ransom, Frank obviously dislikes him. Willard is a coward: he doesn't even ask to see his wife before heading back for town, with the excuse of leading the old man back with the money. Frank lets him go. They all stare at him disgusted. Doretta comes out of the hut where she was sleeping. Willard waves bye as he rides away. Frank orders Chink to kill him. Doretta screams but Frank is puzzled: from his point of view he just did her a favor. Frank killed Willard basically to punish a coward who abandoned his wife. Doretta is still crying, but now it's because she realized what a pathetic husband she had married the day before.
Frank likes Doretta too. He would like to be like Pat with a wife like Doretta. He vents his frustration with Pat, telling him that Billy and Chink are animals. Pat talks back, pointing out that nobody is forcing Frank to associate with such lowlife. Frank, resentful that Pat does not reciprocate the friendly feelings, reminds him that Billy and Chink will want to kill both the hostages when they get the money. At night Pat reproaches Doretta and she kisses him: he's the exact opposite of her husband.
The following morning Frank rides off to the appointment with Doretta's father. Pat plants the seed of suspicion in the minds of the two gangsters left behind. Eventually Chink decides to follow Frank to make sure Frank does not cheat. Now there is only Billy to guard them. Pat uses Doretta as bait: Billy tries to rape her and Pat kills him. Then they see Chink ride back alone and kill him. Then Frank finally shows up, carrying the ransom money. Pat disarms him but Frank coldly tells him that he's going to ride away and that he, Pat, won't have the guts to kill him, especially since he, Frank, kept him alive when the others wanted to kill him at the station. Sure enough Pat cannot shoot in the back a man who saved his life, and Frank rides away. But then he turns the horse and rides at full speed against them, knowing that Pat will kill him, as if he wanted to commit suicide, having no prospects to ever live the life he wanted.

Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) is a tale of greed and corruption, but the plot is too convoluted and implausible.

Buchanan is a stranger who arrives to the border town of Agry, which is owned by the namesake family: judge, sheriff, hotel owner, etc. He is a smiling and friendly man but has to face the hostility of the sheriff and then the arrogance of Roy, a brat who specializes in getting in trouble and yet another member of the family. Roy swears to kill him but Buchanan keeps eating his meal, mocking the kid. A drunk Roy is instead killed by a young Mexican gentleman, Juan, because he molested a girl across the border. Juan is immediately beaten by the sheriff and his men. Buchanan tries to save him, but the sheriff, who had already learned from the hotel owner that Buchanan carries a lot of money, does not hesitate to arrest him too as an accomplice in the murder. Both are sentenced to hang without a trial. Nobody was fond of Roy, but they like to hang people. The judge, who is also Roy's father, alerted by his trusted advisor Abe, decides to spare their lives because Juan is the son of a wealthy Mexican landowner, Pedro, and he needs votes to get elected senator. The trial is held in the saloon. Buchanan is found not guilty and the sheriff has him escorted out of town (but does not return his money). Juan is found guilty because he himself confesses and sentenced to hang. Juan's father sends an emissary to negotiate the release of his son: the judge asks for a colossal amount of money as bribe. The hotel owner, Amos, overhears them. Meanwhile Buchanan is being escorted to a river by two of the sheriff's gangsters who are supposed to kill him, but one of them, Pecos, becomes friend with Buchanan and shoots the other one. Buchanan offers him half of the land that he will buy if he gets his money back from the sheriff, and starts marching back towards town. Amos tells the sheriff about the transaction that is about to occur between the judge and Juan's father. They decide to keep Juan in a secret hideout so that his father has to pay them and not the judge. Buchanan and Pecos happen to be at the hideout and releases the kid, but then the gangsters kill Pecos and capture the kid again the moment Buchanan heads for town. In town the father's emissary brings the money and demands the release of the boy from the judge, but the sheriff claims the money because he is the one who has the prisoner. Buchanan breaks into the sheriff's office and gets his money back. Then the sheriff's gangster arrive with Juan and Buchanan has to surrender again. Buchanan and Juan end up in the same jail again. Meanwhile the sheriff has contacted the emissary who has the ransom money. The judge learns that Juan is back in jail, whereas the sheriff still thinks that Juan is kept at the hideout. They both offer Juan at the emissary, but it's the judge who knows where to find him. The judge has Juan and Buchanan released while the townfolks demand that the lynching begin. The judge, Juan and Buchanan try to escape with the money, but they get stuck on the other side of the bridge that separates the two countries. The money bag lies on the bridge itself. The sheriff's men are on the other side of the bridge. The judge tries to retrieve the bag but is shot by his own brother the sheriff. Others try but they all die. Eventually Buchanan tries but the sheriff catches him with no bullets. The judge is dying but still finds the energy to kill his brother the sheriff before he can kill Buchanan. The judge's assistant Abe takes control of the situation. Buchanan gets the bag and hands it to Juan, and then exchanges friendly words with Abe, who is happy to be the new boss of the town. Buchanan rides through town alone while Juan heads home in the opposite direction.

