Thursday, September 06, 2007

Overlooked Movies: Ride the High Country

"I want to be able to make westerns like Akira Kurosawa makes westerns." ~Sam Peckinpah

Aging ex-marshal Steve Judd is hired by a bank to transport a gold shipment through dangerous territory. He hires an old partner, Gil Westrum, and his young protege Heck to assist him. Steve doesn't know, however, that Gil and Heck plan to steal the gold, with or without Steve's help. On the trail, the three get involved in a young woman's desire to escape first from her father, then from her fiance and his dangerously psychotic brothers.

Click here to watch the great classic trailer!

Fun Trivia:
Joel McCrea was originally cast as Westrum and Randolph Scott was Judd. But early in the production each actor went to the producer on his own, dissatisfied and ready to quit, so the roles were reversed.

Peckinpah flipped a coin to decide whether Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea would receive top billing. McCrea's role is actually slightly larger than Scott's, but Scott was billed over McCrea. Critics occasionally point out that McCrea's role seems to have been written for Gary Cooper and that John Wayne would've been perfect for Scott's part. As far as I can tell neither of these actors were asked to be in this movie.

In the original script, Randolph Scott's character, Westrum doesn't survive the climatic shoot-out but Joel McCrea's character, Judd, does. During Peckinpah's rewrite, he felt it more poignant that Westrum is redeemed by promising the dying Judd he will deliver the gold, so the characters' outcome were reversed.

This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1992.

In his autobiography In the Arena, Charlton Heston wrote that he was considering remaking this film in the late '80s, presumably with Clint Eastwood as a co-star. Heston took the lead role in Peckinpah's next film, Major Dundee (1965), after viewing Ride the High Country.

Ride the High Country was not an immediate success in the United States, but it was hailed as an instant classic upon its release in Europe, beating Fellini's classic 8½ for first prize at the Belgium Film Festival and winning the Paris film critics award for best film. Critics were particularly enthusiastic about the film's mix of the conventional and the revisionist in its treatment of the Western. They hailed Peckinpah as a worthy successor to classic Western directors such as John Ford.

Fun Quotes:
Abner Sampson: The only law up there is too drunk to hit the ground with his hat.

Elsa Knudsen: Mr. Longtree was a perfect gentleman.
Sylvus Hammond: How come? Something wrong with him?

Elsa Knudsen: My father says there's only right and wrong - good and evil. Nothing in between. It isn't that simple, is it?
Steve Judd: No, it isn't. It should be, but it isn't.

And as a bonus click here to watch John Belushi doing a great and funny impression of Sam Peckinpah:


Dr. Zaius said...

I usually hate westerns, but I think I will look this one up now that you have reviewed it. I especially want to see Mariette Hartley, who is "refreshingly different with her red hair and freckles." I loved her when she played Zarabeth on "Start Trek."

Mike said...


We would like to do an interview with you about your blog for . We'd like to give you the opportunity to
give us some insight on the "person behind the blog."

It would just take a few minutes of your time. The interview form can
be submitted online at

Best regards,

Mike Thomas

Adam Ross said...

One of my favorite movies. "Ride the High Country" is one of my go-to movies when I want to introduce people to westerns. It's just an immensely entertaining and well-made movie.

I love Steve Judd's philosophy on life, and this line is one of my all-time favorites:

"All I want is to enter my house justified"

Dr. Zaius said...

Ha! I see your new avatar. After Dick Cheney, do you really think that Cthulhu is evil enough?

Distributorcap said...

the last of the true westerns
and a young Mariette Hartley, before she "married" James Garner

Becca said...

Dr. Zaius-
It's not the usual black and white hat western one usually thinks of. The movie has layers, no one is really good or bad just driven by their own motivations to get what they want in life. Yes great movie, I highly reccomend it.

And I forgot she was on Star Trek! I always forget the number of people who appeared on that show. In fact I saw the episode with Yvonne Craig girl! Grrrowl!

Very cool! I will submit an interview as soon as I get a chance!

It really is one of the best westerns I've seen. Peckinpah really knew how to make a good wester...except maybe Major Dundee which has it's moments but it's a bit over long.

It's a philosophy to live by for sure!

Dr. Zaius-
HA! Can't stop laughing! I love the fact that Dick Cheney was so evil even Karl Rove didn't want him.

Mariette Hartley was very pretty in this movie with her short red hair and spunky personality. So cute!

I didn't know she was married to James Garner! Lucky man! Lucky lady!

Distributorcap said...

she wasnt married to James Garner -- she did a whole series of Polaroid commercials with him in the 70s and everyone THOUGHT they were really married!

Lisa said...

Love your blog! I used to work at the cable TNT network some years back, and tried many times to interest them in a remake of the movie -- I wanted Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot to star as the two old friends. I still think they would be awesome in it! And what a role for a good young actress, too. (actually wanted Alyson Hannigan!).

Great blog!