Praised by the pioneering French critic Andre Bazin as “one of the most intelligent westerns I know but also the least intellectual,” this 1956 feature by the underrated Budd Boetticher stresses action over dialogue while constructing a subtle moral allegory. Randolph Scott plays an ex-sheriff trailing the seven men who murdered his wife in a robbery; along the way he picks up a bumbling couple en route to California and an outlaw (Lee Marvin, whose appealing swagger contrasts with Scott's laconic certitude). Boetticher uses the landscape not as a metaphor for wildness but as a starkly neutral ground on which his characters play out their shifting positions, which suggests that each individual is responsible for his or her own choices. The taut opening is stunning: the protagonist strides into a tightly framed patch of ground from behind the camera, initiating his attempts to both traverse and dominate space, and the ensuing gunfire offscreen accompanies images of the horses he'll take from the men he's killing, a beautiful elision that emphasizes destiny over violence. This recently restored 35-millimeter print has mostly excellent color. 78 min.
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