Ride Lonesome (1959) is a slower, simpler western, but it is driven by a powerful psychological theme: the two men who compete for the bounty on the psycho's head are actually not interested in the money at all. Each has an existential reason to do so: one needs to erase the ghosts of his past, and the other one wants to realize his dreams of a future. The long ride in the desert by the group mirrors Ben's existential desert. There is little action here but it is replaced by a stronger existential undercurrent. The surprise does not come from the action but from the motives of the characters.

Ben is a bounty hunter. He tracked down a young man wanted for multiple murders, Billy. Billy's friends are scattered around the place but somehow afraid to confront Ben. So Ben takes Billy away while Billy shouts to them to go back to town and tell his brother Frank what happened. They stop at a stagecoach station where they are met by famous gunslinger Sam and his buddy Whit. They have been imposing themselves on a woman, Carrie, while her husband is away. She grabs a gun and tells all of them to get out. Just then the stagecoach appears at the horizon, riding at full speed. The horses crash against the fence: driver and passengers have been murdered by the "Indians". It's too late to try and escape. Ben, Sam and Whit decide to wait the night out at the station. Ben is tough with Carrie, or, better, with her husband, who left her alone. Sam confesses why they are there: they read that the authorities will grant immunity to anyone who captures Billy and he hopes that Ben will take them along. In return they will defend him from Frank's revenge. The Indians want to trade a horse for Carrie. The horse is Carrie's husband. The four men and the woman ride away but the Indians catch up with them and lay siege. At night the woman talks to Ben: he looks noble and generous, and she cannot believe he's the kind of man who sells people for money. She is attracted to Ben, while Sam is attracted to her. Sam dreams of freedom: the amnesty would give him back a life. Billy tries to talk Carrie into helping him get free but Ben overhears him. Nonetheless Billy gets a gun and but Sam saves Ben's life. When Ben thanks him, Sam tells him about the land he owns and how the amnesty would help him start a new life, but Ben seems indifferent. The five continue their long ride through desert towards the town where Ben intends to deliver Billy to the judge who will hang him. Sam has been puzzled about Ben's strategy. Frank, who is leading a posse to free Billy, knows what Ben is up to: Ben is not interested in Billy but in him, Frank. Ben wants his revenge for something that Frank did to him, and is using Billy as bait. That's why Ben is moving slowly and not covering his tracks: he wants Frank to find him. One night they camp by a meadow where a tall tree stands out: it's called "hang tree". Sam romances Carrie by a river, and then he confesses that he has to kill Ben in order to gain his freedom. Carrie tries to intercede with Ben, but Ben is not interested in Sam's problems: he tells Carrie that several years earlier Billy's brother Frank hanged his wife to take revenge on him, who was then the sheriff of the town. Frank hanged the woman right there, on "hang tree". Now Ben is waiting for Frank under the same tree. When Frank arrives, Ben has placed Billy on a horse under the tree with a noose around his neck hanging from a branch. Any shooting will scare the horse and hang Billy. Frank has no choice but to charge and do it quickly. Ben kills him, and then cuts the rope that is hanging Billy. He has had his revenge and doesn't need Billy anymore. Sam is ready to challenge him to a duel, but Ben just hangs him Billy for free and wishes him good luck. Carrie rides away with Sam and Ben remains to burn the "hang tree".

