Budd Boetticher | Subjects
| Visual Style
Films: One Mysterious Night
| The Missing Juror | Escape in the Fog
| Assigned to Danger | Behind Locked Doors
| Killer Shark | The Bullfighter and the Lady
| The Cimarron Kid
| Horizons West | Seminole
| The Man from the Alamo | The Killer Is Loose
| Seven Men from Now | The Tall T
| Maverick: War of the Silver Kings | Maverick: Point Blank
| Maverick: According to Hoyle | Decision at Sundown
| Buchanan Rides Alone | Ride Lonesome
| Westbound | Comanche Station
| The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond | Hong Kong: Colonel Cat
| The Rifleman: Stopover
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| Television Western Articles
Budd Boetticher directed many Hollywood films. He is famous for
his Westerns, and for three films he made about bullfighters.
He worked steadily in film and television (1944 - 1961), then
made a handful of films later.
Articles on Boetticher:
- Horizons West (1969) by Jim Kitses is a landmark study of the Western,
with chapters on the films of Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah.
- There is a lively biographical survey of Boetticher
by Sean Axmaker in Senses of Cinema (2006).
- André Bazin's pioneer article on Seven Men from Now, "An Exemplary Western" (1957), is reprinted
in English translation in Cahiers du Cinema: Volume I: The 1950s. Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave (1985),
edited by Jim Hillier.
- Richard T. Jameson's article on Seven Men from Now is
- Andrew Sarris' article on Boetticher in his book The American Cinema (1968) is brief,
but both insightful and influential.
Budd Boetticher: Subjects
- Smooth, handsome gangster villains who rise from nothing to take over towns
and become sinister dictators (Horizons West, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
related (Army officer runs frontier Florida: Seminole,
sinister commander of WWII prison: Colonel Cat)
- Honest men who clean up dictatorial towns (Decision at Sundown,
Maverick: War of the Silver Kings, Maverick: According to Hoyle, Buchanan Rides Alone)
related (crooked asylum cleaned up: Behind Locked Doors)
- Judges who can be influenced (Horizons West, War of the Silver Kings) related
(crooked judge runs asylum: Behind Locked Doors)
- Courtrooms (murder trial: The Missing Juror,
hearings over Ryan's killings: Horizons West,
court martial: Seminole, The Killer Is Loose,
mine hearing: War of the Silver Kings, Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Crooked lawmen in pay of town bosses (Marshal of Austin: Horizons West,
Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone)
related (crooked guard at asylum: Behind Locked Doors)
- Number 2's (Dandy: Horizons West, rancher wants Scott to be his assistant: The Tall T,
villain offers hero job as Number 2: War of the Silver Kings,
classy Abe Carbo works for sleazy town bosses: Buchanan Rides Alone,
James Best's four man entourage: Ride Lonesome,
Dobie wastes life working for villain: Comanche Station,
Augie, Moran: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Hero organizes people (Ryan organizes veterans into outlaw gang: Horizons West,
Osceola leads Seminoles: Seminole,
Maverick organizes townspeople: War of the Silver Kings,
doctor talks to townspeople in saloon: Decision at Sundown)
- Morals about love, often at the film's end (universal love: Seminole,
doctor falls in love with town's people: Decision at Sundown,
villain's failure to love: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Financial negotiations (hiring fishermen, market price of fish: Killer Shark, vendors and General: Horizons West,
wage and merger negotiations at end: War of the Silver Kings,
attempt to bribe hero to leave town: Decision at Sundown,
ransom and crooked officials' negotiations: Buchanan Rides Alone,
mob negotiations: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Contemptuous jokes about towns (ten minutes to get out of town: Point Blank,
ten dollar town: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Bad guys slap other men (Major slaps hero: Seminole,
Legs slaps pawnbroker: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Lying promises of protection made by dictators (truce: Seminole,
villain offers fair fist fight to Maverick: According to Hoyle,
Noah Beery betrayed: Decision at Sundown)
- Heroes facing execution (Seminole, Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Negative portrait of Confederacy (Horizons West, Westbound)
related (con-woman with phony Southern accent: According to Hoyle)
- Card games (police in pawnshop: One Mysterious Night,
crooks: Assigned to Danger,
poker: Horizons West, Maverick: War of the Silver Kings,
Maverick: Point Blank, Maverick: According to Hoyle,
at Sheriff's: Buchanan Rides Alone,
doped mob bodyguard with cards fallen from his hands: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Saloons (Wally's Grotto: The Missing Juror, bar in restaurant: Escape in the Fog,
cantinas: Killer Shark, Horizons West,
Seven Men from Now, Decision at Sundown,
War of the Silver Kings, Point Blank, Buchanan Rides Alone,
prohibition era night club: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
Tully's Hong Kong bar: Colonel Cat)
- Signs in bars (election results: War of the Silver Kings,
drinks on the house: Decision at Sundown)
related (door-letterer creates new sign: Behind Locked Doors, sign in casino: According to Hoyle,
election posters: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Tricksters (Boston Blackie: One Mysterious Night, heroine, hero: Behind Locked Doors,
crooked barman, man lures hero to crow's nest: Killer Shark,
hero-villain: Horizons West, killer: The Killer Is Loose, hero, ranch owner: The Tall T,
Maverick: War of the Silver Kings, Samantha Crawford: According to Hoyle,
hero-villain: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
reporter hero schemes to protect the innocent at end: Colonel Cat)
- Authority figure and reforming crooks who like to play games
with each other (One Mysterious Night, Point Blank, Ride Lonesome)
serious tricks played by crooks on cops (The Killer Is Loose)
related (good guy reporter and policeman who enjoy reporter's schemes: Colonel Cat)
- People who use disguise (Boston Blackie: One Mysterious Night,
killer: The Missing Juror, heroine: Behind Locked Doors,
bad guys: The Man from the Alamo, villain: The Killer Is Loose)
- Heroes whose wives have died (The Man from the Alamo, The Killer Is Loose,
Seven Men from Now, Decision at Sundown, missing and likely dead wife: Comanche Station, Stopover)
- Crooks who try to go straight, and work on the side of the law
(Boston Blackie and his sidekick: One Mysterious Night,
Parnell Roberts and his sidekick: Ride Lonesome)
- Men who bond with other men (guard and young inmate: Behind Locked Doors,
Dandy: Horizons West,
Maverick and Big Mike: War of the Silver Kings,
Maverick and Big Mike: According to Hoyle,
hero and Mexican man: Buchanan Rides Alone,
Dobie and Frank: Comanche Station,
Tully and victim in WWII prison: Colonel Cat)
- Gay or ambiguous men, without male bonding or trickster aspects (Zaron the Justice of the Peace: Decision at Sundown,
Christopher Rolf: Stopover)
- Good-looking, naive young men, who throw in with villains,
and who wind up dead (hotel assistant manager: One Mysterious Night, husband: Seven Men from Now,
L.Q. Jones: Buchanan Rides Alone, Dobie and Frank: Comanche Station)
- Inside men who are accomplices in robberies (hotel assistant manager: One Mysterious Night,
bank clerk: The Killer Is Loose, bank clerk: Point Blank)
- Brothers (Dalton gang: The Cimarron Kid, good brother and bad brother: Horizons West,
Agry brothers: Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
related (woman switchboard operator's brother: One Mysterious Night,
heroine's brother drives for gang: Assigned to Danger,
brother avenges sister: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Swaggering, often sarcastic and knowing villains, who are
minor outlaws or crooks (Lee Marvin: Seven Men from Now, Claude Akins: Comanche Station)
- Sexual tension over a woman in a group of men (Seven Men from Now, Comanche Station, Stopover)
- Characters from a working class background (most characters: One Mysterious Night,
fishermen: Killer Shark,
James Arness: Horizons West, James Best: Seminole, most characters: Ride Lonesome,
farm couple: Westbound, Tully: Colonel Cat)
- Comedy relief inept cops (in pawnshop: One Mysterious Night, Denny: The Killer Is Loose)
- Men with disabilities (deaf-mute: Assigned to Danger,
men injured fishing: Killer Shark,
injured James Best: Seminole, Chill Wills: The Man from the Alamo,
hero in final shootout: Seven Men from Now,
hero hurts hand: Decision at Sundown,
husband: Westbound, husband: Comanche Station,
brother disabled: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, man battling illness: Stopover)
- Support for racial minorities (Chinese waiter: One Mysterious Night, Chinese agent: Escape in the Fog,
Mexicans: Killer Shark,
Mexicans: The Bullfighter and the Lady, black soldiers: Red Ball Express,
Native Americans: Seminole, Mexicans: The Man from the Alamo,
starving Native Americans: Seven Men from Now, Mexicans: Buchanan Rides Alone,
villain harms Native American village and gets court-martialed: Comanche Station,
Chinese doctor: Colonel Cat)
- Chinese restaurants (One Mysterious Night, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
Technology, Communication and Surveillance:
- Strong, decent women, who work in a position of equality in a man's world
(heroine, taxi driver: Escape in the Fog, reporter: Behind Locked Doors,
Judith Braun: Horizons West, heroine runs trading post: Seminole,
Ma: According to Hoyle,
Karen Steele: Westbound)
- Women who are treated as personal property of wealthy men (murder victim: The Missing Juror,
crooked judge's girlfriend: Behind Locked Doors, Julie Adams: Horizons West,
gangsters' molls: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Woman who runs a vending stand in building (newsstand in hotel: One Mysterious Night,
cigar stand in saloon: Point Blank,
hotel stand: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Cooking and gender roles (man cooks in restaurant, woman secretary makes coffee: The Missing Juror,
heroine cooks for guests at inn: Assigned to Danger,
man cooks on boat, man as cantina chef: Killer Shark,
woman cooks dinner in black family: The Cimarron Kid,
mother cooks: Horizons West, heroine has woman servant who cooks: Seminole,
good guy husband helps wife with cooking, villain forces woman to cook for him: The Killer Is Loose,
wife cooks for everyone: Seven Men from Now,
villains force heroine to cook, villain forces henchman to cook over his protests about women's work: The Tall T,
woman emphasizes cooking over education, fails to impress hero: War of the Silver Kings,
heroine brings food to Maverick in jail: Point Blank,
Ma brews coffee for heroes: According to Hoyle,
woman cooks for men customers in restaurant: Decision at Sundown,
man serves food in saloon, Pecos provides food for hero: Buchanan Rides Alone,
man cooks at station, Karen Steele cooks and serves coffee: Westbound,
hero makes heroine gather sticks for cooking fire: Comanche Station,
heroine gives injured hero broth: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
hero Mark cooks: Stopover) related (hero willing to do woman's work of washing clothes: Seven Men from Now)
- Bugging (spies, telephone number spying: Escape in the Fog, police stakeout: The Killer Is Loose)
- Non-technological surveillance, often done by bad people associated with bad governments (Major orders Sergeant to spy on hero: Seminole,
Amos Agry monitors town and reports on everything: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Sound communication (telephone switchboard: One Mysterious Night,
Dictaphone, microphone in courtroom: The Missing Juror,
police radio room, radio hero specialist: Escape in the Fog,
phone at lodge disconnected: Assigned to Danger,
intercom at state psychiatrist office: Behind Locked Doors,
loudspeaker, radio at end: The Bullfighter and the Lady,
police radio at end, apparent intercom on warden's wall: The Killer Is Loose,
telephone switchboard: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Projected images (words on lens: Escape in the Fog, killer's photos in police lab: The Killer Is Loose)
related (hero and heroine go to the movies: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Sometimes deceptive publicity campaigns (sensational news articles: The Missing Juror,
psychological warfare hero: Escape in the Fog,
television, newspaper articles: The Killer Is Loose,
newspaper ads: War of the Silver Kings, promotion leaflets for honest casino: According to Hoyle)
- Deceptive interception of communications (changing taxis: Escape in the Fog,
re-working telegram: War of the Silver Kings)
related (heroine never gets to deliver message, hero carries his own letter instead of mailing: Seminole)
- Communicating through gestures (silent gestures in bugging room: The Killer Is Loose,
Native American Sign Language: Comanche Station)
- Rooms full of clocks (clock shop: Escape in the Fog, pawn shop: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Agriculture (growing lettuce and lima beans, produce truck: The Killer Is Loose)
- Knowledge from psychic or paranormal sources, often prophetic (man suspects someone is following him: The Missing Juror,
prophetic dream: Escape in the Fog, I Ching divination tells future: Colonel Cat)
- Maps and diagrams, often in offices that embody social power (map and globe in naval offices, map in police radio room: Escape in the Fog,
giant map of Texas in Ryan's office: Horizons West,
map of Florida in Major's office: Seminole,
map in police headquarters: The Killer Is Loose,
mine diagram in courtroom at trial: War of the Silver Kings,
US map in shipping office: According to Hoyle,
map of world behind Jesse White: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Geographical information in files (doctor has addresses for most people in small town: Assigned to Danger)
- Medical workers (heroine worked on a hospital ship before it was blasted: Escape in the Fog,
young doctor helps hero with information: Assigned to Danger,
doctor leads town revolt: Decision at Sundown,
Chinese doctor is expert pathologist: Colonel Cat)
- Hospitals where heroes stay (hero in hospital after steam room attack: The Missing Juror,
hero in hospital in comic finale: Colonel Cat)
- Asylums (villain incarcerated there: The Missing Juror,
hero goes undercover in: Behind Locked Doors)
- Doctors influence territories (young doctor promotes himself to everyone in town: Assigned to Danger,
doctor leads town revolt: Decision at Sundown)
- Forensics and pathology (Chinese doctor conducts autopsy: Colonel Cat)
- Prayer scenes: communal, and with social satire overtones
(villains decide against prayers at burial: Seven Men from Now, funeral: Buchanan Rides Alone,
regret over lack of prayers at burial: Ride Lonesome, saying grace: Stopover)
related (wedding ceremony: Decision at Sundown)
- Communal meals (hero's boss eats his left-over food: The Missing Juror,
family dinners: Horizons West, stagecoach passengers: Stopover)
- People who sleep in groups or pairs (Blackie and Runt: One Mysterious Night,
hero breaks into heroine's bedroom after her nightmare: Escape in the Fog,
hero and roommates at asylum: Behind Locked Doors,
men on ship: Killer Shark,
hero under heroine's wagon: Seven Men from Now,
woman crowds Maverick in bedroom, judge in Maverick's bed: War of the Silver Kings,
Dobie and Frank: Comanche Station,
heroine and Mark share room, men at stagecoach stop: Stopover)
- Isolated characters on journeys, in a group (Army expedition: Seminole,
Seven Men from Now, Stopover)
- Burial scenes (Seven Men from Now, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome)
related (procession with body at end: Seminole, body removed at end: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Intrigue over a valuable treasure, sometimes a MacGuffin (One Mysterious Night,
spy packet: Escape in the Fog,
money for sharks: Killer Shark,
loot: Seven Men from Now,
money from bank robbery: Point Blank,
money belt: Buchanan Rides Alone,
gold shipments: Westbound,
war-looted bonds: Colonel Cat,
- Shop windows and the public (public angry over words in window: Escape in the Fog,
people watch jewelry store window while hero tries to rob it: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
related (townspeople watch Beery killed: Decision at Sundown)
- Suspense finales with people walking (Ryan tries to escape: Horizons West,
neighborhood: The Killer Is Loose,
husband walks in town, Marvin walks up to box: Seven Men from Now, bridge: Buchanan Rides Alone)
related (Noah Beery tries to walk to livery stable: Decision at Sundown)
Getting into Water:
- Thirsty characters, who drink coffee, water, liquor
(hero drinks coffee, lying witness has alcohol, secretary serves coffee, dehydrated hero drinks water in hospital: The Missing Juror,
coffee, numerous water glasses on couple's breakfast table at inn: Escape in the Fog,
heroine drinks coffee and makes coffee for hero, men get injured crook water, heroine gets hero drink after operation: Assigned to Danger,
doped drink: Killer Shark,
coffee: The Cimarron Kid,
villains and liquor: Horizons West,
wife offers husband and other cops coffee, Hale brings coffee to fellow cops: The Killer Is Loose,
coffee, bottle rolls under door, villains in bar: Seven Men from Now,
heroine has trouble picking up coffee pot: The Tall T,
liquor, coffee for hero Maverick: According to Hoyle,
confrontation over free drinks: Decision at Sundown,
fight over whiskey in saloon, coffee: Buchanan Rides Alone,
villain Best and coffee trap, heroine and coffee: Ride Lonesome,
hero drinks coffee, villain Duggan boozes when defeated: Westbound,
hero drinks too much in finale and ruins judgement, spiked liquor, choreographer likes water: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
hero and Tully drink liquor: Colonel Cat,
coffee, liquor, water, medicine: Stopover)
- Shattered bottles (milk bottle: The Killer Is Loose,
Justice of the Peace's liquor bottle: Decision at Sundown)
- Alcoholism (Judge battles alcoholism: War of the Silver Kings,
Justice of the Peace's secret drinking problem: Decision at Sundown,
heroine becomes alcoholic: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
Imagery and Landscape:
- Streams and rivers that are forded (briefly seen stream: The Cimarron Kid, swamp: Seminole, Seven Men from Now,
just before attempted murder: Buchanan Rides Alone, Comanche Station)
- Characters who get in small water areas against their will (getaway driver winds up on wet pavement: Assigned to Danger,
shepherd shoved into small pond: Horizons West,
swamp, quicksand: Seminole,
guard winds up dead in a ditch: The Killer Is Loose,
people slip and fall into mud hole: Seven Men from Now,
water trough: The Tall T,
shot guard falls in stream: Buchanan Rides Alone,
water trough, victim shot dead in stream: Comanche Station,
climactic fight winds up in water: Colonel Cat)
- Hiding in water (man hides in waterfall: The Cimarron Kid)
- Characters who dive into water and swim vigorously (Seminole scout at start: Seminole,
Dobie: Comanche Station)
- Rocky landscapes, often shot near Lone Pine, California (Seven Men from Now,
Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station)
- Caves (hideout: The Cimarron Kid, opening: Seven Men from Now)
- Bridges (Escape in the Fog, tracks across across round house pit: The Cimarron Kid,
between countries: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Weather (fog: Escape in the Fog, rain at end: Seminole, rain: The Killer Is Loose,
rain storms: Seven Men from Now,
horse raid in rain: Westbound,
rain at end: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
- Steam (steam room: The Missing Juror, steam in railroad round house: The Cimarron Kid)
- Fire, usually small in scale and deliberately set by someone (villain's asylum room: The Missing Juror,
villain's asylum room, firebug: Behind Locked Doors,
tree at end: Ride Lonesome,
Legs sets rival's clothes on fire: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
Budd Boetticher: Visual Style
Curves and Circles:
Straight Line Geometry:
- Curving roads (Flanders house: The Killer Is Loose, Westbound,
Hong Kong: Colonel Cat)
- Circles of 3D dots against a polygonal background (pins on map: The Killer Is Loose,
tie pin against vest and collar: War of the Silver Kings) related (circle of pink candles on cake: Horizons West)
- Coils of rope (heroes' horses: The Cimarron Kid,
hero's horse, on wall in livery stable: Decision at Sundown,
hero's horse: Comanche Station)
- Curved tools used as weapons (scythe at farm house: The Killer Is Loose,
hay tool in livery stable: Decision at Sundown)
- Round arches (over door to Hotel Coronet: Behind Locked Doors,
restaurant: The Bullfighter and the Lady, many Austin buildings: Horizons West,
covered wagon: Seven Men from Now, judge's home: Buchanan Rides Alone,
outside building at Duggan's home: Westbound,
in areaway: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Circular spaces (arena: The Bullfighter and the Lady,
round house: The Cimarron Kid)
- Other curves (curved arrow on heroine's suit: Behind Locked Doors,
turning gears in round house: The Cimarron Kid,
Samantha's hotel room, Ma's parlor, shadows on ship, wheel of fortune: According to Hoyle,
compass: Colonel Cat)
- Hexagonal clocks (heroine's watch: Escape in the Fog, hero's alarm clock: The Killer Is Loose)
related (hexagonal window on stairs: Westbound)
- Box-like spaces that contain men, often of unusual geometric shape
(newsstand, hotel desk, restaurant booth, phone booth, hall staircase, alley: One Mysterious Night,
phone booth, jail cells, hospital closet, steam room: The Missing Juror,
two phone booths, clock store desk, porch, bar, restaurant booth, alley at end: Escape in the Fog,
front desk at lodge, stairwell behind desk: Assigned to Danger,
asylum cells: Behind Locked Doors,
dock stairs, bunks and cabin: Killer Shark,
stable stalls, porch of Plummer Hotel: The Cimarron Kid,
hotel room with tilted ceiling, under fence, corral, under staircase: Horizons West,
the pit, fireplace with man seen through it, hitching post: Seminole,
bank at start, glass doorways from which robber emerges, behind chair in corner, police concealment, truck cabins: The Killer Is Loose,
hero sleeps under wagon, gambling under saloon stairs, saloon porch, rock passage at end: Seven Men from Now,
trough, corrals, openings at stage depot, depot porch, stage, on top of stage, mine, well: The Tall T,
cigar stand, teller area: Point Blank,
livery stable porch, upstairs windows with crooks, church vestibule and porch: Decision at Sundown,
town porches, stairs used to seat jury, hotel desk, wagon with hay: Buchanan Rides Alone,
narrow canyon, space between stagecoach wheel and passenger coach, station doorway: Ride Lonesome,
tent, stagecoach, Palace Hotel porch: Westbound,
trough, fenced-in regions: Comanche Station,
portico, newsstand, skylight, kitchenette, areaway, polygonal angle of room, elevator, alley, dumb waiter, Murphy bed, apt desk, restaurant bar: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
ladder, blanket marks off sleeping chamber, on top of stage, porch: Stopover)
- Sloping town streets (Boonesville: The Cimarron Kid, hero and heroine first meet: Horizons West,
near bank at start: The Killer Is Loose, hero and heroine at end: Seven Men from Now,
gun duels: Decision at Sundown)
- Corner book cases (spy master's living room: Escape in the Fog, Horizons West)
- Rectilinear buildings: exteriors - often with recessed areas or jutting porticos
(opening shot of city street: Assigned to Danger,
front and back walls of round house building: The Cimarron Kid,
Burr's mansion: Horizons West,
bank, Rootes building, Poole's apartment house, Flanders house: The Killer Is Loose,
stage depot: The Tall T,
building facade seen in overhead shot: War of the Silver Kings,
hotel facade, town: Point Blank,
Palace Hotel facade: Westbound,
husband's house at end: Comanche Station,
Hotsy Totsy night club entrance: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Doors with bolts, making rectilinear patterns (round house: The Cimarron Kid,
fort gates: Seminole,
two livery stable doors: Decision at Sundown)
- Walls with closed doors (wall of sanitarium at start: Behind Locked Doors,
escaped killer at farm: The Killer Is Loose)
- Characters framed against unusual regions (Ryan bare-chested against picture frames: Horizons West,
against polygonal map regions: The Killer Is Loose,
stained glass windows with rectangular panels in church, Y-shaped saloon staircase: Decision at Sundown)
- Light blue shirts with gridline pattern (Amos Agry: Buchanan Rides Alone,
Frank: Comanche Station)
- Shooting through bars (violent ward in asylum: Behind Locked Doors,
jail: The Man from the Alamo,
Sheriff's door: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Complex grillwork (bannister on asylum stairs: Behind Locked Doors,
Ruby's room: Decision at Sundown,
judge's house: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Groups of characters that move in organized processions (police in wedge in street: One Mysterious Night,
death cell procession: The Missing Juror,
bullfighters enter arena at end: The Bullfighter and the Lady,
Sheriff's men advance on trapped Audie Murphy: The Cimarron Kid,
