From the opening seconds of “Buchanan Rides Alone” (1958), it’s obvious that this isn’t your typical Budd Boetticher/ Randolph Scott film. Tom Buchanan (Randolph Scott) rides into the border town of Agry. He is stopped by the town’s sheriff, Lew Agry (Barry Kelley), for no particular reason. When Buchanan is asked to get off his horse, his reply is simply, “What for?”, while wearing a grin that stretches from ear to ear. (As well as more make-up than necessary.) From this moment on there are few scenes that don’t include Buchanan’s smile and pleasant demeanor. His light-hearted way of strolling through life is even contagious for those watching the film. Unfortunately the town of Agry isn’t as easy going as Buchanan. The town is run by the Agry brothers. Lew is the sheriff, Amos (Peter Whitney) runs the hotel (and serves as the town crier), and then there is Judge Simon Agry (Tol Avery), who is the unofficial leader of Agry town.
Judge Agry’s son, Roy (William Leslie), comes riding into town in a hurry, with his face covered in fresh scratches. His arrogant attitude and annoying demeanor stay with him as he enters the saloon. Roy butts heads with Buchanan, who somehow manages to blow him off without letting it get him down; that is, until Juan de la Vega (Manuel Rojas) comes riding into town from the Mexican side of the border, hell bent on killing Roy. After Juan shoots Roy, the sheriff and his deputies start knocking Juan around, which in turn inspires Buchanan to help the out-numbered Juan. At the end of the struggle, Juan and Buchanan are thrown in jail where they await trial.
Over the next 63 minutes of this film, the Agry brothers play a series of manipulating games against each other, in order to profit off of Roy’s murder. Juan turns out to be the son of a wealthy Mexican rancher, and Judge Agry is willing to trade his captive for money. Buchanan is found innocent and released, but the sheriff has no intension of letting Buchanan walk away from the trouble he has caused. The best part of “Buchanan Rides Alone” is how during this last hour things continue to go back and forth between the two sides. Every time you think Buchanan is about to get away, things turn for the worst. Every time things look bad, something miraculous happens that turns things around again.
Something this film is missing that I consider to be a key ingredient to the other films that Scott made with Boetticher: a woman. With the exception of a couple of lines worth of dialogue from Roy’s girl in the first couple of minutes and then again toward the end, this film is all men. That isn’t necessarily that awkward for a western, but so many of Scott’s other western characters are motivated by revenge for something that happened to his woman in the past. In this film Buchanan barely seems to even have a past.
Personally, I don’t consider any of the other Boetticher/ Scott collaborations to be light-hearted films. This one, however, with a screenplay by Charles Lang, is almost too much fun. Buchanan, as a character, lacks the dark background that so many of Scott’s other characters embodied. He’s full of quippy dialogue that carries throughout the film, even when Buchanan has a rope around his neck. My favorite exchange, however, takes place between Buchanan and the sheriff during the trial:
Sheriff: Oh, you don’t like this town?
Buchanan: I don’t like some of its people.
Sheriff: Me included?
Sheriff: Oh, you’d like to kill me maybe?
Buchanan: I’d like to give you what your boys gave me.
Sheriff: Take the law into your own hands, is that it?
Buchanan: No, just you.
If “Buchanan Rides Alone” has a downside, it’s that it’s so easy going it’s hard to have any real intensity as the film reaches its climax. I even find myself chuckling during the last shootout. There is also a scene where Buchanan has befriended one of the deputies named Pecos (L.Q. Jones), who actually has to kill another deputy in order to save Buchanan. Then Roy proceeds to perform a makeshift funeral that includes the greatest (or at least funniest) eulogy in any western I’ve ever seen.
Filmed on location in Sabino Canyon, Arizona, “Buchanan Rides Alone” has the expected beauty of a Boetticher western with luscious cinematography by western specialist, Lucien Ballard. The location shooting really adds an element of authenticity to this film. The west always seems bigger when it’s filmed in the west. The last Boetticher film that I reviewed was “Decision at Sundown” (1957), and one of my biggest complaints was that the majority of the film took place in the town, thus robbing the viewers of the expansive locations. Luckily for me, “Buchanan Rides Alone” fully satisfies in this department.