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Ride the High Country

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

I was recently watching a biography of the late, great director Sam Peckinpah and many spoke very highly about his first major hit, 1962's RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. After watching it last night, it blew me away and instantly jumped into my Top 100 Movies of all time.

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea were huge stars in the 40's and 50's, but I had never seen them before this film.

McCrea is fantastic as Steve Judd, a past-his-prime lawman who takes a job as security for a bank that wants him to transport gold from a camp near a gold strike.

McCrea approaches old friend and former partner Gil to join him on the job. Scott is excellent as Gil, wrestling with being past his prime and looking for one big score to retire.

Along the way, they meet Elsa Knudsen (Mariette Hartley in her film debut) at a remote farmhouse, where she lives with her uber-religious, abusive father, the young man that has promised to marry her Billy Hammond and his crazy band of brothers.

The trail to and from the gold camp leads to a lot of adventure, discovery and excellent drama.

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of westerns, but Peckinpah elevates the story far beyond the typical horse opera with smart dialogue, beautiful photography by Lucien Ballard (True Grit, The Wild Bunch) and the perfect cast.

At one point, Judd (McCrea) makes a stunning speech about what he deserves in life and what he desires, which is just to "enter his house justified". It's a classic moment in a classic film that I feel fortunate to have discovered.

The climactic shootout is perfectly shot, carries real weight and the film's closing moments are about as perfect as films get.

If you're like me until yesterday and haven't discovered this one yet, get it on your Netflix wish list today.

Superb movie making is timeless, and this is Peckinpah's masterpiece. We'll ride this powerful classic into a corral adjacent to my all time top 100 with an A+.

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