procession carrying body at end: Seminole,
Ray Teal's men move out to disarm bad guys: Decision at Sundown,
captives carried from saloon to jail, prisoners and jury leave or enter court: Buchanan Rides Alone,
reporters in hallway: Colonel Cat)
- Groups of characters in geometric patterns (police in V-shaped wedge in street: One Mysterious Night,
reporters in circle in hallway: Colonel Cat)
- Groups that all turn and look (wedding members look at Scott: Decision at Sundown,
men at Allied Enterprises crime syndicate turn their heads in unison: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- People crowded into homes (party in living room: Colonel Cat,
strangers stranded at ranch: Stopover)
Staging and Camera Angles:
- Open spaces: landscapes
- Open spaces: street scenes (One Mysterious Night,
police shoot crook in street near barbershop: Assigned to Danger,
street in front of drug store: The Killer Is Loose,
town: Seven Men from Now,
confrontation in front of casino: According to Hoyle,
space in front of hotel with gun duels: Decision at Sundown, town street: Buchanan Rides Alone,
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Open spaces: large rooms (exhibit room, pawnbroker: One Mysterious Night, bank: The Killer Is Loose,
night club interior: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Slightly elevated angles to reveal the layout of large open spaces
(shootout in street near barbershop: Assigned to Danger,
opening canyon view: Ride Lonesome,
reporters standing in circle outside forensic room: Colonel Cat)
- Long perspective vistas down streets (heroes trapped by wagons pushed on streets: The Cimarron Kid,
opening bank robbery: The Killer Is Loose)
- Steep overhead camera angles (Murphy bed: One Mysterious Night,
alley at end: Escape in the Fog,
looking down from crow's nest: Killer Shark,
pan showing car leaving arena: The Bullfighter and the Lady,
Rock Hudson enters fort at start: Seminole,
hero sees wagon below, entrance of Lee Marvin looking below, shooting of bad guy at end: Seven Men from Now,
Maverick exits on the street: War of the Silver Kings,
Maverick's confrontation on street with villain's henchmen: According to Hoyle,
opening shot of canyon: Ride Lonesome,
Scott enters Duggan's house: Westbound,
Scott in valleys at start: Comanche Station,
pawnshop, stair behind theater, alley: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
stagecoach, ranch and porch: Stopover)
- Occasional action staged in long shot, with isolated tiny
figures in a landscape (opening: Horizons West,
entrance of Beery at start: Decision at Sundown, James Best's entourage members: Ride Lonesome)
- Seeing through windows to the street (view of Austin streets: Horizons West,
robbers' car and street seen outside through glass wall of bank: The Killer Is Loose,
Ruby looks a street from hotel window, window in stable: Decision at Sundown)
- Shadows (policeman in alley twirling nightstick: One Mysterious Night,
death cell procession: The Missing Juror, Maverick attacked in alley: War of the Silver Kings)
- Camera movement that goes from left-to-right or right-to-left
across the sets or landscapes, often following characters (many shots: One Mysterious Night,
courtroom shots: The Missing Juror,
across inn lawn to couple's table, across clock shop interior, across back room to tied-up heroine,
down hall with villain and flashlight, cops rescue at end, in front of police station, villains on roof: Escape in the Fog,
Ryan's gang moves down bar: Horizons West,
characters walk on ship deck at night: According to Hoyle,
Tully's bar: Colonel Cat)
- Start-and-stop tracks in interiors, going to many locales
(election night in saloon: War of the Silver Kings, casino: According to Hoyle)
related (shot in jail starting with wall sign: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Camera movement that involves either pans or a traveling shot, or a combination of both
- Camera movement through walls (apartment, pawn shop: One Mysterious Night,
heroine's office, police line-up room, rubbing room, police interrogation room: The Missing Juror)
- Moving camera Point Of View shots (couple ride into town on wagon: Seven Men from Now,
hero enters town at start: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Vertical camera movement (playing cards to crooks as dummies, Murphy bed: One Mysterious Night,
villain adjusting clock, from hero down to message and back: Escape in the Fog,
down street sign pole at start: The Killer Is Loose,
in jail down to heroes: Buchanan Rides Alone,
pan down ravine following hero combined with other movement, final shot of tree: Ride Lonesome)
- Long takes (shooting of private eye, last scene at restaurant: The Missing Juror,
good guy spy master's living room: Escape in the Fog,
crooks gather in woman's room, doctor's office, hero moves into hotel room, breakfast in lodge: Assigned to Danger,
outside hero's office, heroine's hotel room, heroine asks state psychiatrist for help: Behind Locked Doors,
ten dollar town, heroes talk in jail: Buchanan Rides Alone,
after robbery out in street after the movie, killer's car in street at end: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Red-and-blue color schemes (Round House: The Cimarron Kid, general's uniform: Horizons West,
expedition leaves: Seminole,
Mexican uniform: The Man from the Alamo,
heroine's blue dress with red scarf and red wash, red walls and blue staircase in saloon,
red horse and navy blue shirt of hero at end: Seven Men from Now,
Beery in restaurant, street outside restaurant: Decision at Sundown,
Duggan's blue suit and red vest: Westbound)
- Red-and-green color schemes (Plummer Hotel: The Cimarron Kid)
- Red-yellow-and-blue color schemes (trial, finale: Seminole)
- Women in red or pink, with "red" names (Rose's pink blouse, matched with round house buildings: The Cimarron Kid,
Ruby: Decision at Sundown)
- Poles, sticks, spears and other phallic symbols often associated with men in groups
(street sign, pinwheel, nightsticks: One Mysterious Night,
villain's cane, Dictaphone: The Missing Juror,
candle, cop's flashlight, lamp post outside inn, golf putters: Escape in the Fog,
barbershop pole near where police shoot crook, sign with town name, Joey and log for fireplace, dart used by crooks: Assigned to Danger,
yardstick carried by door-letterer: Behind Locked Doors,
torch in outlaw camp, candle in front of Ryan: Horizons West,
Native American lances, arrows, knives, US Army guns, swords, swagger stick, cannons, hats: Seminole,
knife, cannon, flags at Alamo: The Man from the Alamo,
street sign, stick carried by prison card in field, hoes, screen pole and revolving screen: The Killer Is Loose,
shovel, washing pole, cavalry flag: Seven Men from Now,
rifle: The Tall T,
shaving brush and revolving barber chair, clubs, shovel: War of the Silver Kings,
lamp post, pencil: Point Blank,
rifle, shovel used to dig grave: Buchanan Rides Alone,
spear: Ride Lonesome,
Native American weapons, standards, rifle, flag pole, well pole: Comanche Station,
Arnold Rothstein's bed, guns: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
yarrow sticks for divination, flashlights, shovel to dig grave, pickax, policeman's swagger stick: Colonel Cat,
kitchen knife: Stopover)
- Poles and revolving objects (street sign, pinwheel, nightsticks: One Mysterious Night,
trains and revolving round house turntable: The Cimarron Kid,
screen pole and revolving screen: The Killer Is Loose,
shaving brush and revolving barber chair: War of the Silver Kings,
flashlight and round compass with needle: Colonel Cat)
- Revolving objects without poles (tape recorder during police bugging: The Killer Is Loose,
wheel-of-fortune turns but has no pole: According to Hoyle)
- Men who get tied up or put in handcuffs (Boston Blackie: One Mysterious Night,
hero in leg irons, heroine tied up in back room: Escape in the Fog,
woman tied up in car at end: Behind Locked Doors,
Rock Hudson: Horizons West,
injured James Best tied down, poultice tied to hero: Seminole,
villain handcuffed at end of trial: The Killer Is Loose,
James Best: Ride Lonesome)
- Men in groups with common, similar clothes (policemen: One Mysterious Night,
police, Navy: Escape in the Fog, inmates, guards, police at end: Behind Locked Doors,
bullfighters at end: The Bullfighter and the Lady,
Boonesville men: The Cimarron Kid,
policemen, convicts, prison guards, cops in trenchcoats: The Killer Is Loose,
cavalry troop: Seven Men from Now,
Sheriff and deputy in similar vests and Sheriff's stars: Point Blank,
doctor and bartender: Decision at Sundown,
Native Americans, Dobie and Frank: Comanche Station,
men at party in white dinner jackets: Colonel Cat)
- Color coordination of clothes (hero and heroine in blue at end: Seven Men from Now,
Parnell Roberts and James Best in green: Ride Lonesome,
hero and heroine in black: Stopover)
- Similar colored horses (Audie Murphy and James Best: The Cimarron Kid,
villain and Dobie: Comanche Station)
- Leather clothes (hero's jacket: One Mysterious Night,
strangler's gloves: The Missing Juror,
motorcycle cop's boots and gloves: Escape in the Fog,
policemen in black leather jackets: Assigned to Danger,
suede jacket, heroine's pants: The Cimarron Kid,
Dandy's vest, Ryan's uniform gloves: Horizons West,
US Army boots and gloves: Seminole,
Hugh O'Brian's buckskins, hero's jacket: The Man from the Alamo,
police black leather LAPD uniforms: The Killer Is Loose,
husband's vest, villain's vest: Seven Men from Now,
Billy Jack's chaps, hero's boots: The Tall T,
Sheriff's and deputy's vests: Point Blank,
hero's coat, Beery's vest: Decision at Sundown,
Abe Carbo's boots: Buchanan Rides Alone,
hero's buckskin shirt, belt: Ride Lonesome,
Dobie and Frank's chaps: Comanche Station,
hero wears leather jacket during mob hit: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
Adam West: Stopover)
- Difficulties with boots (keeping Army boots shined in swamp: Seminole,
hero has trouble getting boots on: The Tall T, doctor helps man with boots: Decision at Sundown)
- Clothes that look hard to put on or take off (hero's jacket with buttons: One Mysterious Night,
hero's buckskin shirt: Ride Lonesome)
- Leather chairs for swaggering characters (Ryan's fancy office: Horizons West,
banker's chair: Point Blank,
Adam West: Stopover)
related (furniture in state psychiatrist's office, asylum head's chair: Behind Locked Doors,
warden's chair at State Prison: The Killer Is Loose,
Dobie sits on Frank's saddle: Comanche Station)
- Bags (bank robber's bag with loot: The Killer Is Loose,
Adam West's mysterious bag in barn: Stopover)
- Shiny black raincoats (cop on bridge: Escape in the Fog,
father's fishing slicker: Killer Shark,
two characters: The Killer Is Loose, hero, husband: Seven Men from Now)
- Western men in frilled shirts and fancy vests (Maverick: War of the Silver Kings,
town boss: Decision at Sundown)
- Men in suits that suggest business success (Robert Ryan: Horizons West,
Legs: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Classy well-dressed men in second-rate towns (Sheriff and deputy: Point Blank,
doctor: Decision at Sundown,
Abe Carbo: Buchanan Rides Alone)
- Shirtless men (injured crook in bed: Assigned to Danger,
Robert Ryan: Horizons West,
Rock Hudson, Hugh O'Brian: Seminole,
Native Americans: Comanche Station,
hero in bed: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond)
- Characters who transform their appearance (hero from suits to disguise in uniform leather jacket: One Mysterious Night,
hero from pinstripe-suited private eye to sober clothes for undercover role: Behind Locked Doors,
from army uniform to civilian suits: Horizons West,
from male to female: The Killer Is Loose,
Maverick from saddle tramp to elegant gambler: War of the Silver Kings,
Scott shaves and gets cleaned up after long ride: Decision at Sundown,
from army uniform to civilian suits: Westbound)
One Mysterious Night
One Mysterious Night (1944) is Boetticher's first feature
(or at least the first one where he gets onscreen credit). It
is part of the long running series of Boston Blackie films, about
a reformed thief who tries to track down crooks. Like most such
Hollywood series, it has quite a bit of comedy, and is low budget
and short - just over an hour. The title has little to do with
the actual movie: much of the action takes place during the day,
and certainly transpires over more than a 12 hour period! Like
most Hollywood crime series films, One Mysterious Night
is definitely NOT a film noir, a movement then gathering steam
in Hollywood. It does not resemble film noir, in either style
Boston Blackie is a master of disguise, like many sleuths. This
is part of his characterization throughout the series. Boetticher
includes plenty of disguise in One Mysterious Night. Disguise
is used by the crook in The Killer Is Loose.
The most notable feature of One Mysterious Night is the
large amount of camera movement. In scene after scene, Boetticher's
camera is swooping around.
The camera movements tend to have a left-to-right or right-to-left
The movements often go from one side of the set to another, and
then often back again, in the reverse direction - all in the same
shot. Some shots, such as one in the inspector's office, or the
shot after the shooting on the street, involve more than two movements
back and forth across the set. Boetticher can follow characters,
as they move back and forth from one side of the set to the other.
Or he can simply have the camera explore the scene.
Sometimes, Boetticher uses simple pans to move back and forth
across the set: the early shot of the police crossing the street
to get into the hotel, the back-and-forth panning in the inspector's
office. Other times, Boetticher can combine panning with tracking,
as in the first shot in the Chinese restaurant, in which a back-and-forth
pan seems to give way to tracking that follows the waiter.
Boetticher can use a slightly elevated angle for his pans and
tracks, that reveals the layout of the sets, and makes clear the
motion of his characters through it. The elevated angle is steepest
in the scene near the end, in which Blackie and the police arrive
at the crooks' hideout. He can also pan or track head-on, with
a non-tilted camera.
Boetticher can also move his camera forward, often to frame his
characters more tightly. This can occur alone, or as part of an
otherwise panning-based sequence. More rarely, he can move his
camera straight back a little, also to reframe.
Both at the apartment, and at the pawnshop, Boetticher includes
camera movements that sweep behind walls of the sets, following
the characters from room to room. These are relatively common
in movies. Still, such shots can have a non-realistic quality,
and are quite conspicuous. These do not seem like "invisible"
camera movements. They were a form of "Hollywood magic"
that might be noticeable even to naive audiences. These room-to-room
tracks also move from left to right, and right to left, like most
of the camera movement in One Mysterious Night.
There are also some vertical camera movements. Boetticher moves
up from the police playing cards, to the crooks hidden above them,
pretending to be tailor's dummies. And Boetticher moves straight
up, following his heroes' attempt to escape from the Murphy bed.
Young Punks and Strong Decent Women
The young hotel assistant manager who is involved with the theft
seems to be the first of the no-good young man characters who
get involved with crime, and who wind up dead, caught in the crosshairs
of intrigue involving older, tougher and smarter men: see Buchanan
Rides Alone. This is a common Boetticher character type.
The women, who work on terms of equality in a man's world, anticipate
the later women in Boetticher's Westerns. The emotionally strong
switchboard operator, and her brother, the weak-kneed punk who
gets involved in the robbery, anticipate the strong decent woman-lesser
crooked male husband and wife of Seven Men from Now.
In later Boetticher films, crooks often have entourages, young
men who largely dress alike. Although they are not crooks, or
followers of a leader, One Mysterious Night has some striking
male groups. One Mysterious Night opens with police walking
in a V-wedge on a city street. They seem ominous, a tough looking,
all-uniformed group. We only gradually learn they are on the way
to guard a jewel exhibit. A later scene with the police in the
pawnshop, has all the policemen carrying nightsticks. This adds
a striking visual note.
A group of reporters hang out at police headquarters gathering
crime news. They are dressed in similar suits, that are well groomed,
but which have a working-man feel to them.
The police Inspector Farraday and Blackie have a close relationship.
The dialogue refers to it as "a beautiful friendship".
This phrase has overtones of special male bonding. It is used
in this sense in Ellery Queen's mystery novel
The Dragon's Teeth (1939) (Chapter 1), and at the end of the film
Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1941).
Farraday keeps threatening Blackie with arrest, something which Blackie
makes clear he enjoys, in dialogue at the end of the film. It is part of
the men's duel of wits, a game they play.
Dialogue emphasizes the close bond between Blackie and his assistant
Runt, characters who are familiar from previous Boston Blackie
movies. Not only do the two men work together, but they sleep
together in the same room. They are together 24 hours a day. Sleeping
scenes run through later Boetticher, often showing people sleeping
in a group. After this dialogue about sleep early in the film,
later we see Blackie and Runt sleeping in bed together.
A Working Class Film
One Mysterious Night is unusual among series crime films
in that everyone in it seems so working class. Men stay in suits
throughout the film: there are no evening clothes, which were
de rigueur in many crime series movies. The cop uniforms are standard,
if sharp, and there are no motorcycle cops or fancy police uniforms
that run through other entries in the Boston Blackie series. These
look like regular working cops, and they talk with each other
about how tiring their work shifts are. Both of the female leads
are conspicuously working women: a switchboard operator, and a
reporter, the only female among the otherwise all-male crime reporters.
There are other female switchboard operators who work with the
heroine, and a woman who runs a cigar stand in the hotel. There
is also a dignified Chinese waiter in a Chinese restaurant, who
is seen briefly. Even the relatively affluent patrons of the restaurant,
and visitors to the jewel exhibit, are firmly middle class people
in suits and ties, not the rich society people who so often show
up in Hollywood movie series.
Some earlier episodes of Boston Blackie had bits of left-wing
politics. Confessions of Boston Blackie (Edward Dmytryk,
1941) talks about Boston Blackie stealing pearls from the rich,
and handing them out to people on bread lines. One wonders if
the relentlessly working class nature of One Mysterious Night
is designed to make it a "proletarian film".
The jewel exhibit is to raise money for the war effort of the
United Nations, a favorite term among left wingers to refer to
the Allies as a group (this is not what we today think of as the
UN, which had not yet been formed.)
Blackie himself is working for a tool manufacturing company. He
is depicted as a "businessman", so the film is not anti-business.
Many Hollywood films, especially musicals, have the hero in ordinary
clothes at the start, and get him increasingly dressed up through
the course of the film, ending with the hero in evening clothes.
Boetticher's One Mysterious Night (1944) takes a parallel but different approach.
Blackie wears a suit in most of the film, but disguises himself
as a uniformed messenger in a leather jacket at the end. The leather
jacket is glamorous, like the evening clothes of a conventional
film: but it is also distinctly working class looking.
The anonymous costume designer of One Mysterious Night
must have liked the look, because a very similar leather jacket
is worn by guest star Steve Cochran in Boston Blackie's Rendezvous
(Arthur Dreifuss, 1945). Both jackets have a series of button
fastenings up the front, and diagonal pockets; neither has any
Leather jackets were just becoming popular for men in this era,
and One Mysterious Night (1944) is one of the earliest
films known to me where it is worn as a fashion statement (as
opposed to occasional jackets worn by cab drivers, pilots, fisherman, etc.).
They are largely worn by tough working class good
guys on the edge of the law, like Boston Blackie himself. There
are hints in most of these films that there is something exciting
and not quite respectable about men wearing such jackets - which
probably made them more popular than ever in real life. Blackie
is a reformed crook, the heroes of Railroaded! and
99 River Street are innocent but tough working men falsely accused
of crimes, the hero of The Street With No Name is a government
agent going undercover as a crook in a gang, etc.
For a detailed list and history, see the article on
Leather Jackets in Film.
In the pawnshop, a ground-level scene shows people's shoes.
One can tell when shots of the killers' shoes are replaced by shots of the police:
the police's black leather uniform shoes are shinier.
It is an aspect of how spiffy the police uniforms as a whole are.
One Mysterious Night opens with a strange figure of style.
A static street sign suddenly begins to revolve, then sinks down
out of sight. I have never seen anything like this in any other
film. It is really cool. It is a non-naturalistic effect, something
that "stylizes" reality.
The street sign is on a large crossroads-style pole. And it gives
way to a street scene that soon will be full of police, in striking
formation. There are two other images in the film that also combine
poles, revolving objects, and glamorized police.
At the gem show, the crooks steal a kid's pinwheel. This is a
revolving object on a tall, pole-like stick. A kind-hearted and
handsome policeman tries to help the kids out.
At the pawnshop, the police carry really long, black nightsticks.
Once again, these include some good looking cops, in spit and
polish police uniforms. The police do not spin these nightsticks
at the pawnshop. They do have the nightsticks grasped in their hands.
But soon, in an alley, the crooks see and are scared by a giant
shadow of a policeman. This shadow is indeed spinning his nightstick.
It makes for an archetypal image of a policeman, gigantic, and
with the pole-like nightstick in full rotary motion. This too
is a figure of style, on the borders of non-naturalistic imagery.
Open Areas: Large Street Scenes and Rooms
Much of the action of One Mysterious Night takes place
in large scale, open places. These include city streets, large
exhibit rooms, the hotel assistant's large office, the pawnbroker's,
and apartment living rooms. These open spaces, while purely urban,
anticipate the large scale open landscape arenas of Boetticher's
Westerns. They give plenty of room to stage action, have his characters
move around, and allow sweeping camera movements with no obstructions.
Street scenes will recur in The Killer Is Loose and Buchanan
Rides Alone, which also involve rapid movements of individuals
along the streets.
Strange Shaped Spaces
Boetticher films often contain small, box-like spaces, which contain
the characters. There are a few of these in One Mysterious
Night, right at the start of Boetticher's career.
The newsstand at the hotel contains the woman who runs it.
The desk at the women's hotel contains the clerk.
The Chinese restaurant has a booth, built into the wall. Blackie
and the switchboard operator have dinner there, seated inside
The woman reporter uses a phone booth.
At the end, the police ascend to the crooks' apartment through
the hall staircase. This staircase is not shown through overhead
or tilted angles, the way stairs are frequently (and gloriously)
depicted in film noir. Boetticher instead uses a radically different
approach. He shoots the upstairs hall and the staircase from the
front. We see the hall, and we can see down the stairs, in a deep
focus shot. Soon the staircase fills up with climbing policemen.
The stairway forms a "box", a container for the men
in it. This is one of Boetticher's boxes, three-dimensional spaces
that contain people. And it is a strange shape: a hallway with
a staircase leading down from it: a familiar sight, but actually
geometrically quite odd and complex, once you come to think of
The fire escape down which the crooks flee is in a box shaped
alley, tall and narrow. It connects with the rest of the world
through a brick wall, joined at a non-90 degree angle. Boetticher
will include more odd shaped alleys in The Rise and Fall of
Legs Diamond: another giant "box". The alley in
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond will also turn on a polygonal
corner, rather than a 90 degree right angle. It too will feature
a fire escape.
Blackie and his assistant get tied up by crooks, upside down on
a Murphy bed. We see them hanging there, in the closet that contains
the Murphy bed. In later Boetticher films, Rock Hudson will get
tied up in Horizons West, and there are lots of captives
in other Boetticher Westerns. Earlier, Blackie had been handcuffed
to a chair at the police station by the inspector; and Blackie
and the Inspector get tied up a third time, at the film's climax.