Westbound (1959)

Comanche Station (1960), the last and best of of Budd Boetticher's western cycle of the revenge-seeking hero. The film has almost no action. It is mainly a series of horseback and campfire conversations.

A lonely rider, Cody, advances in a rocky landscape. He is soon surrounded by Indians. He spreads out his goods and offers (with gestures) to trade them for something. He is taken to the camp and the chief in person accepts his offer: a white woman for all his goods and his gun. He is cold and not matter of factual. She wonders if her husband hired him. But this is not the case: his motives remain mysterious. The woman is afraid of returning to her old life, of how her husband would welcome her. Her liberator tells her that it would not matter to him what the Indians have done to her.
He brings the woman to "Comanche Station", where Cody helps a a wild bunch repel the Indians who are chasing them. It turns that the leader, Ben, of the gang knows him well: when they were both in the army, Cody was the one who court martialed the man for massacring harmless Indian women and children. Both Cody and the woman learn from them that the woman's husband has offered a spectacular reward for her return. Of course, they all think that this was the motive behind Cody's actions. The woman is resentful that he did what he did only for money, and would even prefer to proceed alone to her husband's place. On the other hand, the outlaw whispers to the woman that her husband did not come looking for her in person, thus implying her husband may be rich but not very courageous. Ben is toying with the idea of "stealing" the woman from Cody and then cash the reward. He tells his partners a detail he omitted to the woman: the husband is willing to pay the reward even if the woman is returned dead. They could kill both Cody and the woman, and still get the money.
Cody doesn't trust Ben either. He knows the Indians must have had a reason for chasing Ben, and suspects Ben may have been in the scalping business (killing Indiands for money, and collecting scalps to prove how many he killed). After a dying man reaches the station with the news of more Indian attacks, they all decide to move together towards the town. They ride and talk. Then they camp again. The woman tries to be kinder to the man who, after all, saved her life, but he does not like to explain his reasons. When one of Ben's men is found dead, Cody simply orders to move on, indifferent to the dead one, an act that only increases the woman's conviction that he must be a heartless bounty killer. Now there are only four of them: the woman, Cody, Ben and Ben's helper Doby.
Ben told her that Cody rescued from white women from the Indians than anyone else. Ben's helper, Doby, tells the woman what the real reason is for Cody's behavior: Cody's wife was kidnapped by Indians ten years earlier and he has been looking for her ever since. He buys back white captives from the Commanches hoping to recover his wife, despite the fact that everybody else thinks she is dead.
Then this boy (fundamentally a good boy) warns her to stay as close to Cody as possible during the trip. Later he also tries to dissuade Ben from the plan to kill Cody and the woman.
They fight more Indians and then camp again. The woman has a chance to tell Cody how much she respects him now, and how frightened she is to go back to her husband. For the first time he pays her a compliment. During the night, Cody takes action against Ben: he forces him and his helper, Doby, to part company. Ben pretends to accept defeat, but is only planning an ambush. The boy, Doby, protests and tries to go back and tell Cody, but Ben kills him. The sound of the shot saves Cody and the woman. But Ben is still hiding between the rocks, ready to shoot again, and they have to go through the narrow canyon. Cody succeeds in killing Ben, and they finally complete the trip to her ranch. She hugs her child, and her husband comes out to welcome her back: he is blind. That's the reason that he didn't look for her in person. Cody leaves them, without claiming the reward, and rides away alone in the rocky landscape.

Rise And Fall of Jack Diamond (1960)

Con Boetticher nacque il western naturalista.

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