Randolph Scott made seven westerns with director Budd Boetticher; THE TALL T was the second. Released in 1957, it was an all-star cast Maureen Sullivan and Richard Boone the bigger members of the cast. Arthur Hunicutt, Henry Silva, and Skip Homeier had significant roles. The only actor I wasn’t familiar with was John Hubbard who played Sullivan’s new husband, Willard Mims. Based on the short story, THE CAPTIVES, by Elmore Leonard, it was one of the early westerns aimed at an adult audience, as in no clear cut villains or heroes, though, interestingly, Scott wore a white hat and Boone a black one.
Scott is Pat Brennan, an ex-ramrod, a man that wanted a piece of land of his own. Maureen O’Sullivan is Doretta Mims, the daughter of a rich mine owner, a plain jane old maid married just that morning to Willard Mims, who’s married her for her father’s money. Hunnicut is the driver, Rintoon, of a private stage hired by Mims to convey them to the honeymoon. Boone is Frank Usher, the leader of a band of outlaws, Billy Jack(Homeier) and Chink(Silva).
That’s all set up early in the film.
Brennan wants to buy a seed bull for his small herd, a one man operation, from his former employer who wants his old ramrod back. He lets himself be goaded by his replacement in a bet, his claybank against riding the bull of his choice to a standstill. He ends up walking home with his saddle over one shoulder. Which is how he happened to be on the trail when the wedding coach comes by. Rintoon is never one to leave a cowboy walking and picks him up, much to the dismay of the officious Willard Mims.
When they stop at the stage depot for Brennan to deliver a bag of candy sticks to the manager’s son is when the trouble begins. Grabbed by Usher and his men who believe it to be the regular run ans with no mail, no strong box of any kind, the gang is upset, ready to kill everyone and cut their losses. Which is exactly when Mims reveals his craven nature y telling them who his wife is and how much they can get for her. He even offers to ride in and deliver the message himself. Usher, no fool, recognizes him for what he is and has one man go with him to pass a note to someone going into town, arranging for a meeting with the old man, then bringing the husband back.
Then a waiting game begins. The outlaws for the father to arrive with $50,000, Brennan for a chance to turn the tables. He’s under no illusions. They’ve killed four people already. We begin to see another side of Boone’s character as he talks with Brennan, feeling him out about his small spread, professing his desire for one of his own, his disdain for the two young killers in his band. Mrs. Mims, now a widow, and Brennan start to feel something for each other.
The film comes to a satisfactory conclusion in a nice western, the ending a bit different that I thought it was headed. For a brief instant.
A few words about the actors. Maureen O’Sullivan is portrayed as a plain woman, but even at forty-six, she’s not. Richard Boone’s face doesn’t yet have that craggy, weather beaten look we became familiar with in later yeas( this was before Have Gun Will Travel). Arthur Hunnicut is one of those actors you never know the names of, but recognize the face instantly. He’s that sidekick in the mode of Gabby Hayes, rail-thin, bearded, a mile a minute talker(pay attention to the trailer and see if you too recognize that face). Skip Homeier, I remember from the original Star Trek series as the leader of a band of future hippies looking for the planet of Eden whose ludicrous ears made Spock’s look positively minuscule. Silva most everybody would know from a variety of roles over the years. A fine actor.
The screenplay is by Burt Kennedy and the film score by Heinz Roemheld, a man said to have composed, conducted, or arranged the music for three hundred films. A fine combination that, with Boetticher, produced one of the better westerns of the fifties.
For more overlooked stuff, go to SWEET FREEDOM.