Blackie himself uses handcuffs on his friend the police inspector,
in the taxi.
Overhead Camera Angle
The Murphy bed scene includes an unusual overhead camera angle,
something that will recur in later Boetticher films.
The Missing Juror
The Missing Juror (1944) is a mystery-suspense film.
Its plot about a crazed killer trying to murder twelve jurors, anticipates a bit
the quest of the hero to kill seven murderers in Seven Men from Now.
Another convict with murder as his goal will appear in The Killer Is Loose.
Plots about killing off jurors occurred in earlier prose mystery fiction:
John Rhode's novel The Murders in Praed Street (1928),
Stuart Palmer's short story "The Riddle of the Hanging Men" (1934)
in his Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles.
The Missing Juror contains several scenes in which the camera seemingly
"goes through a wall" moving from room to room:
Boetticher sometimes repeats the wall-movement, for example, at the steam bath.
These movements are clearly designed to be exuberant.
- At the heroine's office.
- Leaving the police line-up room;
- In and out of the massage Rubbing Room at the steam bath.
- Leaving the police interrogation room where the crank is confessing.
Other camera movements have an "in and out" effect, moving to and from the viewer:
Some camera movements in the courtroom are also notable:
- The first scene of Macready in the death cell has the camera back away from him,
so we can see a procession to the gallows pass over him as shadows; then moves back in
towards him - all in one shot. (The shadows in the procession are identifiable by
the silhouettes of their headgear. First we see a priest. At the end, two cops
wear enormously high-peaked caps. Even as shadows, they seem dressy.)
- The comic last scene of the film, at the restaurant, is one long take,
in which Boetticher moves the camera in and out, as well as other movements, to focus
on different parts of the action.
A camera movement from a moving train is outstanding. We see through a door of a train,
slowly pulling out of the station; the shot keeps the heroine walking on the platform
outside of the train in view.
- A complex pan first shows the defendant and lawyers entering the courtroom from a left
hand door, then keeps moving to the right as the jury files in from a second door.
The camera movement underscores and counterpoints the movements of the characters.
- A shot behind the jurors as the verdict comes in has a nice propulsive quality.
The shooting of the lying private eye is also in one long take, which has him going up to a corner,
then moving back down the street again.
The hero uses a Dictaphone to record his news stories. The witnesses in the courtroom
speak into a microphone they hold. Both are examples of Boetticher's interest in
sound technology. The Dictaphone horn also seems like a phallic symbol.
The newspapermen get stories off a teletype.
The villain sets fire to his asylum room. This seems like a direct ancestor of a
similar scene of "fire in an asylum room" in Behind Locked Doors (1948).
Boxes Containing Men
The Missing Juror has a number of Boetticher's box-like containers:
None of these are irregular-shaped spaces, the way they often will be in later Boetticher.
- There are two jail cells: one for the villain on Death Row, and later a comic one
containing the hero in a rustic jail.
- The hero uses a phone booth.
- The hero enters the closet of his hospital room to get dressed.
- The steam room perhaps might be viewed as a large box. The hero is trapped inside.
Boetticher characters are always drinking liquids: they have an especial fondness for coffee.
The Missing Juror shows female secretary Tex making and serving coffee to a group.
It also has a scene at restaurant-bar Wally's Grotto, in which the hero has coffee,
and a villainous private eye has liquor. One suspects there is a bit of an anti-alcohol statement in this.
The hero is attacked in a steam room, nearly killed, and winds up in the hospital.
We see him drinking water, and his dialogue points out how much water he's been drinking.
Although there is no further explanation, one suspects this refers to him being dehydrated
by the steam room, and needing water. This is an extreme, and interesting, example of thirst in Boetticher.
Leading man Jim Bannon has a voice and demeanor that remind one of
cowboy actor William "Wild Bill" Elliott. Both are highly macho men,
who speak slowly and emphatically, and with the same sort of timbre to their voice.
One brief scene features giant William Hall as a cop guarding the villain.
Hall, who once had a role as a leading man in The Spy Ring
(Joseph H. Lewis, 1938),
was now reduced to this sort of cameo. He looks great in his police uniform.
The reporter hero is in single-breasted, solid color suits throughout the film. He looks good in them,
but his neat appearance is still less dressy than the double-breasted pinstripes we associate with 1940's noir.
Like the hero of One Mysterious Night, the protagonist is dressed in a way that does not make him
look upper class or well-to-do.
Escape in the Fog
Escape in the Fog (1945) is a spy thriller.
Race and Politics
The heroes of Escape in the Fog are trying to destroy the
Japanese Occupation of China. Many Boetticher films feature heroes
who are fighting against dictatorial control of towns, whether modern day
or in the old West. Escape in the Fog extends this to a whole country.
The dignified, non-stereotyped Chinese agent is notable. Also unusual:
although the heroes are working against the Japanese Occupation,
no Japanese villains or characters are seen at all. Instead, the villains
are all white: mainly Nazi agents, with a few American traitors.
The filmmakers are making an unusually successful attempt to avoid racist
stereotypes, and project positive images.
The heroine is also one of the good women in Boetticher who work
on equal terms in a world of men. She was working on a hospital ship before it was blasted.
Her trenchcoat looks a bit like men's clothing: something not uncommon in Boetticher heroines.
The heroine as played by the talented Nina Foch conveys intelligence.
She is courageous, and morally committed. She also shows admirable determination.
Perhaps most important, she eventually does some real detection, in her noticing that
a ship passed under the bridge.
The sympathetic woman taxi driver is another working woman. She is played by a
very young Shelley Winters, who projects personality in her brief role.
The hero is a specialist in psychological warfare. He works on radio broadcasts
fighting against Axis occupations in World War II. This perhaps links him to
War of the Silver Kings, and its hero's public relations campaign against
the town boss.
It also anticipates some deceptive ways in which the police use the media
in The Killer Is Loose.
Unfortunately, the hero's actual mission in Escape in the Fog has nothing to do
with these interesting skills.
The Spy Master
The good guy spy master is played by Otto Kruger, a patrician actor most
often cast as smooth, wealthy villains. He was the rich, upper class American who
was eager to support the Nazis in Alfred Hitchcock's
Saboteur (1943). Here once again he is playing a wealthy man who is plainly
a representative of America's Old Money WASP elite. While Saboteur suggested
that such men were right wing monsters and fascist sympathizers,
Escape in the Fog implausibly implies such men are patriots, ready to do battle with
America's enemies, and socially accept Chinese good guys into their palatial homes.
No mention is made of all the well-to-do US businessmen whose financial dealings with
Nazi Germany in the 1930's speeded Hitler's rise to power.
Kruger's wealth plays a role in the plot: only such a patrician would have a grandfather clock
in his living room, and a butler who maintains it. Perhaps the character's wealth is mainly
included, so that such a clock is plausible.
There is a long tradition in spy books and films: the hero is a virile young man who gets his orders from
an upper class, older man who represents the patriarchal elite who runs society.
The hero is therefore supposed to represent both Society and "good over evil" - or perhaps white male power.
For example, see James Bond getting his orders from spy master M.
Or the young spy hero who gets orders from the head of the Secret Service in
Spione (Fritz Lang, 1928).
I have always found this tradition morally, politically and socially dubious.
It equates Society with wealth and patriarchy: a bad idea.
The scene with the hero getting his mission from Otto Kruger, seems like a direct expression of
this tradition. However, Escape in the Fog does complicate this tradition, by showing a
good guy Chinese agent in the conference with Kruger. This does affect the core tradition,
which more ordinarily celebrates upper class white patriarchal power in its most naked form.
The scenes throughout Escape in the Fog, with the heroine trying to get male authority figures
to take her ideas seriously, also complicates the traditional spy film idea of
social goodness being represented by a patriarchal member of wealthy white male elites.
Escape in the Fog contains an allegory: traditional American social power,
centered in wealthy WASP male elites like Kruger,
needs to broaden itself to include other races and women.
This liberal, integrationist point of view will run through Boetticher's work.
Escape in the Fog uses a traditional scene in spy films, the hero getting his orders
from a wealthy elite male - but insistently complicates this tradition to convey new ideas
about racial and sexual integration.
Sexuality and Social Power
I mentioned earlier that in traditional spy films, the hero is a virile young man.
For example, such virility is an important part of the characterization of
James Bond and the young spy hero of Spione. Traditionally, the hero's male
sexual potency is implicitly blessed by his patriarchal boss, in the scene
where the hero gets his orders from the spy chief. The idea is that his sexuality is
endorsed by the patriarchy that runs society. It becomes part of the patriarchy's power.
Aspects of this idea survive in Escape in the Fog. The hero is indeed sexually virile.
And he first meets the heroine, by breaking down the door of her bedroom while she is sleeping:
surely, a scene that relates male sexuality to male power.
However, in James Bond films, women are sex objects whom the hero uses for sexual pleasure.
They are not seen as having human dignity or value.
By contrast, the heroine of Escape in the Fog repeatedly asserts herself
as an agent, not an object. She has brains, and uses them to perform detective work:
a key definition of intelligence and human dignity and agency in detective films.
Once agin, Escape in the Fog is re-using a traditional trope of spy films,
only to subvert it and broaden it, to suggest that women have brains and a role in running society.
Escape in the Fog is integrationist: it doesn't attack male virility, or
try to strip the male hero from his good guy status. But it insists that male power must be
shared, with women getting a role in running society. Similarly, it insists that other races,
such as the Chinese, be given a role in the running of society.
Headquarters and Social Power
In traditional spy films, the elite spy chief's headquarters is seen as the ultimate safe, protected place,
and a symbol of Government and social power and organization.
It is deep in the center of some very secure government location. The spy chief gives his orders there to
the young spy hero, remote from harm. Then the young hero goes out into the world,
where he faces danger from enemy agents.
For example. the Wikipedia article on M (James Bond) states: "Academic Paul Stock argues that M's office
is a metonym for England and a stable point from which Bond departs on a mission,
whilst he sees M as being an iconic representative of England and Englishness."
It cites: Stock, Paul (2009). "Dial 'M' for metonym: Universal Exports, M's office space and empire".
In Lindner, Christoph. The James Bond Phenomenon: a Critical Reader. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
At first, Escape in the Fog seems to embody the same idea. But this turns into
another traditional spy concept that gets subverted in Escape in the Fog.
The Port Authority chief's office looks like at first precisely like one of these
ultra-safe locations where Government and Societal authority issues its orders.
SPOILERS. But later on in the film, the Nazi villain sneaks into the office at night, and uses
the chief's desk and phone to impersonate the Port Authority chief.
Perhaps I am pushing the idea too far, but Escape in the Fog might be suggesting that what
looks like a center of power, a chief's office, might actually be a point of weakness and vulnerability.
There is perhaps an allegory here suggesting that concentrated power in a point of weakness, not strength.
By contrast, spreading power among many different people (inevitably which would include
women and many races), will be a source of social strength.
The packet is an archetypal MacGuffin: something key to the plot, but whose contents
don't really matter. It perhaps relates to the big sums of money that drive other Boetticher
plots, such as the strongbox filled with gold in Seven Men from Now.
The plot suffers from being a series of episodes, in which both sides
keep battling for possession of the all-important packet.
This construction keeps the story from building any momentum or flow,
or involving the viewer with any substance attached to the events.
Still, many of the events are interesting, even if they are thinly connected.
The events are also richly plotted, full of detail. A lot happens, for an hour of film.
In other Boetticher, the big sums of money are just subplots, that are integrated
into more complex stories. The strongbox in Seven Men from Now is an example.
It plays a key role, but it is also part of a mix that involves the hero's
murdered wife, and intricate personal relationships.
Escape in the Fog is a highly technological film. The hero is a specialist
in radio, then among the most advanced technology of the day. We see a police radio room.
The Navy is experimenting with a radio-controlled ship.
The bad guys employ bugging. They also know how to spy on telephone numbers others dial.
The lens projection is a cool device.
The numerous clocks are interesting imagery.
The good guys have a series of headquarters. These headquarters are filled with information,
and also ways to communicate information:
The bad guys hang out in a room that seems like a parody of such information centers:
a shop filled with hundreds of clocks. This seems like a surrealist variant
on the information centers used by the good guys. This bad guys' room is less functional
than the heroes' information centers - but it is impressive anyway.
- Kruger's living room is full of books: a key source and symbol of information.
It also has a grandfather clock.
- The Port Authority office has a globe. And a telephone used by the Intelligence chief,
that will play a key role in the plot.
- The police work in a room that contains a radio center: the ultimate high tech information-communication
technology of the era. The room also include a desk with telephone used by the policeman in charge to
communicate information. A map hangs on the wall over the radian station: maps, like globes,
Boxes Containing Men
Escape in the Fog has a number of Boetticher's box-like containers:
The spy master's living room has bookcases on angles in the corners. This gives it
the shape of a large polygonal box.
- There are not one, but three telephone booths: one at the resort, a pair outside a naval office.
- The area for the clerk in the clock store. This is closed in by racks filled with watches, a visually spectacular effect.
- The restaurant contains both a region for the bartender, and a booth for the hero and heroine.
- The good guy spy leader's porch is a frequent setting. It is photographed
sometimes so that characters seem contained in it.
- The alley at the end.
- The underground passage leading off from the alley, through a manhole.
There are fewer poles in Escape in the Fog than in other Boetticher.
The flashlight carried by the cop on the bridge, and the candles used as
sealing wax by the good guy spies, might be examples. Although they are a bit
smaller than most Boetticher poles.
The putters carried by two golfers at the resort might also be examples,
although they play no role in the plot. The golfers are a male-female couple, rather
than a group of men, which would be more typical of Boetticher.
The inn has a lamp post out front.
Some of the most complex camera movements occur in the good guy spy master's living room:
The camera also oscillates with the hero in his room, as he walks back and forth to the telephone.
- We follow the butler into the room, then back, with lateral moves.
Then the camera moves forward to the clock.
- When the heroine leaves, a long take follows the characters in the room,
then watches them go out into the hall, through the door. The camera then
follows the spy master even further to the left, to the telephone.
- Vertical camera movements show the bad guy adjusting the bugging in the clock.
One such movement goes both down and up.
Some camera movements go from left-to-right:
Some camera movements with the villains go from right-to-left:
- Across the inn lawn, winding up at the couple's table. This movement partly follows some men walking.
- Across the clock store interior, the first time the clock store is shown.
- From the desk where the villain puts together the torn paper, across the back room to where the heroine is tied up.
- Down the hallway where the villain enters by flashlight at night.
- When the cops perform the final rescue, first a camera movement follows them down the street.
Then a second brief movement is inside the shop, following the cops crossing it.
A shot moves left-to-right from a phone booth across a hall, finds the couple entering on the right,
then moves right-to-left, following them walking to the phone booth.
- In front of the police station outside, after the good guys finish their business, the camera pans to the left, revealing a hiding bad guy.
- The camera follows the villains across the roof, in a brief movement.
Vertical camera movements go from the hero down to the message on his table, then back up to the hero again: all in one shot.
Escape in the Fog has some problems. The dream prophecy promotes
paranormal ideas. Science has thoroughly discredited paranormal concepts.
Columbia Pictures B-movies of the era liked to show men in dressy, fancy uniforms.
Escape in the Fog keeps to this tradition. First we see a doorman in a spiffy
uniform. Then sailors and Naval officers. Finally, there are large groups of
policemen, including a motorcycle cop. While the doorman is a solitary figure, the
sailors, Naval officers and police form men in groups.
The motorcycle cop's tall boots are among the few leather clothes in the movie. He wears leather gloves too.
The policeman on the bridge wears one of the black rain slickers that run
Assigned to Danger
Assigned to Danger (1948) is a crime thriller.
The opening (right under the initial credits) shows a rectilinear facade of buildings on a city street.
The facade makes a fascinating series of rectangular patterns, like other such Boetticher facades.
Soon, the camera will shift to another location, to the right. But after some action,
we will return to the original street and facade. Now it is framed differently,
so that just a subsection of it appears. And it is crowded into a somewhat different region
of the screen. This produces another interesting, Mondrian-like composition of rectangles.
It is related to the opening shot - but different.
Capture and Shooting: Staging
When the police corner the criminals, we see them in a large empty street.
The camera is at a a slightly elevated angle.
The Young Doctor
The young doctor is an enterprising man, who is trying to make himself known to everyone in the small town.
The film pokes fun at his eager self-promotion.
In a benevolent way, the doctor anticipates Robert Ryan's villain in Horizons West,
who is trying to take over much of Texas. Both are ambitious young go-getters,
who are trying to take over a territory.
Both men have geographical information about their territory:
However, the doctor is a strictly benign person, not a crook like Ryan. He is simply trying to take over
from an older doctor who is retiring, and with the retiring doc's permission.
He is a comic-but-honest man on the make, not a criminal.
- Ryan has a big map of Texas on his wall.
- The young doctor has file cards with the addresses of nearly everybody in town.
The noble doctor in Decision at Sundown leads a revolt of the good townspeople against the evil town dictator.
Like the young doctor in Assigned to Danger, he too is trying to "take over" a town,
in a benevolent way.
Some of the police are in black leather uniform jackets, during the scene where Nip is shot.
The young doctor (future writer Dean Riesner) wears a white medical uniform.
Assigned to Danger has a number of offices, where good-guy men exercise social power:
The hero gets his orders from the older, patriarchal authority figure in the insurance office, at the film's start.
Such orders from authority figures are common in spy dramas and many thrillers.
- The boss at the insurance company.
- The young doctor.
- The District Attorney at the finale.
When the surviving crooks go to the woman's apartment, the scene inside is shot in
one long take. The camera eventually moves to the left, then back to the right, then
to the center again, then to the right. It is a complex piece of staging.
Other long takes:
The scene where the couple discover Frankie is dead, is shot in two long takes.
There is a quiet break to a second shot, right after the discovery.
- The doctor's office.
- The first scene of the hero in his room at the inn.
- The breakfast scene. This has the camera moving from the inn lobby to the dining room.
Behind Locked Doors
Behind Locked Doors (1948) is a mystery thriller set in an insane asylum.
Behind Locked Doors recalls Escape in the Fog:
The asylum wall also anticipates the wall of the farm family the escaped convict will kill in The Killer Is Loose.
Both are lonely walls with a closed door in them. Both are the setting of eerie suspense scenes.
- Both are moody suspense films, with characters wandering around in dangerous situations at night.
- Both have men in danger, rescued and protected by the heroine: a reversal of film cliches.
- Both have their leads locked up and imprisoned in their finales.
- The opening of Behind Locked Doors walking along the asylum wall, recalls the opening
of walking on the bridge of Escape in the Fog. Both take place at night, both feature women.
Dictatorship and Revolt
The asylum has features of some of the dictatorial regimes regularly criticized in Boetticher:
As in other Boetticher, the protagonists work to undercut the regime. Behind Locked Doors
is unusual in that both a man and a woman are lead figures, attacking the regime.
- It is under dictatorial control by authority figures, who mistreat the inmates.
- It is run by a crooked judge, anticipating the crooked government officials in
Buchanan Rides Alone.
- The inmates are exploited as forced, unpaid labor, anticipating the underpaid exploited miners
in War of the Silver Kings.
- People are unable to leave, also recalling the hostage Mexican in Buchanan Rides Alone.
When the heroine goes to a social authority figure for help, the state medical examiner, he refuses to help.
Instead, support actually comes when a decent worker at the asylum revolts. One suspects there is a political
allegory in this, with worker resistance being a key to social change - and recognizing that the upper classes
will stick together and resist change.
The hero's roommate and fellow inmate is the main source of information about conditions
in the asylum. He can stand for political dissenters in society. He anticipates the honest doctor
who criticizes the town boss in Decision at Sundown.
The hero and heroine both have trickster features, running deceitful scams to gain entrance
into the asylum. The hero also manipulates the firebug to search the asylum, in another "trick".
The heroine is another Boetticher character who uses disguise.
Women and Gender Roles
The heroine is one of the strong working women in Boetticher, who take part in a man's world
in a position of equality.
The crooked judge's girlfriend is likely a woman he financially supports as a mistress,
although this is not discussed explicitly. She is wearing the fur coat that was a film indicator of a
"kept woman" in that era, whether a mistress or a rich man's trophy wife. Boetticher tends to
disapprove of women who are "personal property of wealthy men".
Men in Groups
The hero and his two roommates at the asylum are examples of Boetticher men who sleep in groups.
Both the asylum inmates and guards have common uniforms, also a Boetticher tradition.
So do the police who appear at the end.
Box-Like Spaces for Men
The rooms at the asylum are examples of Boetticher's box-like spaces containing men.
This is especially true of the cells in the Violent Ward upstairs. All of the rooms seem
simple geometrically, unlike some of the regions in other Boetticher.
The staircase is the entrance to the Violent Ward, which contains the key information about the crime plot.
So the staircase is closely linked to the plot: any time someone gets close to the Violent Ward,
they have to pass through the staircase. This is true of both crooks and good guys. So there are several
dramatic scenes on the staircase.
Staircases are also a central film noir image. The prominence of the staircase in Behind Locked Doors
helps establish the movie as firmly linked to film noir traditions. At the finale, the shadows from the staircase grillwork
are prominent on the walls: also a film noir tradition.
The hall scene outside the hero's office near the start, is shot in one take. It's medium-length.
Much of the early scene between the hero and heroine in her hotel room, is shot in a long take.
A high point is when the hero turns around, then lights his lighter for her in a sexy gesture.
Having the hero turn around also highlights his broad shoulders and back, duded up in his sharp pinstripe suit.
When the heroine goes back to the state psychiatrist for help, the scene is in one take.
The door-letterer who paints the hero's name on his office door, carries what seems to be a yardstick,
perhaps used in his work. Signs, especially in bars, are conspicuous in some other Boetticher movies.
Here we have a man who makes them.
Some Boetticher films show swaggering men sitting in leather chairs. The leather furniture in
Behind Locked Doors is not as linked to such swaggering characters.
The state psychiatrist's office is full of it - but he is a subdued, professional acting man.
It does give the swaggering private eye hero a chance to sit on his leather couch,
and make cheeky gestures of peering out under his hat.
The sinister doctor who runs the asylum also has a leather chair.
Richard Carlson is best known for his 1950's work, where he played mature, thoughtful, intelligent
men, often in responsible positions, such as scientists. In Behind Locked Doors, we first see him
in a decidedly different kind of role, as a smart-aleck private eye. He seems to be enjoying himself,
or at least acting that way, all dressed up in one of the sharp 1940's pinstriped suits of a film noir hero.
He flirts with the heroine, makes wisecracks, and in general behaves like one of Boetticher's
comic tricksters. These scenes seem designed as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the audience,
suggesting how much fun it would be to be a private eye.
However, once the hero takes on his undercover role at the asylum, this aspect falls away. The hero gets in sober
clothes, and what seems to be Carlson's real screen persona emerges: sober, intelligent and responsible.
A young resident at the asylum who doesn't speak is played by former child star Dickie Moore, who played a mute character
just a year before in Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947).
