I volunteered to write a blog for the Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by two great sites dedicated to classic films: Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and Scribehard on Film. The hosts of these two sites brilliantly decided to host a month-long blogathon that parallels the great actors and actresses featured each day for the month of August on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. Be sure to click on the links to read other great posts by other bloggers who also love classic movies! I volunteered to focus on actor Randolph Scott, and specifically the great action/Western The Tall T.
The Tall T was directed by Bud Boetticher, produced by Harry Joe Brown, and the associate producer was the film’s star, Randolph Scott. The idea for the film came from an Elmore Leonard story that he wrote in 1955 for Argosy magazine, titled The Captives. Burt Kennedy wrote the screenplay adaptation of Leonard’s story and the film was distributed in 1957 by Columbia Pictures. In glorious technicolor, the movie was filmed on location in the rugged locale of Lone Pine, California. Besides Randolph Scott, the cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan, Richard Boone, Henry Silva, Skip Homeier, Arthur Hunnicutt, John Hubbard, Robert Burton, Christopher Olsen, and Fred Sherman.
Randolph Scott is Pat Brennan, a down-on-his luck ranch hand, who has decided to travel to the town of Contention in order to see his old boss, Mr. Tenvoorde, the owner of the Tall T ranch. As he begins his journey, Brennan stops by the stage coach relay station owned by Hank Parker(Fred Sherman). After a nice greeting and visit, Brennan promises Jeff, Parker’s son(Christopher Olson) that he’ll bring the boy a bag of candy on his way back from Contention. Brennan is heading there because he wants to buy a bull from Mr. Tenvoorde in order to start up his own ranch. Tenvoorde likes to make bets and he bets Brennan that he can have the bull, a Brahma, only if he can break it first(ride it in a specific amount of time without falling off the bull). If Brennan can do it, he gets the bull, but if he gets thrown off, he also has to give his horse to Tenvoorde. Brennan takes the bet, rides the bull, but gets thrown off and lands in a watering trough! Without his horse, Brennan begins the long walk back to the relay station. Luckily, he meets up with Ed Rintoon(Arthur Hunnicutt), a stage coach driver he knows who has been hired to drive a private coach to Bixby for newlyweds Willard and Doretta Mims(John Hubbard and Maureen O’Sullivan). Rintoon welcomes Brennan aboard the coach, to sit shotgun, of course, and agrees to take him to the relay station.
When the coach gets to the relay station, Brennan calls out to Parker and Jeff but there is no answer. Finding that odd, Brennan is standing up on the stage coach’s roof when he and Rintoon here a low, gravelly voice order them to throw down their guns. Rintoon glances down at his rifle near his feet and he makes a grab for it only to be gunned down by a young man who suddenly appears from the relay station building. Another man, the speaker, appears, as well as another younger gunman. It is Frank Usher(Richard Boone) and his gang, Chink(Henry Silva) and Billy Jack(Skip Homeier). They inform Brennan that they have killed Hank Parker and his son Jeff, and that they intend to rob the coach. It is at this point that newlywed Willard Mims pokes his head out of the coach to inform the outlaws that his new bride is the daughter of the richest man in the state and that wouldn’t it be better to hold his wife hostage and he personally will deliver a ransom note to his father-in-law.
The actors do a great job with their parts showing their characters to be people with deeper feelings and complexities than just the on the surface good folks vs. bad folks. With Mims’s offer, we see him for what he is, a sniveling coward who only married his wife for her fortune. The bride, Doretta, is plain and in her middle thirties so she jumped at the chance to marry instead of dying an old maid. Usher is evil, pure and simple. So is his gang, one sneaky and conniving and one trigger-happy and jumpy. Boone plays Usher without giving the audience any reason to have sympathy for him. Yet, his character always wants to talk to Brennan, as if Brennan is an example of what he, Usher, could have been, if he’d made better choices with his life. Doretta and Brennan have to find ways to survive being held hostage by these three; luckily they camp near a cave that provides the two of them protection and a chance to make plans to outwit their captors. Brennan, a confirmed bachelor, shows that chivalry still lives with his care of Doretta and deeper feelings grow between the two of them.
Randolph Scott lived a very interesting and somewhat charmed life. Born on January 23, 1898 in Virginia but raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, he was the second of 6 children, born to George and Lucille Scott. Randolph’s father was an administrative engineer at a textile mill. Randolph and his siblings went to private schools and Scott excelled at sports. When WWI arrived, Scott was 19 and he enlisted in the Army. He was stationed in France as an artillery observer with the 2nd Trench Mortar Battalion, 19th Field Artillery. After the war, Scott came back to the states and enrolled at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He aimed to play football there but a back injury ended his football career. Next, Scott enrolled at University of North Carolina, to major in textile engineering, but ended up dropping out due to a lack of interest in that field. His father helped Randolph land an accounting job at the mill where he worked. In 1927, the acting bug bit Randolph Scott and he gave up the accounting job and moved to Hollywood to try and make it as an actor. His father happened to know Howard Hughes through previous business dealings so with the introduction letter from his father to Hughes, Scott was able to snag a bit part in a movie, 1928’s Sharp Shooters. After a couple more bit parts, and a part in The Virginian(rumor is that Scott helped star Gary Cooper speak with a southern drawl), famed director Cecil B. Demille suggested to Scott that he get some stage work under his belt. Scott listened and soon found parts to act on stage with The Pasadena Playhouse.
Scott’s earlier movies ran the gamut. He was cast in dramatic movies, comedies, war movies, adventure movies, a fantasy/horror film, and even a couple of musicals-he was Fred Astaire’s buddy in those two films, not needed to dance or sing. As Scott aged, he decided to focus his acting in Westerns, as he liked making that type of film and it was a wise decision. He made many westerns in the 1950s and 1960s and most of them did quite well at the box office. Scott excelled at portraying the quiet, strong man, willing to do the right thing, even if it was going to be the hardest thing to do. For a full list of Scott’s films, check out the link on Imdb. One other interesting fact I found out in researching Randolph Scott is that he was under consideration for the role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind! Oh if only he had gotten the part! Scarlett would have had a real dilemma in trying to choose between Scott and Gable!
For an excellent western to view, to see Randolph Scott excell in a role that he did best, tune in on Monday, August 19th at 8:00 ET/7:00 CT when Turner Classic Movies airs The Tall T, in tribute to Randolph Scott day, as part of their Summer Under the Stars.