Riding Shotgun (1954)

Riding Shotgun (1954)I wasn’t originally intending to discuss Riding Shotgun (1954) that was before I heard the opening narration of Randolph Scott‘s, reminding me of those we find in film noir. I had to pay attention to what was going on, now. What begins as a standard stagecoach westerntravelling the open road into town, the man riding shotgun Larry Delong who has been biding his time, working his way up North from Mexico all the way to Canada almost, in search of one man, a man he must kill. A vendetta that must be settled. We first meet the wanted man Dan Marady (James Millican) who is also hot on Delong’s trail, complete with the small hand gun he helped him win. We believe this is a straight-forward revenge western a man working for the stage line, waiting for his enemy to make himself known. Oh how wrong we are. 

Scott plays his standard decent upstanding citizen, whose respected with a gun in his hand. Decent to all he meets. Before his need for revenge takes over him, leading to the seed of doubt and mistrust is planted in the towns-people he returns to. After freeing himself from Marady’s gang he rides into a town that looks on with nothing but hate and mistrust in their eyes, His friends have all turned against him without even asking for his side of events. Knowing that the sheriff and a posse had already rode out in search for the Marady gang who would later arrive to rob the bank club.

Unable to put his side of the events across, mirroring the current climate of blacklisting in Hollywood, the mere mention of a persons name in the same sentence as Communism was enough to make up the mind of the fearing majority to shun them from society, seen as danger to society, all for perceived or believe political beliefs. Allegorise that into the west and you first get High Noon (1952) which saw a town turn against their sheriff whilst a dangerous man was coming to town for a showdown. Two years later a shotgun rider is trying to get word out to the sheriff and town, more bothered about speculation and rumour that increases over the course of the film.

All this hysteria brews up the remaining town to come out and literally turn in him. Lead by the elders who are more talk than action. Calling on Deputy Sheriff Tub Murphy (Wayne Morris) to stand up to their once friend and arrest him. A man more bothered about filling his stomach than bringing Delong in behind bars. Everyone is all talk and not walk, able to hold a gun but not really take aim and fire. Leading Delong into the cantina of Fritz (Fritz Feld) already a social outcast who is willing help others to his own gain, with no real conscience. An uneasy ally who makes Delongs situation worse, turning rumour into a false truth. 

Only Orissa Flynn (Joan Weldon) really believes that he could be telling the truth, willing to listen, mostly out of love. Not listened to by the others, not helped by the fact she was a woman, and daughter of the colonel, a respected figure (Vic Perrin). What really gets me in the silent figure in a red check shirt, gradually preparing a noose, in readiness for a hanging, eager to catch Delong, to deliver swift and lustful justice with no trial. He doesn’t have a single line, he doesn’t need them, we know what he’s thinking in his brief moments on-screen, as he wanders around, preparing the rope, ready to throw it over a branch or beam, eager to inflict pain, always fear the quiet ones,you never know what they’ll really be thinking. Whilst you can hear the vocal, the quiet ones can act in more subtle ways you don’t expect.

Reflecting the subconscious of a nation, waiting for action to be carried out. I guess that this film would be far better remembered if the cast was more glitzy, Scott relegated to B-movies practically, whilst we find a hong Charles Bronson starting to make his mark in action films. Riding Shotgun is a forgotten classic that is more than just a western b-movie it has a conscience that goes beyond good and bad, it shows the greys in-between the black and whites we usually find on the screen to find how blurred they can really become.  

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