Decision at Sundown (Boetticher, 1957)

Budd Boetticher, the great Western filmmaker who worked tirelessly during the 1950’s with star Randolph Scott, constructed brilliant character studies exploring the code of honor between heroes and villains and the complex blurring of iconographic incarnations. However, of all the Boetticher films, Decision at Sundown represents the first time he doesn’t hold a complete mastery of story and pacing. It’s always a pleasure to watch Randolph Scott chew on words of revenge, but the context with which he’s obsessed never gets fully fleshed out. His tragic character resembles a shift for the typical Boetticher/Scott hero in that he never admits the inevitable changes in character, nor does he have a strong grasp of the hatred he feels in the first place. In this sense, Scott’s Bart Allison and in turn his adversary Tate Kimbrough (John Carrol), who is supposedly responsible for the suicide of Allison’s cheating wife years ago and has now taken over a country town with corruption, don’t ring true with an authentic shared history. The whole film is a tough sell, a jumble of typical tales of Old West mythology that come and go whenever Boetticher feels necessary. Still, Boetticher’s genius for small scale dialogue scenes are apparent, and a thing of beauty for any fan of the director.

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