While the resident conspicuously doesn't speak in Behind Locked Doors,
the film does not make clear whether he is mute, or too emotionally traumatized to speak.
Killer Shark (1950) is about shark fishermen.
It is grim, repulsive, uninventive, and just plain awful: likely Boetticher's worst film.
Links to The Bullfighter and the Lady
Killer Shark anticipates The Bullfighter and the Lady:
- It features men battling fierce killer animals.
- The protagonists are young men trying to learn the fighting skills from experienced older males.
- The protagonists are refined, even patrician, young Americans, decent, respectful and polite.
- The young men are from America, and the action takes place in Mexico.
- Really bad things happen to the characters in both films.
Boetticher Subjects: The Opening
Before the action of Killer Shark descends into total grimness,
the opening contains some relatively light-hearted events that recall Boetticher traditions:
Towards the middle of the film, an evil barman in a sinister cantina serves as another
trickster, supplying the hero with a rotten crew. He is much more evil than the more
light-hearted trickster who lures the hero up to the crow's nest.
- The men all sleep together in a common bunk room on ship: communal sleeping being a Boetticher image.
- The heroine walks into the cabin while the hero is changing his clothes, thus causing the naive young man to panic.
This anticipates the comic scenes in Stopover where the naive young man is
forced to share a bedroom with a sexy older woman, much to his embarrassment.
- A trickster character lures the young hero into climbing up to the ship's crow's nest.
We get a steep overhead view shot.
- The father wears a shiny black slicker on ship.
- The cantina is another Boetticher saloon.
Throughout the film, financial negotiations play a role, both in hiring and paying fishermen,
and timing the sale of sharks to market prices. Aside from the hero and his father,
the fishermen are all working class men.
Cooking and Gender Roles
Killer Shark has no less than two men who cook. Both are professional cooks:
one is the ship's cook, the other runs a small cantina. They even have a discussion, in which the
ship's cook denounces the cantina owner's food as lousy.
The ship's cook is called Maestro. As he explains, it is a term of respect.
Box-Like Spaces Containing Men
The dock has a stairwell. It is a box-like space enclosing the outdoor stairs.
The bunks on ship are also box-like spaces containing men.
So is the entire cramped cabin room containing the bunks.
This room has a ladder along one wall, ladders and steep stairs being fairly
common in Boetticher's box-like spaces.
The Bullfighter and the Lady
The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951) is the first of three films
Boetticher made about bullfighting.
In The Bullfighter and the Lady there is a restaurant
with many curved arches. These low, wide arches are constantly
kept in the background of the shots, adding to the composition.
Other shots show the circular corrida itself. The arches seem
parabolic; the angled shots of the corrida form an ellipse on
the screen. This fondness for conic sections is a structural motif
of the film.
There is a camera movement near the end, when the hero moves forward
endlessly down the tunnel, on the way to the arena. He passes many other
bullfighters. They are a Boetticher group of men dressed alike.
Soon, the matadors enter the arena, in a geometric procession.
There is a striking overhead pan, showing the car leaving the arena. This is one
of several Boetticher shots from a steep overhead angle - at its start, at least.
The Cimarron Kid
The Cimarron Kid (1952) is Boetticher's first Western.
The scene in the stables is one of Boetticher's tense, suspenseful confrontation scenes.
The stable stalls where the gang hides out, are some of Boetticher's
box-like structures containing men.
The hero and heroine walk down the sidewalk of a street in the town of Boonesville.
This is one of Boetticher's gently sloping streets. Periodically, they step down
to lower and lower levels of the sidewalk.
Eventually they reach a store that sells ladies' goods. This has a tilted shop window, that
reflects the street.
Two men pursue them. These a are small group of men who dress alike. a Boetticher tradition.
These men wear dark, three-piece suits with vests, similar string ties with white dress shirts,
and different but "serious looking" hats.
Eventually the hero and heroine leave the store, and follow the reverse path
back up the sidewalk by which they arrived.
The Plummer Hotel and Round House
The round house sequence is a brilliant scene. It is notable for its visual style.
It starts in the street in the front of the Plummer Hotel (first half of the sequence).
Then it moves to the railroad Round House (second half of the sequence).
The setting embodies many of the architectural motifs and approaches that run through Boetticher's films:
When the Sheriff and his men emerge and march down the street towards the trapped heroes,
they form one of the organized processions in Boetticher.
- The porch of the Plummer Hotel is one of the box-like structures containing men.
- The trap is set on an open space in the street.
- Deep perspective views down the street show the wagons used to block off the street.
- The front of the round house is a rectilinear building facade, making a
complex geometric pattern.
- The door makes complex rectilinear geometry out of a bolt.
- The back side of the round house is also a rectilinear building facade.
Like many in Boetticher, it is full of recessed spaces leading into the building,
here spaces for the trains. (It lacks the porticos often found in such facades though.)
Next to the building are two other buildings with peaked, slanting roofs. Such
diagonal, slanting lines are NOT part of Boetticher's usually purely rectilinear facades.
- A huge circular space is behind the round house.
- It has a moveable set of railroad tracks, that form a sort of bridge over which
the heroes hope to escape.
- The train engines can be considered as very large poles. Poles in Boetticher are
sometimes either revolving objects, or linked to revolving objects:
here the turntable.
Red-Green Color in the Plummer Sequence
The events just before the round house take place in the porch of the Plummer Hotel,
and the street in front of it. They are largely designed in a red-and-green color scheme.
Red and green are Complementary Colors, and are widely used together in design, including film.
Much of the Hotel porch is painted green. There are also green trees and vegetation.
The road is red: perhaps it has been painted. The hay wagon in the distance looks reddish;
so do some of the wagons in the distance, pulled across the road. One of the wagons has red wheels.
Rose is in a pink blouse. Her outfit will soon color-harmonize with the striking shade
of off-red with which the round house is painted. It is an eye-pooping display of color.
A man on the porch wears a blue shirt. This is an exception to the dominant red-and-green color scheme.
Red-Blue Color in the Round House Sequence
The Round House sequence is mainly in a dazzling bright off-red, with which the buildings are painted.
But it also draws on blue clothes worn by some of the law men. Audie Murphy's gray shirt
can also seem a bit blue-ish in this context.
The "bridge" with the tracks, has red streaks, perhaps painted into the wood.
The green trees, so prominent in the Plummer Hotel road just before, largely are absent in the Road House episode.
Horses and Color
Heroes Audie Murphy and James Best ride horses that have very similar markings and colors.
Such matched costumes or horses are a Boetticher motif.
James Best is in shades of brown, that color-harmonize with his horse.
Brown is not a dressy color, and the brown outfit suggests (accurately) that Best is
not the film's hero.
Audie Murphy, the film's lead, is in a dressier gray shirt and black hat.
The great beauty of Horizons West (1952) as a color film
can not be overemphasized. Both the clothes and the sets are richly
colorful. The subtle colors make harmonies with each other. As
in the musical, the Western offers a chance to escape into a different
world, one in which every color is rich and vibrant. Whether it's
Julie Adams' fiery red dress and headdress, or Rock Hudson's purple
leather vest, the colors are at the center of visual interest
at all times. They are the most important things on the screen
at any moment. It is not individual colors alone, but their combination
into color harmonies and compositions that is striking.
The General's comic opera uniform is in red and blue. "Red and blue" make
a vibrating color scheme, one that is busy-looking and flamboyant to the eye.
Rad-and-blue is not seen that often in films, or real life clothes,
because it tends to overwhelm the eye and everything in sight. However,
it is comically appropriate for the character. It gives him genuine flair,
making a real splash.
Robert Ryan's gray underscores his pride in being a former Confederate
officer, a pride the film constantly suggests is misplaced. Boetticher's
films offer a consistently liberal commentary on Civil Rights,
the most important political and social issue of their day. We
see the US Army's prideful, disastrous attack on wronged Native
Americans in Seminole, and the discrimination against the
young Mexican hero of Buchanan Rides Alone. The fact that
villainous Ryan is a product of the Confederacy suggests that
there is something wrong with both.
The sinister rich people in Horizons West employ black servants.
These servants are presented in a dignified, non-stereotyped way.
The film is perhaps linking villainy and corruption in the rich,
with the system of racial oppression prevalent in old Texas.
Ryan's gray suits are close to modern-day business suits.
They barely have any Western feel. One is even pinstriped, like a modern suit.
If the gray color echoes the Confederacy, it also links his character to
"business", a world where gray is still the preferred color for men's suits.
There is a satire of business in Horizons West, a linking of business
to both corrupt men like Ryan, and perhaps also the evils of the Confederacy.
Ryan's white shirt at the end is also just a dress shirt, the kind a modern-day man
might wear with a business suit. It too has little or no Western feel.
It is fun to see Dennis Weaver in the role of Dandy, a flashily
dressed henchman of Ryan's. Weaver is not the first actor who
comes to mind when thinking of screen dudes, after all the naive
types he's played on TV shows. But he really goes to town with
this role. Boetticher has a fondness for villainous men whose
pride causes them to be dressed to the teeth: see Legs Diamond,
or the bad guys in Buchanan Rides Alone and Decision at Sundown.
Dandy's whole life seems bound up in being Ryan's Number 2.
This is perhaps an example of a male bonding character. However,
many supporting characters in Hollywood films in general often lack
romantic relationships: there just isn't time to work a romance for them
into the plot.
The gifted Weaver appeared in lots of good movies.
He starred in one of the best of all TV movies,
Ishi: The Last of His Tribe (Robert Ellis Miller, 1978), and he
also appeared in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958)
and Curtis Harrington's
What's the Matter with Helen? (1971), both classics.
Weaver plays another well-dressed man in What's the Matter with Helen?.
A Dictator's Rise
Horizons West is basically a gangster film, although it
is set in the old West. Ryan's character rises to power through
illegal means, just like a gangster in 1930's Chicago, and he
has a group of henchmen who aid him in his task. As in many gangster
films, we see the anguish of the honest family who love him, but
who are opposed to his crooked ways. Robert Ryan resembles the
later Legs Diamond. Both are well dressed smoothies who both charm
and cheat their way to the top.
Ryan gets both a crooked lawman and crooked judge in his employ.
This played a bit for comic effect. Ryan seems like one of Boetticher's
trickster characters, someone who enjoys clever schemes.
Both lawman and judge seem like Ryan 's creations, men who work for him and who he has caused
to be put in power, rather than honest officials he has corrupted -
although the film is not explicit on this point.
The Marshal of Austin plays this comedy to the hilt, clearly enjoying being a fake cop.
He gets to wear the famous Texas lawman's badge, later associated with the
The judge anticipates the judge in the Maverick episode War of the Silver Kings.
Both men are under the influence of the trickster protagonist. In Horizons West
this is corruption, pure and simple. In the comic War of the Silver Kings,
the hero Maverick is a good guy trickster character, just as wily and any "bad"
trickster, but on the side of social justice. His influence on the judge is
more subtle, honest and complex than Ryan's, but with an insidious side in both films.
There are other ways in which Ryan resembles Maverick to come in War of the Silver Kings:
- Both men organize ordinary people, Ryan going to the veteran's camp to do so.
- And both men get into high stake poker games with some of the town's richest men,
even though they don't have much money and are playing over their head.
Women and Gender
Julie Adams plays a glamorous woman who wants to be supported by rich men.
She is a villainess, and will collaborate in crimes.
Her clothes are some of the fanciest seen in any Western, full of
elaborate feminine frills. This symbolizes her embodiment of "traditional femininity".
Sally (Judith Braun) is the direct opposite. She works for her living,
and succeeds in a man's world. She is a good woman. She also dresses in men's clothes on the job,
although she wears dresses to parties. Even in Westerns, in which cowgirls often
dress sensibly, these are mannish-looking clothes.
Food and Drink
Cooking, food and drink play roles in Horizons West, as they do
in other Boetticher. In this film, cooking seems pretty simply the province
of the mother (the wonderful Frances Bavier, later famous as Mayberry's Aunt Bee).
Much is made of her cornbread. However, there is a sequence of men bringing
in an anniversary cake: this perhaps links men to cooking, a subject that is more
prominent in other Boetticher films.
The good characters have family meals together.
By contrast, villainous protagonist Ryan is frequently shown drinking.
Other villains, like Julie Adams and Dandy, also drink. They are among Boetticher's
typical thirsty characters. A camera movement tracks Ryan and Dandy down a bar.
Saloons show up most regularly in Boetticher's crooked, dictatorial-run towns,
rather than more honest places. So do card games. Boetticher apparently sees a link
between vice like gambling and saloons, and political corruption.
Geometry of Spaces
Robert Ryan and/or Julie Adams are in oddly shaped spaces,
a Boetticher tradition:
The corral with the shoot-out near the end is also irregularly polygonal.
- They meet on a slanting street in Austin:
not an enclosed space, but perhaps related, due to its oddly
emphatic tilted ground.
- Adams comes to warn Ryan in his hotel room. The room has a
prominently tilted roof.
- Ryan crawls under a wire fence - although this is not a well-defined, box-like space.
- At the end, Adams is held at gunpoint underneath an outdoor staircase,
in the triangular region beneath. (Perhaps the entire balcony-and-staircase
construction should be considered as a large box, holding all the characters at the finale).
Robert Ryan and Julie Adams meet in a room with corner book cases.
While they are not actually enclosed, the bookcases give the corner a box-like feel.
Corner book cases also appear in Escape in the Fog.
Burr plays poker, twice, on circular tables in the corners of square looking rooms.
Burr's mansion exterior is one of the rectilinear buildings sometimes
found in Boetticher. Its numerous brick columns, as rectilinear as
the rest of the building, underscore the severe geometry.
Some buildings in Austin have arched doorways or decoration outside.
And inside some offices, we can look out through windows and see these arches.
Boetticher emphasizes these rounded arches in his shots.
Boetticher often follows the standard Hollywood practice, of framing actors against different
background regions. For example, in their early meeting, Ryan is framed against a store window,
while Julie Adams is shown against an alley with a staircase. (Ryan's huge yellow leather gauntlets are also
conspicuous, part of Boetticher's emphasis on leather clothes.)
After Julie Adams' carriage drives off, we see the now full-figure Ryan framed against a narrower store window,
one that emphasizes the verticals of his figure. His gauntlets are now framed against adjacent panels.
There are more unusual framings, as well. When Julie Adams warns Ryan in his hotel room,
his bare-chested figure is outlined against two picture frames on the wall.
One frame just sticks out the tiniest bit past his chest. Another frames the lower part
of his head and neck. One winders if these frames have been placed purposively,
to enable this effect. Meanwhile, a lamp on the wall helps isolate Adams.
In the corner bookcase scene, Ryan is standing just in front of the angle
where the cases meet in the corner, a strong vertical line.
It helps emphasize the vertical qualities of his figure.
Poles play less of a role in Horizons West than in some Boetticher:
- The outlaw camp greets Ryan's arrival with torches. One is stuck upright in the ground,
near the start of the encounter. This anticipates the spear stuck in the ground
to start negotiations in Ride Lonesome.
- In a love scene with Adams, Ryan has a phallic candle right in front of him.
Seminole (1953) is a Western. It takes place in Florida in 1835,
which is not in the Western part of the United States.
But its story of conflict between Native Americans and the US Army is squarely in the Western genre.
Seminole is one of the most trenchant pro-Civil Rights films of its era.
1950's Westerns often explored Civil Rights in general, by depicting relations between
whites and Native Americans. Seminole is unusually thorough in this regard,
touching on an exceptionally wide range of racial themes.
SPOILER. The finale has a great moral, celebrating Osceola for loving all of mankind.
It is an expression of universal love and non-violence. It recalls Gandhi,
and anticipates the soon-to-emerge US Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King.
The moral is unusually trenchant, achieving a deep level of thought.
It helps us model our own behavior.
Other Boetticher films also contain closing morals about the importance of love, notably
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.
Boetticher films often show a town in the grip of a town boss or gangster.
These stories evoke sinister dictators, and stand as a condemnation of dictators and their power.
Boetticher can show these gangsters' rise and fall.
Seminole is both related to these tales, and different from them.
The Major is in command of almost all of frontier Florida. His power has little to check it,
and his arbitrary control resembles other Boetticher dictators.
He is also as selfish, callous and rotten in his behavior as Boetticher's gangsters.
Like them, he is vastly more concerned with his personal advancement,
than the ugly effect his rule has on those under his control.
But he differs from Boetticher's gangsters in that his power was given him by the US Army and
Government. He didn't claw his way to the top through criminal means.
He instead seems like a "typical" example of military rule, military occupation,
and the war-mongering mentality. Seminole implicitly compares all of these
to dictatorship, and condemns them.
Just as gangster/town boss Robert Ryan in Horizons West has a big wall map of Texas,
showing the extent of his criminal empire, so does the Major in Seminole
have a wall map of Florida in his office. He uses it to explain his strategy.
His arrogance in expressing on this map how
he wants vast populations living in Florida moved and disposed of,
is a chilling embodiment of overreach and the horrors of military occupation.
(There is also a wall map of the United States, which plays no direct role in the plot.
Like his picture of George Washington, it simply conveys that this is a
US Government office, and a center of state power.)
The Major puts one of his own men (hero Rock Hudson) under surveillance, having Hudson spied on.
Such surveillance is associated with totalitarian regimes: in 1953, audiences would
associate this with the Gestapo and the KGB. Most audience members would find
such surveillance to be chillingly anti-democratic.
Women and Gender
The heroine is another Boetticher woman who works in a man's world on equal terms.
She runs a trading post.
She has a woman servant who cooks for her. Her offer of food to the hero
is depicted as a form of courtship. This is a fairly conventional linking
of women and food, unlike some other Boetticher films.
Boetticher films often show men being thrust into water against their will.
Such scenes range from the comic to the sinister. Seminole is especially rich
in such water scenes. The central section of the film is a long trek into the swamp,
by the US soldiers. We get a slapstick scene, where the Major stumbles deep into the water,
thus ruining the spit-and-polish uniform he is obsessed with.
More sinister are the events that engulf Gerard (James Best). He moves through
a series of terrible disasters involving submersion.
The callous treatment by the Major of Gerard, reveals the full depth of the Major's anti-humane,
James Best is a gifted actor who never became a star. The working class and Southern farmer
aspects that are instantly conveyed by Best's persona, probably kept him out of
most leading man roles. But they are big assets in Seminole, where they mark Best's
character as a typical enlisted man on a lower social and power level from the officers deciding his fate.
Seminole stands as a rebuke to the military system where officers have undemocratic power
over enlisted men.
When the rains come towards the end of the picture, it is more of the wet weather that
sometimes runs through Boetticher.
One character moves into the water voluntarily.
The Seminole scout who fights with Rock Hudson at the start, escapes by diving into
the water and disappearing. This anticipates Dobie's vigorous dive and swim in Comanche Station.
Messages that are intercepted or altered sometimes play a role in Boetticher.
Nothing this extreme happens in Seminole, but there are some mild incidents
that might be related:
- The hero carries his letter to the heroine, because it is faster than the mail service.
He hands it to her, then takes it out of her hand, telling her what the message contains.
This is all comedy.
- More seriously, the hero unwittingly leaves before the heroine can arrive with the important message
from the Seminoles.
The finale is remarkably dramatic. The carrying of the body relates to the burying scenes in other
Boetticher. It is also one of the well-staged processions that appear in Boetticher films.
Box-Like Spaces Containing Men
The pit used as a prison in the final scenes, is an archetypal example
of that Boetticher construction, a "large box-like space containing men".
Like several such Boetticher spaces, it allows men to climb around in it: it has a ladder.
The pit is less "odd-shaped" or irregular than some Boetticher spaces.
It is a perfect rectilinear region. (But then, the entire fort is one of Boetticher's
The fireplace at the trading posts is certainly box-shaped. But humans do
not stand inside it. Instead, people see through it. The heroine gets her first glance
at the hero, looking through it. He is framed by the space - but not inside it.
When Hudson leaves the trading post, he ducks under the fairly low hitching post outside.
It's not a box-shaped space: it's just a rail. But it's a striking image,
and perhaps related to the actual box-like spaces that run through Boetticher films.
Rectilinear Building Exteriors
The wall of the fort is featured prominently, especially in the final scenes.
While it has some diagonal lines, it is mainly one of Boetticher's
rectilinear facades. Boetticher often shoots the wall, so that it is largely
parallel to the frame of the image. This brings out the geometric aspects of the wall.
The fort wall has two sides: one outside the fort, and one inside. Seminole
shows the inside wall far more, especially in those crucial late scenes.
The fort gates are doors with a bolt, a Boetticher favorite.
The doors have some diagonal lines in their upper parts, so they are not as purely rectilinear
as doors-and-bolts in other Boetticher films.
Boetticher films often feature pole-like objects, which are likely phallic symbols.
Seminole is full of them. The Native Americans carry lances, which they dramatically plunge into the ground,
spears and long knives, and use arrows. The US Army soldiers carry long guns, wear swords,
and an officer carries what seems to be a swagger stick.
Cannons are carried on the expedition,
and the Major's relentless concern with them suggests the Major is obsessed with phallic display.
This most likely stems from the dictatorial Major's search for power.
Scenes show the Army men elaborately cleaning their guns: the Major has an obsession with
sharp spit-and-polish uniforms and gear. This shot is vivid, with soldier after soldier
polishing up a very long gun. There are also scenes of sharpening swords,
and ostentatiously strapping them on.
The men are often in phallic headgear. The US Army soldiers wear huge hats in the shape of
truncated cones, which in turn have plumes on top: two layers of tall jutting hat.
These are elegant and dressy, and are closer to fancy display uniforms, than the sort
of functional hats often worn in Westerns set in later eras.
Some of the Native Americans, especially Kajeck, wear elaborately plumed headdresses.
The hero is named "Lance".
There is also a flag pole in various Army offices.
Red-Blue Color Scheme
When the expedition leaves the fort, it is lugging cannon. The cannon seem blue-ish; the soldiers' uniforms
are blue; the ground in red-ish. This produces one of Boetticher's favorite color schemes, "red and blue".
Red-Blue-Yellow: Colors in the Finale
Red, blue and yellow are the three primary colors. They are often thought to go well together,
in design, painting and film. Much of the finale of Seminole is in red-blue-yellow.
The final stage of the trial centers on the men's dress Army uniforms. These are mainly blue,
but have huge yellow epaulettes, giving them broad areas of yellow. They are worn with red sashes.
A blue-and-yellow US map is on the wall, color harmonizing with the uniforms.
The US flag is bright red and blue. The map frame can seem a bit reddish.
At the outdoor finale, Army uniforms are once again prominent. But these are not dress uniforms,
and have no red sashes or other red aspects. They are mainly blue with a little yellow, lacking the huge epaulettes.
The ground of the fort and the wooden walls can be seen as brown - or perhaps as a bit reddish.
Still this hardly makes a full red-blue-yellow harmony.
The arrival of the Seminole changes this dramatically. Kajeck is in bright red costume, paint and hair.
He completes the color harmony in a spectacular way. The shades of red are fascinating.
His sleeves also have blue elements.
The other Seminole also are in clothes mainly consistent with the red-blue-yellow scheme.
