Ride the High Country

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

A new voice full of vision and inspiration came to the cineramic panorama of the west in the early sixties and this visionary would go on to have struggles, battles and finished art that still has it’s fine tuning as late as today. He is director Sam Peckinpah and what brought his name to the cinema surface was a story of two men of the west who’s time had past and that one assignment would lead them into more directions than any in their lives. When their journey leads them to a low class of people they keep going to Ride The High Country.

The West is in it’s final days and it’s been reduced to a sideshow of what it once was. Target practice is being charged for, freaks of nature are being shown and of course free balloons for the kids. In the middle of it all brings ex-lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) who has one more assignment in him before his work is done. He is to go on the trail to export gold. Assisting him is former partner Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and his protege Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) but the gold is only one element to this journey. They come across a woman, some brothers and a whole lot of brewing going on in this upper one horse town.

It’s always good to see complexity and scenery at its best in a film and Ride The High Country mixes it all in ninety four minutes with two men who still have some fire in their bellies and the surroundings and complications that come their way even if it means changes in themselves. Old pros Scott and McCrea play it well serving some characters that obsess with living their life honest and struggling with it through hard times.

Great support comes from some Peckinpah regulars as R.G. Armstrong and L.Q. Jones as well at catching a glimpse of Warren Oates in a good intro in one of his earlier roles . It’s also a pleasure to see in her first role Mariette Hartley, who some might know from the old Polaroid commercials with James Garner, playing a character who feels confident to leave her home the way she does but realizes the consequences in her own choice apart from that.

It goes in a multitude of directions but never loses its focus on temptation, age and friendship. Ride The High Country fits a lot into its short running time and ends with a shot for the ages giving it a great addition to the Western genre as well as a great part of the Peckinpah library as well.

Video: How does it look?

Ride The High Country makes it’s DVD debut in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation with glowing results. Many documentaries that have shown scenes from this film have shown an inferior source that gives a decent but not great picture, but not this transfer. On here, there is a print that is brighter, more consistant visually in both day and night and retains its great use of color throughout the entire feature with the fewest specks of debris and hardly a hint of a print flaw. It’s always a pleasure to see an older film over forty years look this good and this does.

Audio: How does it sound?

Although visually it’s retains it’s beautiful CinemaScope cinematography, the Dolby Digital Mono track does it’s best to keep audibly a clear and consistant track and one thing I can say for it is that it succeeds despite the limitations thanks to distinct dialogue, a memorable score by George Bassman and the unique gunshots used in this film which sound different and more realistic than the normal studio library tracks the viewer hears on most films of this era. Within the channels, there’s no big technological advance but for a film of it’s time it’s slightly better than average. This disc also has a French Mono track as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Continuing on the fine Peckinpah collection is yet another audio episode of Peckinpah’s Past from Peckinpah’s Present with speakers Garner Simmons, Paul Seydor, David Weddle and moderator Nick Redman summing up their feelings on Peckinpah’s second feature from the making and the reactions of the film at that time and today as well as the reaction of the actors and actresses with their first (and in some cases only) encounters with Sam. As always, an entertainingly informative track that leaves little room for gaps and plenty of room for lessons in Peckinpah 101 balanced very well by our four speakers.

In addition to the Peckinpah Trailer Gallery with trailers of Ride The High Country and all from the Peckinpah Western Collection + The Getaway and James Dean Collection, there’s a featurette entitled A Justified Life:Sam Peckinpah and the High Country which talks at great length about growing up with Peckinpah from his sister Fern Lee Peter chatting up about their childhood and how they were raised. This is interesting learning about how elements growing up would later make their ways into future Peckinpah works and gave a portrait of a time that had gone and a changed man when it came time for Sam to be a director. One thing it does finish off with is one of my favorite pictures of Peckinpah with the Ride The High Country poster in the background which is a good pic to remember him with (at least this viewer does) before the older pics which everyone knows came to be.

Another chapter in the Western genre is well written, well shot and well executed in a short time and it’s created by director Sam Peckinpah with Ride The High Country, a great cornucopia of a different kind of Western along with being another great addition to the Peckinpah Western Collection with all of his fine works.

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