My birthday is getting close and as I was musing over the fact that I’m firmly in middle age, who were some of my reel infatuations from classic movies who kept on giving good acting performances when they reached middle age? I zeroed in on Randolph Scott in The Tall T. Scott was 59 when he starred in this excellent western, rescuing a damsel in distress, or rather, a spinster-suddenly widowed, a 46 year old Maureen O’Sullivan from a trio of dastardly villians, one barely out of his 30s, one in his early 30s and one in his 20s. Let’s give out a cheer for the middle aged in this film!!!!
Randolph Scott began his acting career in 1927 at the age of 29(WWI, college for a while, then accounting were all stepping stones on his life’s path to Hollywood) and he began with bit parts in silents, then moved into “B” westerns, and doing stage plays which caught the attention of Paramount, who signed him to a contract. From there it was loan outs, working at his craft, to finally landing leading roles in “A” pictures. In 1946, Scott once again put on his cowboy gear, got up on his horse, and from there on out, made the last third of his acting career in Westerns.
In The Tall T, (the trailer states that the T stands for terror and we learn it is also the name of a ranch where the hero has gone to buy some stock) we get the tall Scott riding in on his horse over mountainous rock groupings, as he rides in to the stage coach station to visit a bit with Hank(Frank E. Sherman), who runs the station, and his young son, Jeff(Chris Olsen.) Scott’s character, Pat, is an old bachelor cowhand, who finally has saved up enough money to buy his own ranch. Hank teases Pat about never having found a wife, and warns Pat that if he ever begins talking to his cattle out of loneliness, all hope is lost for him!! Both men have a good laugh over that remark, and Pat promises to bring back some candy for Jeff. Pat is about to ride on to the nearest town to buy some more stock for his ranch. I noticed that Scott, even at 59, was still ramrod straight with his posture-no stooped shoulders, no seeming to have arthritic issues with moving around or climbing up onto or getting off of his horse. He’s tanned, a bit more weathered in his face, but he still has that wide, charming grin and that bit of his natural NC twang that never did leave his speech pattern when he talks. He’s adorable!! He’s a rugged, handsome man and a comforting presence to Hank and his young son. I noticed at this early part of the movie, the music is jaunty and fun. It makes the audience feel good, and makes one feel that one is in for a fun film.
This feel good aspect to the film is short. When Pat returns to the station with the stagecoach(he lost his horse in a bet and has had to hitch a ride back to Hank and Jeff) the happy music turns quickly to an ominous tone and the trio of pure evil, younger men emerge: Frank Usher(excellently portrayed by Richard Boone), Chink(Henry Silva), and Billy Jack(Skip Homeier). After ordering Pat, the stagecoach driver Rintoon(Arthur Hunnicutt), and the passengers to throw down their guns, the trio orders them out of and off of the stagecoach. Rintoon is gunned down as he attempts to shoot the villains with his hidden rifle. In another day or so, Doretta Mims(Maureen O’Sullivan) will be widowed before her honeymoon ever began as her cowardly husband is shot in the back by Frank.
Doretta is a truly sympathetic character in this hot mess of a situation. She is the only child of a copper mine magnate. She’s been a spinster until she met Willard Mims(ew, the name Willard would have been enough to make me run in the other direction!) and she convinced herself that he was her last chance, agreeing to marry him even though she knew he was only interested in her for her money. Pat can see that the trio of villains need to be outwitted and that only he and Doretta can do this. He is a hero to be commended because he takes into consideration Doretta’s hurt emotions, her feeling of abandonment, her feeling of foolishness for ever marrying Willard, and yet Pat is able to calm her nerves, her fears, her bad feelings, and gets her to work with him in defeating Usher, Chink, and Billy Jack. Pat could have swaggered a bit, and bossed Doretta around, or treated her with contempt as another bit of baggage in his way of outwitting and destroying the baddies, but he doesn’t. He treats Doretta with respect, as an equal in asking for her help, and ultimately as a new love in this latter part of his life in the rugged West.
Scott”s portrayal of Pat shows a strong man, one who is warm, smart, who listens before he speaks, and acts wisely. Pat is quick to notice the fault lines in the gang who has kidnapped he and Doretta. Gang leader, Usher, is a loner. A lonely loner who often calls out Pat to come and talk with him. Pat is listening close to Usher, for information to ultimately use to help he and Doretta in outwitting the gang. Pat also notices that Chink and Billy Jack have fears and weaknesses, and in remembering the old adage that there is no honor among thieves, Pat is able to conquer these 3 despicable characters.
TCM from time to time airs this film, so pay attention to their schedule as it may well air before 2016 is done. I’ll close out with the trailer for The Tall T, courtesy of TCM’s website, and some more shots of the wonderful Randolph Scott!