The color becomes vividly rich and varied, within this overall color scheme.
The big exception to red-blue-yellow is the heroine. She is in a green dress.
This makes her stand out from everyone else. During much of the scene, we only get glimpses of her,
not enough to affect the overall scheme. But at the very end, she and the hero form the key persons shown.
With the hero in blue and the heroine in green, we move to a different color pattern in these final moments.
The Native American Costumes
The Seminole clothes are in spectacular color. They make an eye-catching display of color
in every scene they are in. The face paint is richer in color and design than most of the
conventional "war paint" seen in Hollywood Westerns.
The body and face paint worn by Kajeck (Hugh O'Brian) is also spectacular.
The handsome O'Brien displays this to advantage, with his muscular physique.
O'Brian is not the only one who gets to display his bare chest. Hero
Rock Hudson has a poultice tied to his chest after being shot with an arrow.
The fastenings are another, mild example of a Boetticher hero being tied up.
Much is made of the big black leather boots the US Army officers wear.
Even in the swamp, the Major has them shined.
They are carried over to him in a conspicuous scene.
The heroine's first glimpse of the hero after a long separation, is of
his boots, seen through the fireplace. She instantly recognizes him.
Having the hero equated with his boots is a witty conceit. It suggests that
the sexuality suggested by the sharp boots is part of the hero's masculine appeal.
As with Robert Ryan in Horizons West, we see the hero's
uniform gauntlets. Their cuffs seem to be leather.
The Man from the Alamo
The Man from the Alamo (1953) is a Western.
The hero is relentlessly tormented by both Army officers and civilian war workers, for his alleged cowardice.
It is a horrendous persecution. Such persecution activities are not discussed as a "institution" by the film -
but certainly there is a skepticism expressed about such things.
Similarly, in the modern-day crime thriller The Killer Is Loose,
Wendell Corey has been mercilessly hounded and ridiculed by his former Sergeant, during the war.
It is part of Corey's motivation, and has perhaps warped his life and personality.
No one in authority will believe Nina Foch in Escape in the Fog.
Perhaps similarly, no one with believe Carlos in The Man from the Alamo.
Both characters are outsiders and minorities (a woman in Escape in the Fog,
a Mexican-American in The Man from the Alamo), trying to convince military authority.
Both characters are telling the truth, but find it hard to convince others.
Box-Like Spaces Containing Men
The interior wall of the Alamo is irregular. It includes a sloping ramp.
Perhaps the entire Alamo is one of Boetticher's "strange-shaped spaces containing men".
The opening scenes showing defiant fighters at the Alamo are full of
phallic symbols: The knife polished by the black man, rifles, a canon used to convey defiance.
Finally, men try to rescue a flag whose pole is broken.
The fighters at the Alamo are in brownish, bedraggled costumes. When the enemy messenger
shows up, he is in a startlingly dressy uniform, making a total contrast.
These clothes tell much about the resources of the two sides.
The Mexican uniform is in that favorite Boetticher combination, red-and-blue.
Several of the Alamo fighters are in that Boetticher favorite, leather clothes.
This includes the hero's leather coat, and a buckskin outfit from Tennessee.
Soon, Hugh O'Brian shows up in his fancy buckskin uniform.
The Killer Is Loose
The Killer Is Loose (1956) is based on a short story
of the same title "The Killer Is Loose" by brothers John and Ward Hawkins,
(The Saturday Evening Post, June 13, 1953). It is a fairly faithful
adaptation, preserving the essential structure of the plot.
The Saturday Evening Post was an enormously popular and prestigious
market for fiction in this era, and it is not surprising to see a tale
from it adapted for the movies. The story is reprinted in the anthology
Best Detective Stories of the Year 1954 edited by David C. Cooke.
The Hawkins' story precedes Joseph Hayes' novel The Desperate Hours
(1954), which Hayes made into a play (1955) and film (1955).
The Killer Is Loose anticipates Seven Men from Now,
centering on a man trying to track down his wife's killers.
Both men bear guilt for their wife's fate.
Poole the criminal is also an example of a Boetticher trickster character.
He enjoys tricking the prison guards and Highway Patrol - although this is much more
sinister than the cops tricked by Boston Blackie or Maverick.
He uses disguise.
In several Boetticher films, the hero is solitary or has a single sidekick, and
the villain has an entourage. In The Killer Is Loose this situation is reversed:
the villain is conspicuously a man on the run alone, while the policeman hero has a
large supporting team.
The murdered prison guard winds up dead in a ditch, like the victim
shot dead in the stream in Comanche Station. This also recalls characters who
get submerged in water troughs in The Tall T and Comanche Station.
The rain which engulfs the latter parts of the film, recalls the fog in Escape in the Fog,
and the snow in Stopover.
The finale of characters walking around, being suspense targets for a possible shoot-out,
anticipates Buchanan Rides Alone.
Cooking and Gender Roles
Much is made of the wife offering her husband and the other cops coffee, on the
morning after the killer escapes. Coffee runs through Boetticher, with whole scenes built around it.
In the same scene, the wife and husband are shown cooking breakfast,
anticipating the meal preparation in Stopover. While the wife is the primary
cook, the husband is shown helping her with both the food, and setting the table.
It forms a contrast to The Tall T and War of the Silver Kings, in which
cooking is regarded by society as "woman's work", much to the resistance of the characters.
As in War of the Silver Kings, the hero is conspicuously uninterested in the food which
the heroine tries to provide for him.
The hero in The Killer Is Loose tries to distract
the heroine from discussing serious issues, by helping with the cooking. It doesn't work!
There is perhaps a suggestion, that by helping in the kitchen, the husband is trying to placate his wife,
symbolically offering her support. The husband cooks in a purely voluntary manner, like the
good guy men in Stopover, and utterly unlike the villain's henchman who has to be forced into it
in The Tall T, who loudly regards it as woman's work.
Later, the villain Poole will force Mrs. Flanders to cook for him. This bad guy is insisting
on traditional gender roles in the kitchen. The villains in The Tall T also force the heroine
to cook for them, something which plainly makes her uncomfortable.
The bad guy is engulfed in the system of farming and food production. His whole prison
escape, and later his passing through the Highway Patrol roadblock, centers on this.
We also see the little boy eating fruit, while watching television. He seems to be feeding
himself, rather than having women do it for him.
The police use a wide range of technology in The Killer Is Loose, as they do in
many other non-Boetticher films of the era. Technology also follows Boetticher traditions:
- The bugging technology recalls Escape in the Fog.
- The projected photos of the killer in the police lab, recall the projected words in the clock shop
in Escape in the Fog.
- The hero talks into a police radio at the end, to the other cops. This recalls the hero
talking into the microphone for the arena loudspeaker, at the end of
The Bullfighter and the Lady. There is also a radio microphone at the end of
that earlier movie.
The streets at the start have a strange atmosphere. The whole passage looks like
something out of Antonioni, such as La Notte (1961)
or L'Eclisse (1962):
We have a sloping street: a Boetticher favorite.
Buildings are built to adjust to the street slope, emphasizing it.
Similar buildings often occur in other Boetticher films with tilted streets.
- It is full of modernist architecture,
- Long perspective vistas down streets,
- Markings on roads, such as pedestrian crossways.
Box-Like Spaces Containing Men
Boetticher films often feature "strange-shaped spaces that contain men".
The bank interior is such a space. Its front door is set in an angled wall, so that it can view
both sides of a street corner. This angle gives the otherwise box-like interior a
"cut-off corner" shape. The interior is one of Boetticher's largest box-spaces.
It "contains people", like other Boetticher spaces - and the containment effect is enhanced by
the way the people are trapped inside the bank by the robbers.
The bank exterior appears in the first shot in the film. It is toward the end of the shot,
and we see the bank building as whole from across the intersection. The "cut-off corner"
architecture of the bank is conspicuous, with one whole wall on an angle to the rest of the building.
The sloping roof of the bank also makes it a "strange shaped space",
in addition to the cut-off corner wall.
One of the robbers emerges from what looks like a glassed-in entrance region of the Rootes building, next to the bank.
This region has just contained the robber - although he is leaving it when we first see him.
This entrance region can also be considered a box-like space containing a man.
The courtroom has doors in the corners. These doors are at angles to the rest
of the room, making a small "cut-off corner" effect again.
Once again, this produces a "strange-shaped space".
The finale of The Killer Is Loose shows police concealed in box-like spaces all over
the neighborhood: garages, trucks, etc. Most of the spaces are fairly simple in shape, however.
The truck cabins are also spaces containing the bad guy.
After the shooting of Poole's wife, Poole is discovered in a space in the corner, behind a chair.
Poles - and Rotating Elements
The Killer Is Loose opens with a street sign on a pole, like the start of One Mysterious Night.
When the screen (for slides) in the police tech room is folded up, it has the shape of a tall pole,
with the folded screen rotating on it.
The murderous hoe used by Poole, is another of the long poles in Boetticher.
So is the odd-shaped night stick carried by the guard at the prison farm.
Rectilinear Building Exteriors
In the opening street scenes, a man walks by a building with a complex, rectilinear facade,
of rows of white brick. This seems to be the Rootes building, next to the bank.
It has a jutting portico, a feature Boetticher likes on such facades.
The apartment house where villain Poole lives, staked out by police early in the film,
is a large complex, nearly entirely rectilinear in its facade. Its only non-rectilinear elements include "triangle with circle"
designs over its doors. A long camera movement follows the hero as he moves by the building.
The Poole apartment house consists of many sections, that recess into repeated courtyards.
Boetticher likes such recessed openings or gaps in his buildings.
The Flanders home exterior is rectilinear.
The sign on the bank reading "PubliKredit", is in an odd shape. It resembles a railroad crossing sign,
or a bow tie. The sign is also painted on the bank's glass door.
The hero looks at his bedroom clock in the middle of the night.
The clock is hexagonal, like the watch the heroine looks at at the start
of Escape in the Fog.
The heroine and hero's kitchen is purely rectilinear, with wallpaper covered in large squares.
Boetticher shoots it frontally, which emphasizes this, during the "making the breakfast" scene.
The screen becomes a pleasing series of rectilinear regions.
The wall map of the city is divided up into numerous polygonal regions.
It adds a striking jigsaw quality to the scenes shot in front of it. There is also a circle
on the map, showing a radius where the missing man might be. In this scene, the hero's head
is framed by one of the polygonal regions, while his assistant's (Michael Pate) head is
located at the join of several line segments on the map. It is standard classical Hollywood
procedure to frame characters against regions of the background. Boetticher is following
this tradition, but taking advantage of his highly unusual polygonal map to offer a
striking variant example of such a composition.
At the Flanders home, Poole is shot in front of wallpaper covered with
numerous small squares.
The Flanders house is on a curved road.
Boetticher's fondness for leather clothes continues:
The policemen in spiffy trenchcoats are also examples of that Boetticher image,
a group of men dressed alike. The coats are conspicuously light-colored: examples
of the shared colors in clothes that runs through Boetticher.
- The finale involves policemen in black leather LAPD uniforms.
- Shiny black rain slickers are also worn by two different characters.
The uniformed cop Denny is dumb, and does comedy relief. He recalls the equally
none-too-swift uniformed cops who get bamboozled by the bad guys in the pawnshop
in One Mysterious Night.
Seven Men from Now
Seven Men from Now (1956) is the first of seven Westerns Boetticher made
with Randolph Scott. It is Boetticher's finest film.
Seven Men from Now has a mystery structure. We don't learn everything about characters
or their history when we first meet them. There are step-by-step revelations throughout
the film, telling us more and more about them. The story is a model of plot construction,
keeping up audience interest as it steadily reveals hidden facts and connections.
Work: Gender and Pole Imagery
Like other Boetticher, Seven Men from Now has much about work and gender roles.
Scott orders the wife to cook for the men. Admittedly, in that era cooking was
strongly seen as "women's work". Still, this sort of order for a woman to cook
will be given by villains in other Boetticher movies, such as The Killer Is Loose and
The Tall T, rather than a good guy. The wife not only cooks and makes coffee,
but she also ostentatiously serves the men. There is a suggestion of a second place social status
of women to men in this. Earlier, in the film's first scene, Scott helps himself to
coffee - coffee made by other men. Men are perfectly capable of making and serving coffee themselves.
Unlike cooking, which is a more complicated skill, coffee is easy. Boetticher films are
full of coffee imagery, as well as booze: something which also runs through Seven Men from Now.
Scott breaks with gender roles in helping the heroine to wash clothes. As she explicitly
points out, a lot of men would be afraid to do this. Ironically, the film's major phallic
symbol appears in this scene: the long pole used to stir the clothes. In many other Boetticher
films, such long poles are often associated with men in groups.
The film's other phallic pole, the shovel used by Marvin and sidekick to bury a bad guy,
is more in keeping with the Boetticher tradition in its linkage to a pair of men.
The flag carried by the cavalry troop might also qualify as a pole shared by a male group.
Scott, and apparently the film, blames his wife's death on the job she took to support
the couple. But women in other Boetticher films can and do work.
Work: False Pride
Scott's "pride" caused him to turn down a Deputy's job, after he loses his Sheriff position.
He now bitterly regrets this. There are a whole series of "Number Two" men in Boetticher,
who are second-in-command in gangs or crooked towns. Boetticher tends to view this role
with satiric skepticism. Scott's refusal of this job might be linked to similar feelings.
However, the town is not a gang, and the Deputy's job was honest work. It's a job-in-itself,
not a Number Two to a Sheriff.
Also, one wonders about Scott's pride in being Sheriff.
He was a Big Shot: head man in what is probably a tiny town. One suspects his pride was false.
Just as classy Abe Carbo in Buchanan Rides Alone is wasting his talents as the town big wheel,
one suspects the Scott's feeling of pride in his Sheriff's job is not in touch with reality.
Boetticher regularly suggests that worldly ambition is wasting our talents.
Despite the mixed feelings and complex attitudes the good guys and good gals bring to work,
they are all vastly ahead morally of the villains, who want to support themselves by robbery.
Seven Men from Now concludes with a conspicuous scene of the money box being returned
to its rightful custodian, Wells Fargo. The box is also labeled Wells Fargo.
The saloon is full of the vice most often seen in other films in Boetticher's "dictatorial towns":
booze, gambling, hookers and lots of crooked customers. However, there is no sign that
the town that contains it, Flora Vista, is crook-run as a whole. On the other hand,
honest government is in short supply, with a murder being committed in public on a city
street in front of large crowds.
Box-Like Spaces Containing Men
Boetticher likes odd-shaped, three-dimensional spaces containing men:
The hero encounters the heroine at the finale on a sloping town road. This recalls the first meeting
of hero and heroine in old Austin in Horizons West, also on a sloping road in a Western town.
In both cases, architecture seen behind the heroine involves adjustments in the porches and sidewalks
to the road's gentle but noticeable angle.
- Scott sleeps under the wagon, and is able to hear the wife in the wagon above him.
- The area under the saloon staircase has a sloping, complex-shaped roof. Eventually,
it becomes the position of the croupier or dealer in a gambling game.
- The angled porch of the saloon is covered, and wraps around a cut-off corner
of the building, making it an unusual, complex region.
Villains stand there when the husband enters town. The porch is reached by the saloon steps,
further complicating it. (The high steps resemble a bit the steps leading from the
night club lobby to dance floor in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.)
- In the finale, a pair of linked, narrow passages in the rocks are a locale for a shoot-out.
The two together make a complex T-shaped region. The ground in parts of these passages
also slopes, making the spaces even more irregular and complex.
Other Boetticher films contain doorways with rounded arches.
In Seven Men from Now the covered wagon has rounded arches in front and back.
There are some striking shots, shooting through this pair of nested arches.
There are some Point Of View (POV) camera movements, when the husband and wife ride
into town on their wagon. These show the sidewalks of the town, and the people.
They seem to be from the viewpoint of the wife on the moving wagon.
Much of Seven Men from Now is designed in neutrals. This harmonizes with its
But the film breaks out in vibrant red-and-blue color schemes three times.
Red-and-blue is an intense color scheme that seems to set up a vibration in
the viewer's eye. It is the deep opposite of any sort of neutral:
Villain Lee Marvin is associated with his green neck-scarf. He overturns a green table in the saloon.
He also dons a red arm-band in the saloon. Such ornaments seem excessive, in the stripped down world
of Seven Men from Now. Marvin's clothes have an odd, would-be aristocratic look. They vaguely
evoke a rich man's yachting costume of a sports suit worn with an ascot scarf. The ensemble suggests
the character has jaunty presumptions. He simultaneously looks tacky: a low life with delusions
- When the heroine does the wash, she is in blue with a bright red head-scarf.
Bright red clothes are near her on the line.
- The stairs at the saloon are blue-gray, against bright red walls. There is also a red
panel in front of the bar. Various bar-girls, some in shades of red, eventually appear
on the staircase.
- At the finale, the hero appears for the first time in the deep blue shirt the heroine
washed for him earlier. He is in nearly matching pants, and riding his red horse.
Previously red-and-blue was linked to women; now the hero is wearing it, as a gift from the heroine.
(The heroine is in blue, and briefly seen in front of architecture in the complementary color
scheme of blue-and-orange. The hero's horse might also more-or-less correspond with this orange scheme:
but the horse actually looks red.)
At the start, hero Scott is in a shiny black rain slicker. Characters wore this spectacular
costume in The Killer Is Loose. Later, during the rainstorm mid-way through the movie,
first Scott will be in this again, and then the husband unexpectedly dons a similar black slicker.
It is the first hint that maybe the husband is more like Scott in character, rather than unlike him.
Seven Men from Now is simpler in its leather clothes, than some other Boetticher films.
Both the husband and one of the bad guys wear leather vests, ordinary gear for the era.
The Tall T
The Tall T (1957) is the second of seven Westerns Boetticher made
with Randolph Scott.
Boetticher's compositions show his predilections for bold, purely
geometric patterns. One shot depicts Randolph Scott crouching
down and talking, against a landscape background. His thighs make
a V pattern. The lines of the V are directly continued in the
landscape. On the right of Scott there is an unusual rock formation.
Both parts of it exactly match the line of his thigh. Such compositions
made up of continued lines are an important part of design in
traditional European oil painting. The formation has a spherical
boulder on its top. This too is a pure geometric figure. Boetticher's
interest in bold geometric figures recalls Sternberg.
An overhead shot of the station shows its architecture as a series
of rectilinear forms. The sides of the rectangles are parallel
to the frames of the screen.
The Boss as Trickster
The ranch owner Tenvoorde (pronounced "Ten forty") is Scott's former employer.
He recalls such trickster figures as Maverick and Legs Diamond. He doesn't look
like these handsome types, being plain, middle-aged and conventionally business-like.
But he is just as full of sly gambles and schemes. He keeps luring the hero
into bad bets. His purpose is to get the hero to come back to work for him.
The ranch owner wants Scott to be his #2 again. In this, he wants Scott to become like
Abe Carbo in Buchanan Rides Alone. It also resembles the rich town boss
in War of the Silver Kings, trying to hire Maverick as his lieutenant.
Just like Maverick, Scott resists. Scott is not smart enough to stay out of the boss'
gambles - and maybe he even enjoys being caught in his net. But Scott has the determination
to avoid going back to work for his old boss again.
The Hero as Deadly Trickster
Scott becomes a trickster himself, in the far more deadly and serious encounter with
Billy Jack. Scott sets up a sex killing, just like the sexual manipulations performed
by Legs Diamond. The fact that this is a matter of life and death, disguises a bit
how sleazy such manipulations are. Legs Diamond does such things for power, as do the characters
in Point Blank. But Scott does them to survive, which balances out the moral equation.
The actual shooting of Billy Jack, is staged with sexual symbolism. The rifle is
positioned like a phallic symbol, and it looks as if the two men are having a sexual encounter.
The rifle perhaps becomes another of the long poles in Boetticher.
Billy Jack is the main character in leather clothes in The Tall T, wearing a
spectacular pair of chaps that call attention to his body. Earlier we saw Scott's difficulties
in getting his black leather boots on.
The Tall T involves a number of spaces, box-like areas that contain the characters.
Such spaces are a Boetticher tradition:
The depot has a covered porch in front, like the ranch to come in Stopover.
- The trough in which the hero becomes immersed. It is trapezoidal. It anticipates the trough
into which the hero pushes the heroine to protect her in Comanche Station.
- The two corrals at the ranch owner's. These are on a common rectilinear grid, making a striking image.
- The blacksmith opening at the stage depot, and the house opening. First we see the
benevolent family in these areas. Then later the sinister villains.
- The stage, containing the newlyweds.
- Scott stands on top of the stage during the robbery, as Adam West will in Stopover.
- The mine.
- The well: the most sinister of all spaces in Boetticher.
The Entry into Town
Scott's ride into town near the start is beautifully staged. The camera tracks along with him.
We see many other people in the street, also in motion, that counterpoints that of Scott
and the camera. Some of these are moving strictly parallel to Scott. But a horse cart moves
across his path at exactly a 90 degree angle. Everyone's motion is staged along a strictly
rectilinear grid. It is quite beautiful.
The motion of the cart, at a right angle, anticipates such moving characters in the famed
opening camera movement of Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958).
Soon, Boetticher stages a nice tracking shot, sticking closely to the hero and Rintoon
as they cross the street.
The heroine is hated by her father, because he is not the boy he wanted. She has spent her
whole life, being part of an ambiguous gender situation.
The villains force her into a traditional female task, cooking. She can do it -
but it is clearly not at the center of her life. The chief bad guy (Richard Boone) later
forces Billy Jack to help her with the cooking, despite his assertions that it's
"women's work". Cooking was indeed strongly associated with gender in 1950's America:
the number one such activity, after child rearing.
In War of the Silver Kings, the main female character throws herself at hero
Maverick, giving a speech saying that education in women is not important. Maverick
is completely non-interested in her. She emphasizes her skill with cooking throughout the
film, showing she is good at what was viewed then as the traditional female role,
even if she has no education. The film does not comment: it neither endorses nor condemns
her idea. But she raises no interest in the hero Maverick whatsoever.
The heroine of The Tall T is far less proficient at cooking: we see her having
trouble picking up a hot coffee pot. But she interests the hero very much. This is the
opposite of the situation in War of the Silver Kings.
Such gender issues are treated with the same spectacular story telling efficiency as
everything else in Boetticher and Kennedy. They whiz by so fast, one hardly notices they are there.
But they form a subplot running through The Tall T.
A silly note: despite careful watching of this film, I can't figure
out why it is called The Tall T. It's a good name, but
it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the plot. (I've since
learned this title was reportedly slapped on the film after it
was finished by a producer - and that Boetticher and Burt Kennedy
were just as bewildered as I was!)
Maverick: War of the Silver Kings
War of the Silver Kings (1957) is the first of three episodes of the
TV series Maverick Boetticher directed, and the pilot for the series.
It is the most substantial and enjoyable of the three.
War of the Silver Kings shows the hero reforming and cleaning up
a Western town. It is related to such Scott Westerns as
Decision at Sundown and Buchanan Rides Alone. All three
contain political allegories, suggesting opposition to political dictatorship.
