Arts & Culture
‘Ride Lonesome’ at the Cornell Cinema
Content Warning: This review contains discussion of violence and anti-Indigenous racism.
Last weekend, the Cornell Cinema presented the 1958 low-budget Western Ride Lonesome on a tattered, well-loved 35 mm print, both a fitting visual experience for a genre which has largely fallen out of fashion with contemporary audiences and an ironic one, given the genre’s depiction of a lifestyle that, even in the genre’s hay day, remained a wistful reflection of a time since passed. Ride Lonesome, appearing as part of the Cinema’s Cinemascope series, is the most famous of the so-called Ranown cycle, a series of B-Westerns directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott at the tail end of a period of non-revisionist Westerns before Italian Spaghetti Westerns reimagined the genre in the 1960s. Underrated in their day, the films were quickly reappraised by French Critics and have since received wider acclaim stateside, being hailed by Martin Scorsese and awaiting canonization in the Criterion Collection this July.
Ride Lonesome opens with a quintessential Western image: a lone figure on a horse riding through the dusty hills of an unknown, and perhaps unnamed, territory. Ben Brigade, played reservedly by Randolph Scott, is a mysterious bounty hunter, pursuing and capturing the murderer Billy John, who is to be hanged once the two get to town. As they go on, they are joined by a woman and two men who are themselves hunting after Billy John, all while fleeing from the looming threats of Native Americans and Billy John’s brother Frank, who is chasing the crew with his own gang of bandits.
The West of Ride Lonesome is sparse, populated not by towns with saloons, railroads or ranches, but by isolated ruins, minimal structures and miles and miles of blank landscape.