The actor Randolph Scott made many kinds of films in his career bu is forever linked to Westerns. He was the man alone, standing against something bad. Sometimes he was a reluctant hero, but he always remained his own man.
I’ve come late to appreciate Scott as an actor and Western hero. Even in B films, he gave a star performance.
In the 1950’s he teamed with producer Harry Joe Brown and Director Budd Boetticher to make a seven really fine Westerns. Scott was Clint Eastwood before there a Clint Eastwood. Except Scott had a charm and lightness, and wasn’t afraid to use it. He could be the dark, vengeful character like Eastwood often was, but Scott kept it in check.
Scott wasn’t usually the angry, tormented and vengeful man that James Stewart often was in 1950’s Westerns. Scott was often a happy go lucky man with wisecracks and a smile. He unwittingly found himself involved in feuds, robberies or other people’s dirty business.
He might not always follow the law but he knew the side of right. Occasionally he was driven by vengeance or money, but in the end, he stood on the side of right.
The first film I remember him in a film was Ride the High Country, where he co-starred with Joel McCrea as two senior citizen cowboys on one last job. Scott took the flashier role but played the more flawed man, his loyalties turned by money, until he recalled who he really was.
Westerns were moral tales, twisted allegiances, revenge, greed, misplaced trust, courage against long odds. After World War II, Westerns became film noir on horseback. The themes were sometimes dark and the men were damaged. Even the heroes came with baggage.
In the Boetticher films, the themes were gritty and the violence sometimes shocking, but never drifting into sensational. Scott co-produced and owned these films, and although the budgets were modest, he surrounded himself with fine casts and shared the screen. These might have been B films but the action and conflict was on the money.
Scott was in his 50’s during the 1950’s but he moved and acted like a much younger man. Even in his 50’s he performed his own stunts. He was athletically fit and his ruggedness had great appeal. When he retired in 1962, he had made 100 film with the majority of them Westerns. His last film, Ride the High Country, was director Sam Peckinpah’s second feature film, and although it wasn’t a big financial success, through time is recognized as a classic.
Scott got into film toward the end of the silent film era, mostly in bit parts, and was advised to get some stage experience, which he did. During the 1930’s, with the help of Howard Hughes, he began working his way up the acting food chain where he began getting lead parts in B films. He starred in a series of Zane Grey Westerns. His studio began to loan him out where he worked in supporting roles on many A films. He continued his rise in bigger films and was even considered for a role in Gone With the Wind. At the time, Scott was appearing in many non-Westerns, including musicals with Fred Astaire, and comedies with his friend Cary Grant. Both men became lifelong friends.
In the 1940’s, Scott starred in many war and action films, and eventually returned to Westerns as his bread and butter. In 1947, Scott formed his partnership with producer Harry Joe Brown, and they would produce many of Scott’s films over the final 15 years of his career. The films they made together, Ranown Cycle, named after their production company, mostly were made with director Boetticher, and written by either Burt Kennedy or Charles Lang. Scott’s characters were generally the cowboy alone who is drawn into a town’s conflict, or a man who is wrestling with emotional trauma from his past, but is able to channel it to resolve the conflict, and ends up helping the town and himself.
Scott’s son, Christopher, wrote a book about his dad called, Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott? That was the name of a country song. The book is a loving tribute to his father and an exploration of what made Randolph Scott, Randolph Scott. It is no coincidence that Randolph Scott the actor was very close to Randolph Scott the man. In the book, the son describes the lessons and knowledge he gained through life, and most of all the love and patience he began to understand in his adult years. At the end of the book, he describes his father’s failing health and the frailty that overtook the six foot, four inch giant of a man. His final days with his comatose father, his words of thanks and reflection, as he says goodbye to this towering presence, is a journey many of us have experienced. The larger than life parent who is fading from our grasp.
Randolph Scott left the physical world at age 89, but he left behind more than 100 films. Scott was very protective of his public image and he could do so when he chose and produced his films. He never thought he was his characters, just a very lucky actor, but he knew who he was and the roles he wanted to be identified with. We should all know ourselves so well.