Thursday, January 25, 2007

Comanche Station (1960)

The last of the Boetticher/Scott Westerns is also the purest expression of the Boetticher ethos, in which an imperfect hero struggles to do right in a cruel and untrustworthy world. This is also probably the most tightly constructed film in this fine collaborative series aside from Seven Men from Now, starting from the wonderfully tense wordless negotiation that opens the film down to the twist at the end, which ties into the idea of maintaining decency even in the face of helplessness. The only thing that keeps this from being the crown jewel of the series is the fact that, for once, Randolph Scott is more or less impeccable - the other films I've seen in the series have him play a deeply ambiguous hero, but here he's one step away from Dudley Do-Right despite his character flaws (prickliness, pride). The brunt of the ambiguity here is given to the young outlaw Dobie, who wants out of the bad life even as he profits from it - "Sure hope I amount to something," he says in a moment of reflection - and it's a given that this is going to get him into danger at some point in the narrative. This, then, means that the final showdown is a little more stock-issue than I would prefer... but still. Other than that, this is a pretty great little film. (Also, it's worth noting that it does something old-school Westerns rarely do: At a critical standoff, the villain actually gets a shot off first, meaning the hero only survives by dumb luck. I'm a bit tickled by that.)

Grade: B+


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