However, War of the Silver Kings is unusually political. It does not
restrict itself to allegory, or Western conventions of "the stranger
cleaning up the town". It actually delves into the politics and
economics of the town, in a detailed, and highly liberal way.
American television of the era actually seems to have been sometimes
quite remarkably politically liberal. One can compare the TV shows of
Joseph H. Lewis, which are also explicitly political.
War of the Silver Kings is also different from the Scott films,
in that the hero never uses violence to achieve any goals, not even in self-defense.
He is an entirely non-violent hero. However, he never uses Gandhian non-violent
mass protest, either.
The Hero: A Sly Smoothie
Bret Maverick is a character who first appears in the three Maverick
episodes Boetticher directed. So Boetticher presumably played a role shaping the character.
Slick, sly handsome smoothies like Maverick are more typically villains in
Boetticher. We are used to Legs Diamond, who is in many ways a nasty person,
despite the character's deceptive leading man charm. Maverick has all
of Legs' good looks and skill as a con man. But Maverick uses his talents
entirely on the side of good.
Maverick's story snowballs, just as Legs' does, but always in a benevolent direction.
Both characters eventually become hugely prominent. While Maverick is successful
at his goals in the other two Boetticher episodes, he does not achieve this sort
of huge worldly success in them. His rise in War of the Silver Kings is
similar in scale to that of Legs Diamond's, or Robert Ryan's in Horizons West.
At the end of the tale, Maverick turns down a chance to be the town boss'
lieutenant, running things in Echo Springs. This is exactly the role played by
Abe Carbo in Buchanan Rides Alone to come. Maverick has some
interesting dialogue, explaining why this would be bad for the town. In the
later film, Boetticher will show the real waste of Carbo's impressive abilities, running
his dreadful burg.
Maverick is dressed like the town boss in Decision at Sundown: suit, frilled shirt,
fancy vest. The town boss in Decision at Sundown is a bad guy, but not entirely bad,
and a source of energy. This kind of character is now using his talents for good, in
the form of Maverick.
War of the Silver Kings is perhaps unusual, in that it does not show a
romance between the hero Maverick and the heroine. Instead, while she has a
crush on him, he does not reciprocate.
Instead, Maverick develops an on-going, male bonding relationship with
saloon keeper Big Mike (the ultra-macho Leo Gordon). In some ways, this might -
or might not - be viewed as a gay relationship.
The great bulk of the Maverick TV series, after Boetticher left after three
episodes, portrays its heroes as heterosexual. There is often a romantic encounter
between the hero and a pretty guest star. The series as a whole is notably "straight".
The Barbershop: Symbolism, Lines and Revolving Objects
The barbershop scene is full of what can be read as homoerotic symbolism.
Perhaps the gun and the shaving brush are related to Boetticher's pole imagery.
They are closely followed by the revolving barbershop chair. Poles and revolving
objects are part of this "suite" of Boetticher imagery.
At the end, the crowd is carrying clubs, and Big Mike is holding a shovel, to be used
as a weapon. These are also poles used by men in a group. The shovel recalls the hoe
also used as a weapon by the convict in The Killer Is Loose.
Maverick wakes up after the attack, to find himself in a strange bedroom.
The woman taking care of him promptly crowds him, zooming in on his sleeping space.
This is milked for humor. Later, in Stopover, young Mark will have to share
his now crowded bedroom with a visiting woman, also causing him embarrassment,
as well as excitement.
The hero wages a publicity campaign in the town newspaper. The police ran a publicity
campaign about their manhunt in The Killer Is Loose, using television.
The giant diagram of the mine, in the courtroom, recalls the giant wall map in
The Killer Is Loose.
There is a striking long take camera movement, showing people waiting around the saloon
on election night. The camera travels all over the room, stopping to focus
on one group after another.
The election writing above the bar, recall the signs there for the boss' wedding celebration
in Decision at Sundown.
When Maverick exits on the street, there is an overhead angle, showing him, the street
and the building facade. Soon this is turned into the Point of View of the villain watching
him from an upper story window across the street.
The facade is also one of the rectilinear buildings in Boetticher.
The town boss wears a fancy tie pin. It consists of a circle of small jewels. These
resemble the circle of pin heads on the map in The Killer Is Loose. That map
was covered with polygonal lines. The town boss' vest and elaborate collar are also
full of polygonal lines and shapes.
James Garner and Maverick
James Garner was a young actor, who had only been working in television and film
for around two years, when he got the title role in Maverick.
What I have seen of Garner's pre-Maverick work shows a likable young man in fairly "serious",
although good-natured roles:
see his performances as the minister in the Cheyenne episode The Last Train West (1956),
or the test pilot in Towards the Unknown (Mervyn LeRoy, 1956).
These are both sound, charming acting jobs, and both show Garner's romantic rapport with women,
but neither reveals the comic skills Garner would display in Maverick.
By contrast, Maverick created a sensation, with Garner's comic hero a richly
The emergence of the Maverick character could reflect input from many different people:
Garner himself, his acting teachers, the show's creators, writers and producers, studio executives, dialogue directors.
But it is also reasonable to speculate that Budd Boetticher had something to do with it.
Boetticher was the director of the show's first three episodes.
Maverick: Point Blank
Point Blank (1957) is the second of three episodes of the
TV series Maverick Boetticher directed. This script was reportedly intended to be the
pilot of the series. But it was actually shot and broadcast second, after
War of the Silver Kings, also directed by Boetticher.
Many of the Scott Westerns feature sexual tension among many men,
centering on a beautiful woman. Point Blank is perhaps related,
with similar tension over the heroine. But its heroine is a schemer,
not an innocent female like those in the Scott films.
Both the heroine and hero Maverick wind up manipulating and playing
games with people's lives, like the con-man Legs in
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond. The games become quite intricate.
As in that film, the games involve people's love lives, but are used to
gain power in monetary situations.
Some male bonding takes place between the Sheriff and Maverick, who are rivals
for the heroine. As in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
sometimes this relationship between men takes precedence over those
between the hero and a woman. The hero-woman relationship is twisted and
manipulated, to strengthen the male-male tie.
The Hero's Rise - and the Sheriff
Maverick starts out in trouble. But gradually he becomes more successful
in the town. This rise is enjoyable to watch. It is more fun than the crime-heroine
main plot of the show. It frequently seems to involve Maverick's relationship
with the Sheriff.
In some ways, the Sheriff and hero Maverick, are the Boetticher pair of
authority figure and reforming crook. The Sheriff makes great show of
locking the hero up in jail, and ordering him about. Such attentions often
come from the authority figure, but they are often a bit tongue-in-cheek.
The Sheriff also gives Maverick support when it counts, like other seemingly
stern authority figures. Maverick's "reforming crookedness" is very mild compared to other such Boetticher
characters, though: he is a two-bit, non-violent con man, who only runs a dodge
when he is hungry.
The Sheriff (Richard Garland) wears a leather vest, making him another
Boetticher man dressed in leather. He also has a conspicuous Sheriff's star on it.
His deputy (Peter Brown) is also dressed in a similar leather vest, with star.
The sheriff and deputy form another Boetticher "group of men with a common profession who dress alike".
Links to Lawman
Peter Brown, who plays the young deputy, would soon get his first continuing TV series role
in another Western as a deputy: Lawman (1958-1962). Lawman was also produced by Warner Brothers,
like Maverick. Both were part of the studio's successful stable of TV Westerns.
Lawman has a premise much like Point Blank: a small Western town, a handsome town Marshal,
and his loyal young deputy, played by Peter Brown.
The Western town set of Point Blank looks the same as the town Laramie in Lawman.
(The same town set occasionally shows up in other Warner Brothers TV Westerns too.)
As far as I can tell, Boetticher had nothing to do with the TV series Lawman.
But much of its premise is already present in Boetticher's Point Blank.
The Lawman pilot was written by Dean Riesner, who had played the small role of the young doctor in
Boetticher's Assigned to Danger.
The Lousy Small Town
Maverick has a low opinion of the small town - and little we see suggests he is wrong.
The town has the satiric name of Bent Forks. It doesn't seem crooked or under
control of a dictatorial regime, unlike bad towns in other Boetticher films like Buchanan Rides Alone.
But it seems small and second rate.
Maverick wonder what a pretty woman like the heroine is doing in the town.
Although the dialogue doesn't say so, the Sheriff and his deputy are both also much too classy to
be spending their lives running this town. Like Abe Carbo in Buchanan Rides Alone,
one suspects they are wasting their lives on a place far beneath them.
Like Abe Carbo, they seem to be the only men in town who are really sharply dressed.
Unlike Abe Carbo, they are honest.
The witty dialogue between the Sheriff and Maverick towards the finale, when the Sheriff gives
Maverick ten minutes to get out of town, anticipates the jokes in Buchanan Rides Alone
about a "ten-dollar town".
Point Blank is another Boetticher film, in which intrigue over a
treasure is a mainspring of the plot.
Cooking and Gender Roles
The heroine brings Maverick food in jail. This looks like a traditional
"woman serving food" gender role. But we learn she has actually taken over a man's job to serve
such food, so she can talk with Maverick. Also, she waits around the jail talking to Maverick,
using as an excuse that she needs to return the tray. But the jealous Sheriff insists he will do this.
There is a contest in both bringing the food and returning the tray,
over whether the woman should do these tasks, or a man.
Later, the heroine uses as her justification for getting Maverick released from jail,
that she didn't want him to have to eat jail food.
The deputy (Peter Brown) uses a pencil in his desk work, in his last scene.
A lamppost on the town street is shown in the paired shots:
when Maverick first rides into town at the film's start; and when Maverick rides out of town at the film's end.
This lamppost is perhaps related to the street signs that open some contemporary Boetticher films,
such as One Mysterious Night and The Killer Is Loose, although it is less conspicuous.
Spaces Containing Men
There are no strictly box-like areas containing the characters in Point Blank.
But there are a few spaces, usually more rectilinear than strange-shaped:
- The heroine has a cigar stand, which she steps behind. She can open the display
counter, and let customers fish out cigars.
- The bartender stands behind a bar.
- Hero Maverick enters the shack through an awkward high window.
The window swings opens on hinge at its left-hand side, leading to a dramatic visual effect.
The whole shot anticipates the hero of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond entering
the restaurant through the dumb waiter.
- There is a teller region behind the counter at the bank.
- The bank president has a railed-off region for his desk.
- A jail cell is prominent.
- The heroine's room is made somewhat strangely shaped, by a closet that juts out in one corner.
- The Western town is full of covered sidewalks in front of buildings,
including the Sheriff's office and the bank.
The final shot goes by many of the town's buildings. These have the rectilinear facades Boetticher likes.
There are recessed areas: the store to the right of the Sheriff's office has a recessed store area marked off
by pillars, nested within the covered sidewalk. The jutting porticos of the covered sidewalks are also
a feature found in a number of Boetticher facades.
The town street is featured in a number of shots, which often use camera movement.
One beautiful shot shows Maverick being ridden out of town. A pan goes by much
of the complex, angled architecture of the town buildings.
An earlier shot follows the heroine from the saloon to the bank.
The heroine's room has a light wallpaper pattern. It is about as light and patterned as her dress,
although the dress fabric has a different specific pattern. One wonders if the similarities
are deliberate, and if the heroine's appearance and room are coordinated.
Maverick: According to Hoyle
According to Hoyle (1957) is the last of the three episodes of the
TV series Maverick Boetticher directed. It is probably the least interesting
of the three.
Links to Boetticher's previous Maverick episodes
According to Hoyle draws on plot ideas of the previous two Boetticher episodes.
Like Point Blank, it features a fascinating, sweet acting but manipulative
woman, who is up to various schemes. In both, Maverick treats her actions and
motivations as a mystery he is trying to solve. However, there are no romantic games in
According to Hoyle, unlike Point Blank. In fact there is no romance of any sort
in According to Hoyle.
Also like Point Blank, Maverick's skill with poker is featured, specifically,
his ability to detect gambling fraud. However, while both Point Blank and
War of the Silver Kings open with poker scenes, and then convert to general, non-poker tales,
According to Hoyle concentrates on gambling throughout. Perhaps this is a reason I
like it less than the other two episodes: gambling just doesn't seem to be that
substantial or interesting a subject.
Like War of the Silver Kings, According to Hoyle has a second half,
in which Maverick cleans up a crook-run town. His approach also recalls War of the Silver Kings
The plot events in the second half of are shorter and simpler than those in
War of the Silver Kings. They also do not show Maverick rising to prominence, as he did
in the earlier show.
- He opens a business that rivals the villain's, one that is more honest.
- He distributes literature to advertise it and its honesty.
- He leads a full scale revolt, something that goes farther than War of the Silver Kings.
This finale has political overtones.
The character of Big Mike returns from War of the Silver Kings, once again
as Maverick's friend. However, the film takes their friendship as a given, and male bonding
is not featured in any substantial way in the plot of According to Hoyle.
Links to Westbound
The second half of According to Hoyle has plot elements that anticipate Westbound.
- The hero comes to a corrupt town, and battles against the ruling elements.
- Few in town will help him.
- He gets a building from a strong local woman who runs a farm on the outskirts of town.
(The woman is beautiful in Westbound, older and tough in According to Hoyle.)
Samantha Crawford: Trickster and Fake Southerner
Scheming con-woman Samantha Crawford (played by Diane Brewster) did not originate with According to Hoyle.
Her character began on an episode of another Warner Brothers TV Western series, Cheyenne.
This episode was The Dark Rider (1956), directed by Richard L. Bare.
She would later appear on three more episodes of Maverick, none directed by Boetticher.
Samantha is one of Boetticher's trickster characters. She has surprising schemes, including the card
con-game that gives According to Hoyle its title. Hero Maverick, seen as a trickster
in earlier shows, is more straightforward in his plans in According to Hoyle,
and less of a wily trickster character. Dialogue also emphasizes Maverick's honesty.
Crawford's phony Southern accent and gentility, might be read as another negative Boetticher comment
on the traditions of the Old South.
Her relentless "femininity" also recalls Boetticher unsympathetic females who
are the kept women of rich men, and who sometimes share in their crimes.
Samantha is indeed the ally and employee of an obnoxious villain.
However, it is unclear if she is this man's mistress, or only a ally in his con games.
Samantha makes a contrast with Ma, one of Boetticher's "honest women who work on equal terms
with men". Ma is completely lacking in feminine glamour.
People other than the hero are shown drinking alcohol.
Good gal Ma goes into her kitchen to brew coffee for the heroes. As usual, Maverick is not a drinker.
This scene is also a simple example of a woman cooking for men. The gender roles are quite
traditional here, unlike some Boetticher films.
There is a well done, long take camera movement in the casino. It opens with a sign
on the wall (recalling Decision at Sundown), and then tracks around,
to pick up various characters. It recalls the election night track in War of the Silver Kings.
Both tracks have a stop-and-start quality, moving around to various groups in
A camera movement shows characters walking on the ship's deck, after the second card game.
It follows both the private eye, and Maverick walking with the woman.
When Maverick has his confrontation on the street with the villain's henchmen,
Boetticher uses an overhead view. It makes all the action very clear.
This crooked boss is indeed another Boetticher villain with an entourage.
Also, the boss implicitly offers Maverick a fair fist fight. Then takes advantage of
this to capture Maverick. This recalls the more elaborate "lying promises of dictators"
plot episodes in other Boetticher films.
Samantha Crawford's first hotel room is full of curved and circular forms:
the head and foot of her bed, her round valise, a table.
Another space associated with a woman, Ma's home also has circular forms.
These are most prominent in the scene where she helped path up the beaten heroes.
There are circular curtain hangings near the ceiling, a spherical table lamp,
a rounded ceiling lamp in the next room, oval pictures on the wall.
Ma wears a circular bun in her hair, and is carrying a circular bowl.
When Maverick and Samantha have their talk at night on the deck of the ship,
curved shadows appear on the wall behind them.
Rigg's gambling house has a huge circular wheel-of-fortune.
Decision at Sundown
Decision at Sundown (1957) is the third of the seven Boetticher-directed
Randolph Scott Westerns. Decision at Sundown is a key work of Boetticher,
looking at a town run by a sinister dictator, and offering a social protest against this.
Decision at Sundown has a complex story. It has twelve major characters, each with
well-defined personalities and distinct reactions to the town's political situation.
Vernon L. Fluharty
The credits say the film Decision at Sundown is based on a "story" by Vernon L. Fluharty.
Vernon L. Fluharty (1907-1957) wrote Western novels in the 1950's, under the pseudonyms
Jim O'Mara and Michael Carder. Fluharty's Decision at Sundown is a 1955 novel,
published under his pseudonym Michael Carder.
He wrote scholarly works as Vernon Lee Fluharty, including a non-fiction book on Columbia,
Dance of the millions; military rule and the social revolution in Colombia, 1930-1956 (1957).
Much information on Vernon L. Fluharty can be found at
MYSTERY*FILE, including bibliographies.
The Doctor and Non-Violence
The doctor is the man who talks the townspeople into rebelling against the dictator.
He is one of Boetticher's social organizer characters.
The doctor is explicitly opposed to violence. He seems to be an embodiment
of non-violent hopes for social change. He is in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi.
The doctor is a strikingly handsome and well-dressed man.
He is as classy looking as Abe Carbo in Buchanan Rides Alone.
Unlike Carbo, he is working in a noble profession that helps people, as a doctor,
rather than Carbo's role as a Number 2 for a corrupt town boss.
The doctor talks about how he "fell in love with the town" and then "fell in love with its people".
This recalls the universal love nonviolent hero Osceola has in Seminole.
Such love is linked to non-violent social resistance and change.
The doctor is associated with the two main technological areas in town:
his physician's office, and the livery stable, which he visits repeatedly.
The doctor shows enormous physical courage twice, when he intervenes in a street shoot-out to treat a wounded man.
This shows tremendous gutsiness, in a non-violent way.
These scenes echo each other. But they also have him aiding first one side, than the other
in the conflict. This shows his role as a peacemaker and someone willing to promote peace
and oppose violence on both sides.
The Revolt and Non-Violence
When Ray Teal's men go to disarm the dictator's crooked deputies,
they move out into the city streets in some of the organized processions
that run through Boetticher's films.
The disarmament is partly non-violent: no shots are fired, no one is hurt,
superior numbers of Teal's men play a role. And it is partly violent, or at least
involving the use of force: Teal's men use their guns to get the drop on the deputies.
While this action is not entirely "non-violent", involving some force,
it is fairly close to non-violence for a Western movie. It does involve mass action
by the citizens of the town, in opposition to a dictatorial regime.
Also complicating the issue of whether the finale of Decision at Sundown
shows a non-violent protest and action: the fact that hero Scott has already killed the two lead
corrupt lawmen, is a key enabler for the revolt against the dictator.
If these dangerous gunmen were still alive, it would be much harder to move against the dictator
On the other hand, one could argue that in the overall structure of Decision at Sundown
that these corrupt lawmen have been killed, as a condemnation of their actions.
These men are running a dictatorial police force, one that stands allegorically
for such monstrous secret police as the Gestapo and the KGB. Decision at Sundown
views them with overwhelming disgust and condemnation.
The marriage ceremony seems like a variant of the public prayers
that run through Boetticher. Like them:
Marriage ceremonies, in real life and fiction, have a key moment when the man officiating asks if
anyone present knows just cause why the marriage should not take place.
The archetypal scene in prose fiction is in Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre (1848).
The scene in Decision at Sundown is much like it. My mother always said
that she never attended a wedding where this question did not give her a frisson.
- It is communal;
- It involves conventional sentiment that is slightly burlesqued;
- It is led by an amateur taking on the role of a professional preacher.
Scott is seen in the distant background in church, in long shot and full figure.
This echoes a bit the shots of covered wagons in The Cimarron Kid,
which appear in the far distance, and reveal to the heroes that they are trapped.
Everyone in the front of the church turns and looks at Scott.
This anticipates the finale of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
where men at the board-room style meeting of Allied Enterprises crime syndicate
turn their heads in unison. The head turning in Decision at Sundown is not as
synchronized, with people turning their heads at slightly different times.
Trapped in the Livery Stable
The heroes are trapped in the center of town, in the livery stable.
This recalls the heroes being trapped in a town street in The Cimarron Kid.
In The Cimarron Kid, the heroes find a way out through a door, that is barred by a huge wooden bolt.
Similarly shaped bolts are on the livery stable doors in Decision at Sundown.
Both livery stable doors make geometric patterns of rectangles, formed by the upper and lower halves
of the doors, bolts, brackets to hold the bolts, and a window in the front stable door.
These geometric patterns recall paintings by Mondrian made out of rectangles.
The doors and their geometry form part of the visual style of the scenes.
Noah Beery uses a curved hook for handling hay, to attack an intruder.
This recalls the villain of The Killer Is Loose, who finds a curved scythe like farm tool,
with which he will kill the farm family (off-screen).
Suspense: A Man in Danger Walking
Noah Beery tries to walk away from a confrontation in the street, towards the livery stable.
This is one of the suspense scenes of people walking in Boetticher.
More often, they serve as finales of films, but in Decision at Sundown this comes mid-picture.
A Gay Character?
Zaron, the Justice of the Peace, is a gentle man with an exceptionally mild manner
for an Old West town. He has fantasies of becoming a minister someday, and often
dresses and talks like one. He seems to be a social misfit, a one-of-a-kind man
who is trying to create a social role for himself, so that he will have a place in this society.
Zaron is not shown as having any sort of sexual attraction to other men.
But his extremely mild manner suggests he is possibly a gay character.
His embodiment of a fantasy life, and reaching for a role that might permit him
social integration, might be seen as gay coping strategies, attempts of a gay man to
find a place in the social order. The way he is publicly taunted also perhaps invokes the harassment that
gay men often suffer.
His search for a social role is something of a failure:
when last seen he is drunk, and his tormentor is crowing in triumph that
he will never have the nerve to get up in a pulpit again. Whether he will rebuild is unclear.
Even when drunk at the end, Zaron manages to speak cogently about the moral issues,
reminding the villain that "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord".
A Sloping Street
One of the streets is on a slight downward slope. This is emphasized by the way buildings
on it adjust to the slope, offering greater and greater expanse of wall as the street slopes down.
In the street gun duels between the good guys and the bad guys, the bad guys are often standing on the sloping street.
They repeatedly take up a similar position, by the same buildings on the slanting street.
This means that the gun duel positions echo each other, from gun duel to gun duel.
Sloping streets regularly appear in Boetticher films. In the opening bank robbery in The Killer Is Loose,
and the meeting of the bad guy and bad gal protagonists of Horizons West,
they are associated with villains. By contrast, the finale of Seven Men from Now links
them to the good guy and good gal heroine.
Strange Shaped Spaces
Unusual-shaped spaces include:
The church's outside porch and inside vestibule are also box-like spaces,
more rectilinearly shaped.
- The covered sidewalk or porch at the livery stable. It has a slanting roof,
making the space inside non-rectilinear.
- Bad guys are firing from upstairs windows. The two windows are at an oblique angle to each other,
with one window part of a bow window.
The space inside the rooms (which we don't see) must be non-rectilinear.
