"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!
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.
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: