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lzcutter

Joel McCrea for Star of the Month

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Here's something I wrote almost 11 years ago as part of a review of Randolph Scott's career on the Western board at the IMDb:

 

 

To write of *Ride the High Country* is almost superfluous in this forum, few westerns appear to be as cherished and admired. This is one even non-Peckinpah fans speak well of as it emphasizes character, not violence. From its nominal beginnings, with producer Richard Lyons sending a story to Scott, certain it would not even be read, to the actor's enthusiasm so brimming that he passed it along to Joel McCrea, one can only wonder if this was fate. The script prepared by N.B. Stone did not meet with the approval of Lyons, and he suggested Sam Peckinpah, with only one previous feature, to rewrite and direct. The businessman in Scott had to look at Sam's *Deadly Companions*, and surely he saw the similarities to the Boetticher films, especially *Ride Lonesome* and *Comanche Station* - Brian Keith's hero was not that much different than the ones Scott had portrayed.

 

 

The question of billing was solved over lunch at the Brown Derby - a simple coin toss that Scott won. The concern was over which roles to play, and it took only one day of filming before the roles were swapped by mutual dissent, and immediate consent. The rest of the shoot went fine, according to McCrea, Peckinpah was "A very gifted writer...he was fine to work with. I hear he got tough later on, especially with crew, but with us he was fine, a real talent."

 

 

The budget was $800,000, and the filming was on a 24 day schedule, which is easier to accomplish with vets of Scott and McCrea's caliber, but Peckinpah also had relatively new performers such as Mariette Hartley (her debut at age 22) and Ron Starr to contend with. Others such as Edgar Buchanan, R.G Armstrong, L.Q. Jones and John Anderson were around long enough, and Warren Oates, James Drury and John Davis Chandler had some, if not much seasoning by this time.

 

 

The big problem came when the unit went back, and the post-production and editing were finished. Sol Siegel, who green-lighted the project was gone, and, as tends to happen in studio takeovers, the new administration had no good will towards a chancy project from the old administration. So, in the summer of 1962, *Ride the High Country* opened on the second half of double-bills, barely noticed by the public, but it received the kind of attention and reviews accorded to only the most prestigious productions:

 

 

Time: "*Ride the High Country* has a rare honesty of script, performance and theme - that goodness is not a gift, but a quest."

 

 

Newsweek: "In fact, everything about the picture has the ring of truth, from the unglamorized setting to the flavorful dialog and the natural acting."

 

 

The domestic failure went on to win First Prize at the Venice Film Festival, and the Grand Prize at the Brussels Film Festival, beating out *8 1/2*. All over Europe, it became one of MGM's most financially successful releases, and its ending had to influence the closing scene between Bronson and Robards in Leone's Once Upon A Time in the West.

 

 

And thus ended the cinema saga of one of Hollywood's top cowboys, the acclaim came late, but it came in greater number than many ever get to experience. That it came at all must surely have surprised a man who was the first to say "I'm no actor."

 

 

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> As discussed earlier, Joel McCrea always played the virtuous man, decent, dignified, reluctant to use force unless he felt he had to.

 

MsW,

 

Might be worth noting that Joel McCrea was originally cast as Gil Westrum and Randolph (cue chorus) Scott was cast as Steve Judd.

 

It was only after filming began that the two actors swapped roles.

 

I think the movie plays better this way but I do often wonder while watching the film what could have been.

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{font:Times New Roman}:D Regarding *Ride the High Country:* So this movie is the *Casablanca* of Westerns-not taken seriously at first by its studio but loved by the rest of the world and classic of its genre? Isn’t it fun watching cream rise to the top? {font}

 

 

 

{font:Times New Roman}This movie has one flaw but it’s a big one: Ron Starr as Longtree. He simply has little talent or personality. Putting him next to stars like Scott and McCrea as well as great supporting players like R. G. Armstrong, Edgar Buchanan, James Drury, L. Q. Jones, John Chandler, John Anderson and Warren Oates makes it all the more glaring. I love the movie regardless as it presents us with Mariette Hartley, a gift that’s still giving. And whether we’re male or female don’t we all “want to enter our houses Justified?” I, too, find the music hauntingly beautiful. {font}

 

{font:Times New Roman}As for *The Tall Stranger,* I am still in shock. Not only were writers and villains par excellence Leo Gordon and Michael Pate in the same movie but as “good guys” who are actually around at the end. It was a good story and well done even if the color was off a lot. One thing that surprised me was Virgina Mayo's character actually being portrayed as an unwed mother trying to make life better for her child. Her honestly with Bannon and her ability to carry her weight on the wagon train told us she was what the West needed. Imagine that, an "adult" adult Western. I don't know if Bannon was what she was looking for but have a feeling she turned that wagon around when he got to it.

{font}{font:Times New Roman}**

*Wells Fargo:* You know how I feel about that one. It was well worth staying up for. I’ve no idea who Bob Burns was other than RO’s comments about his being a comedian of the times but I liked him. He was more subtle than Gabby Hayes, Walter Brennan or some of the other sidekicks and that made him blend in with the film while still being entertaining. {font}

 

 

{font:Times New Roman}*Fort Massacre* is odd in that plays like a Shakespearian tragedy. McCrea lets himself play a likeable man done in by the hatred that he cannot overcome but maybe seeing him so full of mindless vile is what makes it all stay with us. It’s a sad irony that when John Russell’s character finally decides on something it has to be the ending. {font}

 

 

{font:Times New Roman}*Trooper Hook* is the other side of the coin. Here’s a man who’s willing to take in a woman who’s been an “Indian” captive and a child to one of them. This is the Joel McCrea that we love and a great ending to the month. Did you have to keep me up all night though, showing all of my favorites at one time? Never mind; the alternative was not at all. I’m still alive.{font}

 

 

 

 

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Wouldbe,

 

It was a grand month, wasn't it! My DVR is filled almost to the brim with Joel movies to watch this weekend and next.

 

Again, thank you to TCM and the programming staff for making this dream come true!

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> {quote:title=lzcutter wrote:}{quote}

> MsW,

> Might be worth noting that Joel McCrea was originally cast as Gil Westrum and Randolph (cue chorus) Scott was cast as Steve Judd.

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> It was only after filming began that the two actors swapped roles.

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> I think the movie plays better this way but I do often wonder while watching the film what could have been.

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I believe clore tells this story too, of how originally Scott and McCrea had the roles reversed. And I had heard this before, it's another bit of history about Ride the High Country that contributes to its fascination.

I will say, though, that even if McCrea had ended up playing the character Randolph Scott portrayed, he still wouldn't have been a "bad guy". One of the aspects of this film that sets it apart from most Westerns ( although by no means all ) is that the supposed "villain" (Scott, I'm not talking about the louts hanging out around the gold mine) is actually pretty likeable, and has decent impulses too.

 

So, even if the roles had not been changed, and JOEL McCREA had played Gil Westrum, I still think, despite the double-cross he'd planned, that somehow his inner decency would have prevailed. I mean, even Scott's "inner decency" came through in the end. After all, he does return to help his friend, and ultimately decides to finish the task just as Steve would have.

So, as "bad guys" go, Scott's character is rather good.

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....and, in addition, Ford gave Capra such headaches before, during, and after the shooting of POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES that Capra decided to retire.

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While I agree that both Scott and McCrea were good enough actor to have switched roles I think the roles they ended up playing were a better 'fit' to their overall persona, especially McCrea.

 

As you mention McCrea has such "inner decency" that for big fans of him like me, too much of this "inner decency" might of been perceived with him as the 'bad guy', than I wouldn't 'buy' that McCrea could really be a bad guy.

 

Scott had a rougher edge to him in my view and while I knew that he wouldn't let his old buddy down (it was no surprise that this is where the plot was going), Scott persona fit that part better in my view.

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> {quote:title=jamesjazzguitar wrote:}{quote}While I agree that both Scott and McCrea were good enough actor to have switched roles...

Interestingly, I was just searching old time radio episodes today and saw a version of THE PALM BEACH STORY with Claudette Colbert and... Randolph Scott.

 

I haven't listened to it, but that's a fascinating casting switch.

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Joel McCrea alert!!! I was checking out ebay for some photo stills from old movies/stars when I came across this seller, "movie-icons" . Currently there are 36 stills of Joel McCrea listed and at a very reasonable starting bid price. Worth the time just to see the photos and maybe you might find a favorite. Just go to ebay -- seller is "movie-icons" and then search Joel McCrea. PS, the seller is from Canada so you know its trustworthy :) .

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