Ruby is repeatedly shown from outside her hotel room window, looking down on the street.
At the end, Doc and Lucy instead are looking down from a similar window. It is as if they
have taken on her role, or position in society.
Circles and Curves
The hero has a circular coil of rope attached to his saddle. There are also rope coils on
the livery stable wall, a bit more elliptical.
There are elliptical panels in the inside doors in the saloon.
The hotel room where Ruby hangs out, has screens with circle designs on them.
The stained glass windows at the church are made up of rectangular panels.
The panels are different colors, outlining a cross. Boetticher likes "large wall areas
broken into polygonal regions", such as these windows or the map in The Killer Is Loose.
Characters are sometimes framed against these window panels: Boetticher likes to frame
characters against interesting background shapes.
In the saloon, characters are sometimes framed against the staircase.
The two upper branches of the stairs leading off the landing, give the stairway a Y-shape.
This shape makes the framing regions be polygonal, instead of rectilinear.
A color scheme that runs through Boetticher, "red with blue", shows up in the scene where
Beery gets his meal in the restaurant. Soon, "red with blue" is also the color scheme
of a scene outside the restaurant in the street.
Hero Scott and his friend Noah Beery are both in that Boetticher favorite leather clothes.
The doctor and the bartender are both in white shirts and gray suit vests.
Boetticher often features men in common professions who dress alike.
The bartender and doctor are not in the same profession. But both are verbally fluent,
non-violent men who take a caustic, critical attitude to the town dictator.
Both hang around in the saloon. Their similar clothes underscore these common features.
One woman, the rich young heiress, is in white bridal clothes. White signifies virginity.
She is certainly a most "respectable" woman, wanting a "proper" marriage.
Actress Karen Steele was also in a white dress in Point Blank,
so perhaps there is also a belief that she looks good in white.
The other woman Ruby has a name invoking the color red. She is also first seen in
red clothes, and later wears a red hat. Red was a symbol of "scarlet women",
that is, women who were openly sexually active outside of marriage. Ruby is indeed the
former girlfriend of the villain, and the film does everything to get across the idea
that Ruby and the villain had a long-term sexual liaison, well-known to everyone in the town.
Buchanan Rides Alone
Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) is the fourth of the seven Boetticher-directed
Randolph Scott Westerns.
A Gay Relationship
Buchanan Rides Alone can be seen as the queerest of Boetticher's
Randolph Scott Westerns. Scott was gay in real life, but usually
played straight characters on screen. Here, however, he has what
is essentially a love relationship with the noble young Mexican,
Juan. Both men are instinctively attracted to each other, and
they remain loyal and true throughout the rest of the movie.
Buchanan Rides Alone differs from many other of the Boetticher-Scott Westerns,
in that the hero has almost no back-story. He is not driven obsessively by events
in his past, unlike other heroes of these films. Instead, he is following his
own feelings in the present.
The hero asks Juan what his relationship is to the woman he avenged.
The hero explicitly asks if she's Jaun's wife - and eventually learns she's his sister.
An unspoken sidelight: this conversation also asks whether Juan was married,
that is, heterosexual. But Juan turns out not to be involved in marriage.
Randolph Scott's gay relationships are documented in works cited in this
older version of a Wikipedia article.
These include the book
Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969 (2001) by William J. Mann.
Abe Carbo: Talent and Waste
Abe Carbo (played by Craig Stevens) is vastly classier than anyone
else in Agry Town. As manager of the Judge's estates, he is clearly
a much more intelligent and able person than the Agry family,
or the other sleazy denizens. He is also the only person in town
who is well dressed. He is clearly a person that could have a
success in the big world. Unfortunately, he has built his career
on these crooks, and is deeply corrupt himself. He recalls the
Robert Ryan character in Horizons West, Legs Diamond, and
other elegant men in Boetticher who are ambitious crooks. There
is also an element of pathos to him. Boetticher's other villains
become big wheels, at least temporarily before their inevitable
downfall, but Carbo's only reward is to become boss of Agry Town.
It is such a two bit little place. There is an element of satire,
suggesting that many of the worldly goals toward which we work
are pathetically minor and unworthy of our abilities.
Amos Agry (Peter Whitney) constantly monitors the town for news, spying and eavesdropping,
as well as prying into the lives of guests at his hotel. He then passes this information
on to the corrupt Sheriff - and is nicknamed "The Town Crier" for doing so.
He relates to the Boetticher theme of surveillance. He doesn't use technology,
the way the modern-day cops monitoring suspects in The Killer Is Loose do.
But he is carrying on an unofficial but full-scale government program of surveillance
all the same.
Gender and Cooking
In Buchanan Rides Alone much of the food is provided by men.
The hero orders food from Nacho at the saloon. Later, Pecos offers the hero
the bacon and coffee from his saddlebag.
The first twenty minutes of Buchanan Rides Alone has a few mystery elements.
We don't always know in this opening section what the characters are like,
what their relationships are with each other, or exactly what they have done.
These mysteries are resolved in a step-by-step fashion, filling us in on
people we've met, but don't always know much about. By the twenty minute point,
all the film's mysteries are revealed. From then on, the story is a thriller,
without more mystery in the plot.
The opening twenty minutes of Buchanan Rides Alone resemble in structure,
what is going on through the whole length of Seven Men from Now
and Comanche Station. In those films, "gradually resolved mysteries" take up
most of the running time of the whole film.
Staging: Varied Use of the Sets
The staging in Buchanan Rides Alone shows great respect
for real space. The main town area is one huge set, and it is
easy to figure out where we are in it at all times. Boetticher
often moves his camera around the town, making it clear exactly
where everything is. He gets tremendous amount of visual variety
from this one location.
Similarly, Boetticher uses great ingenuity with his interiors,
photographing them from every possible angle and direction. The
bar is used in repeated contexts. First it is the location of
the killing. Later, the awful trial is staged there.
Buchanan Rides Alone has a few "longer" takes - these might not be enormously long
by the standards of film history.
One is in the opening saloon sequence. It begins with the hero's jokes about the
"ten dollar town". It moves on to the hero offering Roy a drink.
When the hero and Juan are first imprisoned, Boetticher starts out with some establishing shots.
Then he moves into a long-held fairly close view of the two men's heads.
In this sequence, the men talk intimately about their lives.
- In conventional Hollywood film grammar, cross-cutting is used in scenes of conflict,
uncut two-shots for scenes of friendship and bonding. This shot in Buchanan Rides Alone
seems to embody this idea: the bonding between the hero and Juan is filmed within
a long-held two-shot without cross-cutting.
- The hero's head is seen face on in this shot, while Juan's is turned or in profile.
This tends to center the scene on the hero, and what he is feeling.
Crossing the Street
After the heroes are knocked out in the saloon, they are carried across the street
and put in the jail. Numerous men accompany them across the street: they form one
of Boetticher's organized processions. They recall a bit the group of cops
crossing the street at the start of One Mysterious Night, although the police are in
more of a geometric formation.
The way the honest Mexicans watch from afar, as the crooked Sheriff's men
put the heroes in jail, recalls Decision at Sundown, and
the honest townspeople watching helplessly as the crooked lawmen shoot Noah Beery.
The opening shot of the trial, is a long-take scene from a single camera step-up.
It shows the entire court, and the activities of the crowd. All the time, the comic
and least professional bailiff in screen history is trying the bring the court
to his idea of "order".
Several shots embody the Boetticher approach of organized processions.
These include the prisoners entering the courtroom, and the jury filing out and in.
These snake through a complex curved path in the courtroom.
The jury lacks a jury box, so they sit on the stairs. This is a comic image.
It is also visually striking. The staircase is railed, and becomes another
Boetticher strange-shaped space containing men.
When Scott leaves the courtroom, Boetticher uses a different approach.
He cuts to a fairly high angle. He also shows Scott going out of the left wall,
a wall of the saloon not much shown before during the trial.
The Sheriff's door has bars on it. We first see this, in an unusual shot in which the bars swing out
into the screen. I've never seen anything like this in other films.
Boetticher liked unusual shots involving bars. The later sections of Behind Locked Doors
are full of unusually staged scenes using the barred windows in the Violent Ward.
Spaces Containing Men
Spaces for men include:
The tree where Lafe is "buried" is not a closed container. But it is an unusual region
occupied by a human. We also see the hole where the hero first intended to bury Lafe.
- The desk at the hotel.
- Covered porches on the street.
- The stairs at the saloon, where the jury sits.
- The wagon where Juan is hidden under hay.
Much of Buchanan Rides Alone is in neutrals or earth-tones.
The color has a subdued feel, although it is not pushed to the desaturated, all-brown
extreme of many post-1980 Westerns. The color design in Buchanan Rides Alone is much less bright
than the brilliant color schemes often found in American film and TV Westerns of the
1950's and 1960's. An example of such bright color: Boetticher's own Seminole.
The subdued color is perhaps meant to suggest what a squalid, two-bit place Agrytown is.
Peter Whitney had a long career, often playing villains. He was often far fiercer and
more frightening than in his Amos Agry characterization. His nine roles on the
TV series The Rifleman include four episodes directed by Joseph H. Lewis:
Eddie's Daughter (1959), Heller (1960), Strange Town (1960) and
Long Gun from Tuscon (1961). He also appeared in Lewis' only episode of the series
Daniel Boone, the politically impressive Pompey (1964).
Whitney sometimes played good guys, as in the Cheyenne episode
The Imposter (Lee Sholem, 1959).
Whitney's highly varied roles show his range. He was clearly considered a
character actor of the old school, one who could take on many different personas.
The Opening: Boetticher approaches
Ride Lonesome (1959) shows a number of Boetticher's characteristic
approaches in its opening.
Strange Shaped Spaces. Scott appears, riding through a
narrow canyon or passage in the rocks. Later, at the station,
he rests at night between the stagecoach wheel, and the passenger
coach: an odd shaped, narrow space.
The heroine is introduced in the doorway of the station. The small
doorway is just big enough to contain her.
Elevated camera angles, to show geometric layouts. The
opening overhead shot of the canyon is a classic example.
Pans. Boetticher pans vertically in the ravine to follow
Scott, then moves up and to the right, to reveal the bad guy.
This is an outstandingly complex shot.
There are soon many other pans and occasional tracks to follow
Boetticher's characters through the landscape. These are usually
left-to-right or right-to-left, in the Boetticher tradition.
Leather clothes. The hero wears a buckskin shirt. He also
wears a leather gun belt that is an exact match for the buckskin
shirt, in terms of color. It is a fancy outfit, one whose bright
color calls attention to it. The shirt looks like it is a bit
hard and time consuming to put on or take off, like the stiffly
buttoned-up leather jacket worn by the hero of One Mysterious
Wind keeps blowing, ruffling the fringe on Scott's shirt. This calls
further attention to the outfit.
Color coordinated clothes. The hero wears a reddish-brown shirt
and gun belt: a color harmony. He is immediately contrasted to
James Best's bad guy, who wears a green top. Soon, they are joined
by two more men. Parnell Roberts' green shirt links him to Best:
a color coordination between the two men's costumes, like the
paired black outfits worn by the heroine and Adam West in Stopover.
And Parnell's sidekick (James Coburn) is in a red shirt, that
echoes Scott, although much less dressily.
Red and green color contrasts are found in Fritz Lang's
color films, such as Rancho Notorious (1952) and The
Tiger of Eschnapur (1959).
Handcuffs. Bounty hunter Scott is soon handcuffing crook
Best. Best enjoys it, laughing, and urging Scott to put on the
cuffs. It is a game the two men enjoy playing.
Crooks going straight. Parnell Roberts and his sidekick
are crooks trying to reform, go straight, and get fixed with the
law, hoping to win an amnesty. They recall Boston Blackie and
his sidekick in One Mysterious Night, also reformed crooks
turned detectives. Roberts is glib, comic and charming, also like
Blackie. Scott has the role of "authority figure of the law"
to them, a bit like the police Inspector in One Mysterious
Night. Like the Inspector, he gives them a hard time through
the film, then supports them at the end, where it counts. There
are hints that Scott's seemingly harsh and demanding treatment
of reforming crook Roberts is a game the two men are playing,
just like the Inspector and Blackie - and one that both men are
enjoying. Roberts seems to really like and admire Scott.
Thirsty men. Best offers Scott coffee, not altogether sincerely
(it's a trap). Soon, the heroine is offering Scott coffee, for
Long poles. This is more gruesome in Ride Lonesome
than elsewhere in Boetticher: the long spear is sticking out of
the stagecoach driver's chest.
Later, a second spear will be thrust into the ground, as the start of the
A burial - and a prayer that does not quite happen. Roberts
and sidekick have to bury the victims of the stagecoach attack.
They say it's a shame that no prayers are said over the internment.
Boetticher has prayer scenes elsewhere: this is one that does
not quite happen. The dialogue has comic overtones, common in
Boetticher's communal prayer scenes.
Working class characters. Everyone in Ride Lonesome
seems to be working for a living. They are all explicitly people
without money - no big shots.
The villain's entourage. Villain James Best has four men
in his entourage, hidden in the hills.
Action staged with tiny figures in long shot, embedded in a
landscape. We see Best's four entourage members emerging one
by one, in long shots. They are small figures in the rocky landscape.
Westbound (1959) is the sixth of the seven Boetticher-directed
Randolph Scott Westerns.
North and South
Westbound offers a strongly negative view of the Confederacy.
Boetticher is clearly a pro-Union director. This is consistent with the
pro-Civil Rights view throughout Boetticher's films.
Towards the end we meet a few honest Southerners, intended to give Westbound
balance. But mainly the Confederacy forces we see are vile in their behavior.
Boetticher shows a predilection for curvilinear forms. In Westbound,
there are numerous shots of winding roads through the California hills.
The hills are curved, and the roads are complex
3D curved paths, running on curved hills, and themselves twisting
and turning. Boetticher includes many stable shots, showing the
stagecoach moving along the roads.
Both The Bullfighter and the Lady and Westbound
open with the hero trying to make friends with another man. In
both cases, the friendship seems preparatory to the hero going
into business with the new friend, or at least sharing a profession.
Boetticher characters often have entourages. These are bands of
men who follow him around and support him. They are usually seated
all around the character during our first meeting with him. They
are in a subordinate position, either seated at his feet, or below
him at the head of the table. Boetticher carefully composes the
men in the entourage. They form a detailed geometric pattern.
Their gestures and body postures exude arrogance. They are only
tough because they are part of this team however: it is clear
that without their leader they would be pretty two bit. It is
only villains and second leads who have entourages - never the
hero. And never rich, respectable characters. It is men who specialize
in machismo who have the entourage. The men in the entourage also
wear the same sort of clothes as the hero. It is not a uniform
- the clothes are all varied - but they clearly all follow the
same dress code.
Protagonists in Boetticher are often motivated by a hatred of
routine work. This is often symbolized by farming, which probably
requires the toughest effort of any profession. Robert Ryan in
Horizons West (1953) and Michael Dante in Westbound
both come to mind. Both end up dead, as does the gangster in The
Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960). These are all characters
who want a more adventurous life, but who reach too far.
Boetticher's characters are often tempted by women who are married
to rich, somewhat older men. Sometimes these are former loves
of the heroes. These women often look like the most expensive
possessions of their wealthy husbands, all dolled up in elaborate
clothes to match their husbands' fancy houses.
Andrew Duggan and Virginia Mayo have their final confrontation in their house.
The characters often move, so that they are framed against some background region.
Also, there is a hexagonal window high up the staircase.
The Hotel: Geometry
The final shootout takes place in front of the Palace Hotel.
This area is one of Boetticher's large open spaces.
The Hotel is frequently shot so that its facade is parallel to the frame of the screen.
This makes it one of Boetticher's rectilinear building facades.
However, the left hand side of the Hotel slops away around a corner, making the facade
less purely flat than most such Boetticher buildings.
The Palace Hotel has a covered porch. This porch is angled, and forms one of Boetticher's
strange-shaped 3D boxes. Towards the end of the battle, the villain moves towards the rear of the porch.
He becomes one of Boetticher's men in a box-like region. The villain ducks under a porch railing,
to leave the porch. This gesture oddly seems to emphasize his containment by the porch.
Comanche Station (1960) is the last of the Boetticher-Kennedy
Randolph Scott Westerns.
Comanche Station has a plot structure somewhat like Seven Men from Now.
In both films, we learn little about the characters right away, instead seeing them in action.
Only gradually in both films, do we get their back-story. These revelations occur step-by-step
throughout the films. Each step brings us deeper insight.
One should see Comanche Station before reading this article,
which has SPOILERS.
Seven Men from Now has a mystery structure, and a mystery subject matter,
looking at the aftermath of a robbery-killing. By contrast, crime elements are absent in
Comanche Station. And there is no central mystery that gets unravelled.
However, the hero of Comanche Station is quite "mysterious", and we only gradually
learn his nature, his moral code, the character of his present-day activities,
his history and the motivation for his actions. This unravelling goes through a
number of stages.
There is also a mystery of sorts about the heroine, and her relationship to her unseen husband.
This has no crime aspects - but it has something of a "mystery and solution" structure
all the same.
The hero uses Native American Sign Language vigorously, in an early scene.
This recalls the policemen hero of The Killer Is Loose
communicating through a gesture during the phone bugging scene.
Comanche Station is full of pans. They are largely slow
and stately, following the slow progress of the riders through
the Western landscape. They follow Boetticher traditions, in being:
The film also has a number of tracking shots. These also tend
to follow the characters' movements. They start out right in front
of the column of moving riders, and gradually move towards the
viewer along with the riders. The riders tend to be arrayed in
a diagonal line in such shots, with the camera also moving back
along this diagonal.
- Mainly from left-to-right or right-to-left
- Moving from one end of the landscape to another
- Following the progress of the characters as they move across
Strange Shaped Spaces
Comanche Station largely takes place outdoors, and there
is little opportunity for the box-like spaces that often contain
characters in Boetticher. But the trough into which Scott pushes
the heroine to protect her during the Indian attack certainly
qualifies. This trough is trapezoidal, making it exactly the sort
of odd-shaped space that Boetticher loves. It is connected by
an odd angled overflow arrangement to a square well, which further
emphasizes the unique geometry of the construction. Like the alleys
in One Mysterious Night and The Rise and Fall of Legs
Diamond, this space is connected to the rest of the world
through an angle that is not 90 degrees.
Much bigger than Boetticher's usual spaces are two fenced-in regions.
One is at Comanche Station. The other is the front yard of the
heroine's home, at the end. Both of the spaces are used to block
off people, with people standing inside or outside of the fence
also being separated in terms of the plot. Both regions look like
pathetic attempts by humans to build something, in a huge, indifferent
The House: A Rectilinear Exterior
The husband's house at the end, is one of the rectilinear building facades
that run through Boetticher's work.
As is common in Boetticher, it is full of recesses and gaps.
There is an open space between the house
and some sort of shed or barn, which are linked by a covered walkway.
And there is a big open space visible inside the barn.
The low vegetation through which the hero and heroine ride toward the end,
on the way to the house, resembles a bit the lettuce field in The Killer Is Loose.
The hero has a coil of rope attached to his saddle. It makes a circle that is
Male Groups: The Native Americans
The Native Americans are largely seen as a male group, like the policemen
in One Mysterious Night. The have special costumes marking
them off as a group, like the police. And just as the police in
One Mysterious Night were often linked to phallic symbols
of poles and nightsticks, so are in the Native Americans in Comanche Station
constantly associated with phallic symbols: spears,
the rifle, arrows, standards, even the horned helmet worn by one man.
Male Groups: The Entourage
Dobie (Richard Rust) and Frank (Skip Homeier) are the entourage
of the bad guy. In some ways, they are the sort of young punks
that fall in with the villain, and come to a bad end: a common
type in Boetticher films. But Dobie also has an idealistic side,
that lifts him above this level. He and Frank also form the sympathetic
male pair, that one found in Boston Blackie and Runt in One
Mysterious Night. Like that pair, Dobie and Frank are shown
sleeping near each other.
Also like Boston Blackie, Dobie and Frank dress in leather, wearing sets of fancy chaps.
The two men are dressed alike in some ways, a Boetticher tradition:
they are wearing shirts without vests, and chaps,
giving them a similar silhouette. But they are in different colors.
Frank is more conventionally male, in a blue shirt. Its ruled checked lines
suggest graph paper: a cool rationality. And indeed, Frank is a cold man who is willing
to kill for money. The paleness of his blue shirt, and his white chaps, also
suggest a lack of passion. By contrast, Dobie's bright red shirt suggests feelings.
But it also separates him from traditional male gender identity.
There is a comedy scene in which Dobie reads the stage coach schedule,
with great difficulty. He is both pathetic in his lack of skill,
and admirable in his persistence and determination to read. Boetticher
will return to this subject, with the admiration he has for the
schoolteacher in Stopover. This was the era just after
Sputnik, when Americans became deeply concerned with improving
educational levels. Both of these films reflect that milieu.
Skip Homeier, a great actor cast in a small role as Frank in
Comanche Station, does a wonderful job with his line reading, praising Dobie's reading.
He gets all sorts of shadings into this line, both comic and a bit frightening.
When Frank is found in the river, Dobie immediately jumps in and swims out to him.
His concern is contrasted dramatically with the relative indifference of the
other characters. Also striking: the straight line of his swimming, directly away from the camera.
This contrasts with the curve of the river.
Dobie cradles Frank, in a gesture recalling a Pieta.
The impression one gets is that Dobie loves Frank.
The body floating in the water recalls the final episode of
Paisŕ (Roberto Rossellini, 1946).
Dobie and Frank perhaps resemble an earlier pair, Fante and Mingo from
The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955).
Fante and Mingo are a gay couple, who work as henchmen for the film's villain.
Despite being on the side of the bad guys, Fante and Mingo are oddly sympathetic.
Dobie is sympathetic too, even though he and Frank work for the
very unsympathetic villain of Comanche Station.
After Frank's death, Dobie starts getting a moral awakening,
while looking at Frank's saddle. Soon, Dobie is sitting on the saddle.
This is a variant on the scenes in other Boetticher films, in which men sit on leather chairs.
Dobie undergoes a full scale reformation, while in intimate contact with his friend's most important possession.
But Dobie's reformation is not enough to pull him away from the villain. He values this connection -
and it destroys him. This is another skeptical Boetticher look, at the danger of being someone's Number 2.
Once again, Dobie is another Boetticher man who wastes his life being a Number 2 to a man or cause
that is completely beneath his talents.
The villain and Dobie ride similarly colored horses. This is a variant on the
Boetticher image of men who dress alike. No less a thinker than Bazin
told us to pay attention to the color of the horses in Seven Men from Now.
The little boy runs in a straight line to his mother, the way Dobie swam to Frank.
Such straight line motion is the image of love in Comanche Station.
Soon, the boy will guide his father along the same path, at his mother's suggestion.
This too is a love image. But it is made slowly and with an effort.
The husband has his own pole imagery. He grabs on to a post of the house porch.
Soon, a longer shot shows the house facade, full of pillars and posts.
All of these seem like "pole images" related to the husband.
He presumably built this house, and these poles are both phallic symbols,
as elsewhere in Boetticher, and symbols of a marriage.
