Saddle Up, Pilgrim
1. Sukiyaki Western Django (Takashi Miike 2007)
We now move on to the Randolph Scott portion of our program...
2. Man of the Forest (Henry Hathaway, 1933)
3. High, Wide and Handsome (Rouben Mamoulian, 1937)
This ends my 14 or so year Randolph Scott western quest, as these are the last two (available) films I had left to see. There are 4 early films that as near as I can tell have never been commercially available on video and don't seem to be online - they have 1 check between them. So barring those films resurfacing, I'm done with Scott's western filmography (and almost done with the rest of his filmography which I guess I'll prioritize now). And surprisingly enough, this long-running quest ended on something of a high note, as both of these films were definitely better than I expected them to be, though neither quite qualifies as a favorite.
Man of the Forest suffered from being a VERY poor, low-res transfer on YouTube; the first 5-10 minutes of this hour-long b flick had so many sound dropouts that I actually considered stopping it, but given the small likelihood of anything better coming along, I figured what the hell, and thankfully the sound at least improved a lot after the first reel, even if the picture remained murky and nearly impenetrable in the night scenes. Simple story - Scott is the friend of rancher and ex-convict Harry Carey, who can't properly hold title to his land because of his criminal past and is waiting for his niece (Verna Hillie) to come along so that he can hand the title to her, and keep mustache-twirling (ok not literally) bad guy Noah Beery from taking over the whole valley. Kidnappings, killings, chases ensue. What makes this fun in addition to the cast (also including Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Barton MaacLane and Buster Crabbe) is the prominent role that animals play - there's an ornery mule that provides a bit of comedy, but more importantly Scott's best friend, a mountain lion, plays a pivotal part in moving the narrative along. The mountain lions are actually played by (female) African lions - so even in the animal kingdom we have Hollywood whitewashing. One of the best b-westerns of the 30s I've seen, which isn't saying a huge amount but is still a worthwhile compliment.
High, Wide and Handsome exists in much better, DVD if not quite hi-def quality and so is a much better viewing experience, and it turns out to be a better film as well, and an example of one of my favorite trends in 1930s Hollywood - the genre mishmash. It's kind of a musical - Irene Dunne is the top-lined star and sings 4 or 5 songs - and it's definitely a romance between her and farmer-turned-oilman Randolph Scott; it's a political-labor film with Scott's little starting oil concern trying to fight off the evil banker Walter Brennan along with his henchman, Scott's old romantic rival Charles Bickford. And it IS a western, though some might suggest that Western Pennsylvania doesn't count. But in 1859 when this takes place, Pittsburgh and Cleveland OH, the two nearest large cities, were both still modest metropolises of 40-45,000 or so, and the railroads were just beginning to knit the country together. Scott was becoming a mainstream star by this point, transitioning out of being purely a western hero for the next decade or so, so this is an interesting film in this development, and he gives a better performance than usual at this stage in his career, with a good impassioned speech near the end as his dreams look on the verge of being destroyed, but it's really the weird mix of plot elements (there's also a circus featuring somewhat prominently, and the line "here comes the circus" near the end is a humorous echo of "here comes the cavalry" in so many more conventional westerns) and the cast - also including 22-year-old Dorothy Lamour in her fifth film in her second year in the business, Akim Tamiroff, Raymond Walburn, and the wonderful Elizabeth Patterson as Scott's rather naughty aunt - that makes this film as enjoyable as it is. The music and lyrics are by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, so it's surprising that it isn't more a straight musical than it is - perhaps some changes in production made because the bigwigs thought it would work better as a more dramatic story?