Generational Tastes

Budd Boetticher is almost almost famous—at least in some circles. His last feature released around the time William's big sister left home, the 84-year-old filmmaker is the sole survivor of the Fuller-Siegel-Aldrich generation of auteurs who entered the movie industry during World War II and made the 1950s the golden era of genre flicks.

Boetticher, whose AMMI retro will be complemented by a retrospective presentation of Seven Men From Now at the upcoming New York Film Festival, is best known for a cycle of low-budget westerns starring a very middle-aged Randolph Scott and a couple of bullfight films that he made to suit himself. A college athlete and a youthful tough guy—his photos show a resemblance to Warren Oates—Boetticher went to Mexico to learn bullfighting and wound up as a technical adviser on the 1941 Tyrone Power vehicle Blood and Sand.

Star stricken: Fugit and Hudson in Almost Famous
photo: Neal Preston
Star stricken: Fugit and Hudson in Almost Famous


Almost Famous
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe
A DreamWorks release
Opens September 15

Ride Lonesome: A Budd Boetticher Retrospective
American Museum of the Moving Image
September 16 through October 1

Following the production back to Hollywood, Boetticher directed 10 Columbia B pictures before securing the patronage of John Wayne, who produced The Bullfighter and the Lady as a Republic prestige flick in 1951. This single-minded account of a driven gringo (Robert Stack at his most demented) pitching woo at a demure señorita while studying to be a Mexico City matador remains Boetticher's favorite movie. It was the first that he signed "Budd" rather than "Oscar," although it was cut before its release from 129 to 87 minutes by Wayne's bud John Ford. (The restored print, showing this Sunday, includes a lengthy steam bath scene that struck Ford as dangerously homoerotic.)

As Boetticher began his official career with a movie about an obsessive bullfighter, so he ended it in the '60s, spending nearly a decade making a staged documentary on the Mexican matador Carlos Arruza (it screens next Saturday). In between these two personal projects, he knocked out his seven Scott westerns—starting with Seven Men From Now (1956). Made on 12-day shooting schedules, these elemental cheapsters unfold in a distinctively ahistorical, underpopulated frontier that, in various ways, anticipates the western milieus associated with Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, and Monte Hellman. Boetticher's barren, rocky wasteland—compared by one French critic to Yves Tanguy's surrealist pebblescapes—is scarcely more mutable than his star's craggy visage. That the director was uncharismatically saddled with the granite-faced, stiff-limbed, fiftysomething Scott doubtlessly served to keep down the violence—or rather to sublimate it into existential quests predicated on a series of shifting tactical alliances and haunted by the hero's mortality.

Boetticher made the Scott westerns as ritualized as a bullfight. The sense of narrative action doubling back on itself is reinforced by the similarities the films share. Ride Lonesome (1959), screening Sunday, in which Scott plays a bounty hunter with a hidden agenda, is the leanest and most abstract (a prophecy of spaghetti westerns to come); Comanche Station (1960), the last film of the cycle as well as the retro, is a metaformulaic summation that reprises situations, music, and even dialogue from its predecessors. There's also a case to be made for the comic Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), a crooked-town western that might have been written for the theater of the absurd. So far as I know, Boetticher only once again vented his dark sense of humor: The bleakly geometric Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960) is a mordantly minimalist gangster farce that, in an apt bit of programming, shares the bill with Buchanan on September 30.

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