Finally he uses a long stick to walk: the most ironical of pole symbols.
It looks like a sign of weakness. But it is also phallic and enabling.
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960) is a gangster film.
The sinister "hero" is another of Boetticher's comic trickster characters,
always up to some clever scheme. But unlike the often more sympathetic
tricksters in other Boetticher, such as Maverick, Legs Diamond has a mean, nasty streak.
Many of his schemes are malicious and harmful.
Several of the exteriors are studio sets, perhaps on a back lot.
This filming technique recalls Boetticher's early B-movie thrillers,
such as Escape in the Fog, which is also full of such
The pawnshop full of clocks, recalls the clock store in Escape in the Fog.
We see a switchboard at the apartment building lobby. Legs deduces that
a phone call is taking place, from activity he sees at the switchboard.
Store Window: The Robbery
The robbery sequence is elaborately staged around a store window.
We see shots from both inside the store, showing Legs trying to rob the jewels
in the window, and from outside, showing what the public can see.
Sound editing has what the public says outside be unheard inside: a good effect.
The finale of Escape in the Fog has the public viewing a store window.
As in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, they eventually become alarmed,
angry, and take action. The two sequences show a Boetticher tradition.
Boetticher gangsters and dictators sometimes have big wall maps, showing areas they control.
In The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, there is perhaps an odd, comic echo or burlesque of this.
Not-so-tough gangster Jesse White loses his power to Legs in the German restaurant.
Behind Jesse White on the wall, is a small, antique map of the world.
Boetticher's characters are often thirsty. In The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
this is linked to lessons about alcohol. The nice guy choreographer drinks water,
which the sinister Legs helps him get out of cooler.
Meanwhile, the dangers of alcohol are shown:
- Spiked liquor disables Rothstein's bodyguards.
- The heroine becomes an alcoholic.
- Liquor clouds Legs' judgment at the end, and contributes towards his downfall.
Overhead Camera Angles
Boetticher sometimes likes steep, overhead camera angles.
In The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond these include:
- A view outside the pawnbroker's.
- The end of the moving camera shot, where the hero moves down the stairs
in the alley behind the night club.
- The shooting of Moran and two others in the street from a window, near the film's end.
An overhead view in this sequence turns into a photo published in a newspaper, a nice bit of style.
The camera moves at a high level through a studio backlot representing a city street.
It arrives at the signs for a dance studio, on the second floor of a building.
Nice panorama that concentrates on buildings rather than action or people.
A Point Of View (POV) camera movement, shows what Legs sees
as he looks over the jewelry store roof, while preparing the robbery.
This too is purely architectural.
After the robbery, the couple leave the movie theater. This is the start of a long take.
They are briefly separated by a mounted policeman on a horse. They cross the street.
Then they move down a very long city sidewalk, accompanied by the moving camera.
This last part of the take is what David Bordwell calls a "walk-and-talk".
But the shot as a whole is quite complex.
A camera movement at the jail, opens with a stationary look at a sign on the jail wall.
The camera then moves, following the hero as he walks through the jail,
seen through the grill work. This shot echoes a longer camera movement in
According to Hoyle, which starts on a sign in a casino.
When Monica betrays Legs to the killers at the end, we see a long take camera movement
that starts above the killers' car, moves down to shoot through the car windows.
Later in the same street, is the final shot of the movie.
The heroine talks to the cop. Then the camera cranes up,
signally that the film is ending, and we get a dialogue-less street scene.
Rain begins: some of Boetticher's weather. Vignettes show various pedestrians.
There are also more mounted police, reminding us we are now back on city streets,
the type of location seen at the start of the film: a full circle.
In the crowd earlier, a young man in a trenchcoat seemed well-prepared for the rain that comes.
Strange Shaped Spaces
The hero of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond shows
an affinity for odd-shaped spaces. The hero shows a propensity
for movement, in all of these spaces:
When he is waiting by the elevator at Rothstein's, he takes up
a polygonally shaped angle of the room, different from the other
henchmen. (Shades of Fritz Lang, who loved
polygonal regions.) And soon Legs is inside the elevator, another
space that is always shown from outside, making it look both more
complex, and emphasizing its spatial, box-like properties as a whole.
- In the film's second shot, he moves under a gigantic, jutting
portico on a city street, a cubical area jutting out at an odd angle.
- Soon, he is pushing his brother into a strange region behind
a newsstand, out of the way of a robbers' shoot-out.
- Later, he will use a roof to commit a robbery. The strange trapezoidal skylight
through which Legs descends is featured.
- We see Legs inside a a corridor in the prison visiting room, which functions as a grilled cage.
When going to kill henchman Moran on the fire escape, Boetticher
gives an overhead view of the alley. The alley turns at a polygonal
corner. The whole alley image forms an irregularly shaped, giant
box. This is one of the most striking images in the film.
When Legs is shot and recuperating in bed, we see the cavity of the Murphy bed
behind him. Legs is essentially in a different space from everyone else
in the room - and an unusual one.
When Legs visits his old Sergeant to get shooting training, he goes down into an
areaway outside the Sergeant's apartment. The areaway is a large space, and visually fascinating.
It has a partly sloping roof, giving it a polygonal shape.
It also contains an arched doorway, something which appears in other
Frenchy's curved desk creates a space behind it, where Frenchy sits.
Rectilinear Shaped Spaces
A woman at the hotel has a vending area, where the hero charges items.
This vending area is not strange-shaped: it is a pure, simple rectilinear area.
She is one of several women in Boetticher films who have vending stands.
There are other rectilinear box-like spaces, not strange-shaped, in the film.
All of these spaces have people inside them:
- The owner's desk or cage at the pawnbroker's.
- The desk at the residential apartment building.
- The apartment building also has a telephone booth Legs uses.
- The area outside under the Hotsy Totsy night club marquee. A hit takes place there.
- The bar area at the German restaurant, which is a big cube, rather than a typical long bar.
- When attacking Jesse White at the restaurant, Legs emerges unexpectedly out of the
dumb waiter, another unusual containing space.
An area not quite rectilinear is in the final scene: the canopy outside the Columbus Arms,
when the police take the body away. This scene, emphasizing Legs getting cut down to size,
is an echo of the comic funeral scenes in other Boetticher films.
In an alley behind the night club, there is a long balcony. In a camera movement,
we see Legs move to one end of the balcony, then watch him go down some stairs to the floor of the alley below.
This region is rectilinear, but complex. It recalls a bit the balcony-with-staircase at the end of
Horizons West, although that was structured a bit differently.
It also recalls the long dock with a staircase leading down in Killer Shark.
We often see into other rooms in the interior sets. Some of these other rooms
can have box-like effects:
- Legs retrieves the jewels from his girlfriend's purse while in a curtained kitchenette.
- In the apartment in the Columbus Arms at the end,
we often see Legs in the bedroom, shot through the doorway from the living room.
Boetticher films are often full of long poles. These probably represent phallic symbols.
Arnold Rothstein's bed has three tall poles, sticking up from its head board.
These have sculpting on top, and certainly look like phallic symbols.
The bed is where aggressively sexual Rothstein beds his beautiful mistresses.
It is certainly a site of sexuality. I have never seen any decorations like
these poles in any other film, or in real life.
More conventionally, some gangsters carry big, long guns.
These are a staple of gangster films set in the 1920's. They are hardly unique to Boetticher.
(A portrait still of Robert Stack in the anti-gangster TV series The Untouchables (1959-1963)
shows Stack gripping a huge, endlessly long tommy gun sticking up straight in front of him.)
Still, they are consistent with the pole imagery in other Boetticher films.
In his last scene, Moran is loading his long gun, like the soldiers cleaning their guns in Seminole.
Moran's bedstead is full of circular and spiral shapes, unlike Arnold Rothstein's.
Through most of the picture, Legs is in a series of spectacular suits.
These are "three piece suits", that is, with vests.
Suits with vests suggest business clothes and business success.
Like Robert Ryan's business suits in Horizons West,
Legs' clothes suggest his aspirations for wealth, power and commercial success.
Also: Robert Stack in The Untouchables was frequently shown in vested suits.
Such suits perhaps evoked the gangster milieu of the 1920's to viewers in 1960.
Legs' tuxedo also comes with a vest. It is very dressy. It is NOT party clothes:
Legs wears it for his job as a dancer.
Legs gets in leather clothes, a Boetticher favorite, at a key moment.
The newly expert marksman Legs is executing his first hit.
Legs wears a leather jacket for this. It is sexually suggestive.
Legs is bare-chested in bed, like Rock Hudson in Seminole.
Both men's broad shoulders and upper chest are bare. But we don't see either man's abs or stomach.
The emphasis in both cases is on what big shoulders the men have.
Costumes: the Allied Enterprises syndicate scene
When Legs confronts the syndicate at the end, he is in different clothes
than in the rest of the film. Legs is now in rich man's garb:
a fancy scarf that conceals his shirt and tie, a Chesterfield-style coat
that might be worn over formal wear, a fancy hat. These clothes express wealth.
But they are not really business clothes. For most of the film Legs was in business suits:
now he is wearing gear over his business suit and tie that conceals them.
The costume suggests Legs has lost his business orientation and skill, and is now
a decadent rich man who has money but not ability. Indeed, Legs will get out-powered
by the roomful of syndicate men who dress and act in a business-like manner.
Many of the syndicate men at Allied Enterprises are older men, in clothes that suggest
board members of top corporations. But there are also three younger, good looking men.
These men are in conventional business suits, and suggest that the syndicate can draw on business ability
that now out-classes anything Legs can offer:
The row of men containing these last two turn their heads in unison, at one point.
Visually, this underscores that they are working together as a team.
They seem much more powerful than Legs.
- The man who escorts Legs into the board room.
- The man sitting at the corner of the board table, perhaps introduced as "Mr. Crawford from California".
He is the only man in the room wearing a light colored suit, making him stand out.
It is also the most conventional business suit in the room, something that might be seen
in any modern corporation. His corner location is also conspicuous.
He seems like an All-American business type, a man who will blend in
and be respected in the coming 20th Century American business community.
- A few men to the right, is a young man in a very expensive looking suit,
suggesting wealth beyond his years. He is smoking a cigar, one of Boetticher's phallic symbols.
Hong Kong: Colonel Cat
Colonel Cat (1960) is the only episode of the Hong Kong TV series directed by Boetticher.
A big Thank You to Mike Lewis, who enabled me to see Colonel Cat on the big screen.
Links to Escape in the Fog
Colonel Cat reminds one of Escape in the Fog (1945), made by Boetticher fifteen years earlier. Both have:
It is somewhat unusual to see Boetticher reverting to a mode of filmmaking he had used fifteen years previously.
Perhaps this was part of the appeal to him of making Colonel Cat.
- International intrigue rooted in World War II, but set in civilian areas far from battlefields.
- Suspense scenes at night.
- Admirable, non-stereotyped Chinese characters.
- Characters who can foresee the future through paranormal means.
- Rich, sympathetic "leaders of society" characters at home, in supporting roles.
- Black-and-white photography.
- Traditional 4:3 aspect ratios.
Colonel Cat is set in 1960. But its plot is centered on events that happened during World War II,
over 15 years before. These strongly influence the modern day events. This gives Colonel Cat
the feel of a World War II thriller, even though it is set in 1960, rather than during the war.
The Chinese Doctor: Forensic Scientist
The police doctor who does the autopsy and forensic work is a brainy, articulate and sympathetic character.
This is a highly positive, non-stereotyped portrait of a Chinese scientist.
He recalls the equally non-stereotyped Chinese agent in Escape in the Fog.
Boetticher had a strong commitment to Civil Rights, and positive portraits of all races.
The summer before, the short-lived U.S. TV series Diagnosis: Unknown (1960) was set in a pathology lab,
based on the prose fiction of Lawrence Blochman. (Boetticher was not involved with Diagnosis: Unknown.)
The team included a non-stereotyped Indian scientist, Dr. Mookerji. Like the Chinese doctor in
Colonel Cat, this is a respectful, intelligent look at skilled Asian scientists doing forensic work.
Both portraits should be better known.
The portraits of pathology work in Diagnosis: Unknown and Colonel Cat are intelligent,
serious and detailed. While of course they lack scientific discoveries made since 1960 such as DNA analysis,
they are otherwise just as good as modern-day depictions of forensic work on TV.
They form a creditable achievement.
Boetticher likes trickster characters. Rod Taylor's reporter hero in Colonel Cat is mainly
a classic good guy. But two episodes have Taylor taking on trickster behaviors. SPOILERS:
SPOILERS. Both of these schemes have Taylor allegedly "tricking" good guy policeman Chief Inspector Campbell.
First we see Taylor's tricks, which work. But immediately afterwards, we learn that the policeman has not been fooled.
He has knowingly gone along with Taylor's alleged "tricks", partly because he approves of Taylor's goals.
And partly because he likes Taylor's "enterprise".
- He persuades policeman Campbell to talk to him, before briefing the other reporters.
- At the end, he uses a scheme to send the bonds back to the banking family secretly, to avoid a scandal.
The early Boetticher film One Mysterious Night (1944)
showed reformed crook Boston Blackie and his police official friend Inspector Farraday enjoying
Blackie's tricks and the policeman's threats of arrest, as a fun game.
Taylor is an honest reporter, not a reformed crook like Boston Blackie.
But there is something of the same feel in Colonel Cat. Both Taylor and Campbell
perversely enjoy Taylor's tricks, regarding them as a game of wits.
There are male-bonding aspects in such games, between the two men.
These trickster aspects are another link between Colonel Cat and
Boetticher's early B-movie crime thrillers of the 1940's.
However, such reformed-crook vs authority figure trickster games also appear in
late 1950's Boetticher films like Point Blank (1957) and Ride Lonesome (1959).
Boston Blackie enjoys Inspector Farraday's threats to arrest him.
The Sheriff in Point Blank likes to lock trickster Maverick up in his jail,
with a seeming sternness that is perhaps a game - although this is less explicit and more subtle than with Inspector Farraday.
Similarly, the policeman in Colonel Cat
expresses satisfaction at the end that he has Taylor under his control in the hospital.
The film immediately shows that the wily Taylor is not actually under control - although it
also strongly hints that this is with Campbell's informed consent.
Geometry and Groups of Men
In One Mysterious Night a group of policeman form a V-shaped wedge, while walking in the street.
In Colonel Cat a group of reporters form a circle while waiting outside a police lab for a story.
Both geometric figures are striking. Soon the reporters on on the move, in a "procession" like the cops
in the earlier film.
A group of reporters who cover the police are also present in One Mysterious Night.
Like the reporters in Colonel Cat they wear business suits.
Tully is the hero's friend. He is an earthy type, and seems to be one of the working class
characters running through Boetticher.
Tully runs a saloon: on of the bars in Boetticher films.
He and the hero have drinks: Boetticher characters are always thirsty.
Fairly elaborate camera movement follow the hero in Tully's saloon.
This recalls the Chinese restaurant camera movements in One Mysterious Night:
another link to this early Boetticher film.
Tully and the victim male-bonded while in the World War II Japanese prison.
Location Filming in Hong Kong
Colonel Cat mixes location exteriors in Hong Kong, with interiors reportedly shot in
studio sets in Los Angeles. I do not know if Boetticher went to Hong Kong to film these location exteriors,
or whether they were done by a second unit without Boetticher's help. A nice shot features
curving roads above Hong Kong: curving roads being a Boetticher favorite.
1950's American TV detective shows like Mike Hammer mixed location exteriors shot in New York City,
with interiors made on studio sets. These exteriors were shot silent.
They would have little or no dialogue, but would have sound effects added later on.
A similar "silent film for exteriors" approach seems to be used for Colonel Cat.
Only one of its Hong Kong exteriors has any dialogue.
Many of the good guys are crowded into a living room, in an early scene.
This anticipates Stopover, which also features are large cast crowded together into a small living room.
Treasures: A MacGuffin?
Like many other Boetticher films, Colonel Cat centers around a search for a valuable treasure.
In many ways, these are what Alfred Hitchcock called MacGuffins:
objects around which the plot swirls, but which have no inherent significance.
In Colonel Cat this treasure consists of looted bonds.
The treasure could have been jewels or gold or cash, and the story would have been little different:
the bonds have no "inherent significance", but like other MacGuffins, are merely something that drives forward the plot.
Treasures in some Boetticher films are linked to family businesses or work, and a related family tragedy:
This link to family work and tragedy does give the treasures strong emotional significance.
- In Seven Men From Now, the treasure is linked to the Wells Fargo office where the hero's wife worked.
- In Colonel Cat, the bonds come from the bank where the victim and his father (Herbert Marshall) worked.
Architecture: Doors and Facade
The warehouse with the buried treasure has one of the complex, geometric building facades Boetticher likes.
The doors make complex geometric patterns: something common in Boetticher.
But unlike some other outdoor doors in Boetticher, they have no bolts.
The strong diagonals of the doors are also atypical - but geometrically pleasing.
Boetticher likes poles, and other long objects that seem phallic. In Colonel Cat:
Boetticher likes to link poles with revolving objects.
A pole-like flashlight is set near on round compass with a moving, revolving needle.
- The yarrow sticks used for I Ching divination at the party.
- Flashlights, used by both the villain, and the good couple who discover the body. Flashlights recall Escape in the Fog.
- A shovel the villain plans to use to dig a grave: recalling Buchanan Rides Alone.
- The pickax used to chop through the concrete floor.
- The policeman carries a swagger stick, which he swings like a nightstick, intimidating people. Swagger sticks recall Seminole.
The Rifleman: Stopover
Stopover (1961) is a Boetticher Western about which nobody
seems to know. It is the only episode of The Rifleman TV
series directed by Boetticher. The show is around 25 minutes long,
like most episodes of the series. Joseph H. Lewis
directed 49 episodes of The Rifleman, many first rate.
One wishes there were a similar huge body of Boetticher TV films.
An Ensemble: Meals, Drink, and Prayer
Like other Boetticher movies, Stopover is an ensemble piece,
about a group of characters. Series regulars Lucas and his son
Mark are less central here than they are in other Rifleman
episodes. The meal, with six people around Lucas' table, is the
biggest crowd I've ever seen at Lucas' ranch. Such a communal
experience is typical of Boetticher.
Young Mark says Grace before the meal. Like the funeral prayers
in Buchanan Rides Alone, this comments in a revealing,
and slightly comic way, on the characters and the story.
People in Stopover are always drinking: coffee, liquor,
water, medicine. Boetticher characters are really thirsty. One
recalls the coffee always being served by women in Seven Men
From Now, and the saloons in Decision at Sundown and
Buchanan Rides Alone.
Boetticher Traditions: Links to Seven Men from Now
Stopover shows many typical Boetticher situations. It is
about a group of people thrown together in isolated quarters,
while traveling out West. A group that is riven by sexual tension
over one sophisticated, strong woman in their midst. And by greed
over an alleged treasure, and by tension between good guys and
outlaws. And with trouble stirred up by a bitingly sarcastic man
who knows how to push everyone's psychological hot buttons, by
telling unpleasant truths. In short, it's right in the tradition
of Seven Men from Now, The Tall T and Comanche
However, there are big differences. There are no demons inside
these characters, and no one who is essentially a gangster. This
leads to a complete different resolution from any of the Ranown
cycle of Westerns.
The casting of Adam West also subverts Boetticher traditions:
maybe in a good way, and certainly in ways understood by the director.
West is a man who oddly embodies class. He was ideally cast both
as the heroic Batman and his secret identity, millionaire philanthropist
Bruce Wayne. West has a gentlemanly, intellectual way of speaking,
that serves his character here well. While tall, handsome smoothies
like West tend to be corrupt gangster types in Boetticher - Robert
Ryan in Horizons West, Craig Stevens in Buchanan Rides
Alone, Legs Diamond - the noble West suggests something very
different. West also reverses imagery and outcomes associated
with Michael Dante in Westbound. And his back-story has
links to some Randolph Scott characters in the Ranown films. Since
much of the film is about the mystery of West's character, I will
not say anything more or spoil the plot.
The sarcastic man makes a big deal about how the heroine failed
to arouse interest in Christopher Rolf (Adam West's character) during the stage coach
ride, even though she flirted with him relentlessly. This leads
to the question: is this character gay or straight? Later, the
heroine and Rolf become friends. But Rolf never in
fact expresses sexual interest in the heroine. There is no actual
"signal of desire", to borrow a phrase from Andrew Sarris.
This is in contrast to Lucas and Mark, both of whom show explicit,
unmistakable signs of being attracted to the heroine sexually.
Rolf in fact remains ambiguous to the end of the show.
Such ambiguity about male characters, not clearly shown to be
gay or straight, is found elsewhere in Boetticher.
The Kitchen Knife
Mark is peeling potatoes with a huge kitchen knife.
This is one of the phallic symbols that run through Boetticher.
The giant size of the knife, a bit big for peeling potatoes, underscores this visually.
Mark drops it, when he hears about sharing space with the glamorous female visitor.
It is quite funny, and indicates how nervous Mark is about women: common with teenagers.
This whole characterization and mystery of Rolf (Adam West) is helped by the
pure black clothes costume designer Robert B. Harris has for West.
These were usually reserved for gunslingers and desperadoes, both
on The Rifleman, and in Westerns generally. Later, West
will sleep in Lucas' black leather chair, keeping to his color
scheme. When West gets out of the chair, Boetticher gives us a
close-up of the lower part of West's body, both front and back,
highlighting many details of his costume.
The heroine is also in black clothes, something unusual for a
Western, and which serves to link her to West. Such coordinated
outfits in Boetticher are typically worn by an outlaw and his
henchmen: all-male groups. Here, both West and the heroine are
social outsiders. Are they bad people? That is part of the mystery
of the show.
The whiteness of the snow that is everywhere is also striking.
Boetticher gets a great deal of mileage out of it in his images.
Even though this film is in black and white, not color, Boetticher
puts emphasis on colors that viewers can see, like the intense
black of the costumes, and white of the snow.
Overhead Camera Angles
Boetticher includes two overhead angles showing the stagecoach
outside the McCain ranch: one at the start of the show, the other
near the end. I do not recall seeing such overhead angles at the
ranch in any other episode of the series. Similarly, there is
a high angle at one point inside the living room, also atypical.
Strange Shaped Spaces
At the beginning, there is talk when Mark nearly goes under a
tilted ladder in the barn. This forms a triangular region, one
of the "strange shaped spaces" one sees in Boetticher.
These are large, oddly shaped, three-dimensional regions in which
the characters move. Such spaces are part of Boetticher's visual
Mark sleeps behind a hanging blanket, through whose open bottom
he can see the heroine disrobing (just her feet - this is a family
show!). His half of the bedroom behind the blanket is a tight
space in which he is placed.
West and Melford wind up standing on top of the stagecoach at
the end. This recalls the way Legs Diamond is up near the skylight.
A slanting barn roof is above them, creating another strange shaped
The overhead angles in front of the ranch emphasize the box-like
nature of the porch: we see its roof and pillars that support
it. The steep angle also makes the stagecoach look like a box.
The overhead angle recalls the similar high angle on the box-like
alley in The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.