The Last Round-up: Budd Boetticher’s Great Westerns Coming to DVD

Last year, in a piece I wrote for GreenCine, I dreamed up my fantasy list of box sets and special editions I wanted to see (heck, I wanted to OWN) in the coming years. Less than year later, two of those dream DVD sets have been announced. (I doubt my piece had much to do with them, but hey, it was a dream list and I can fantasize about its impact.)

Universal is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil with a two-disc special edition featuring all three versions of the film (the 1958 release version, the longer preview cut discovered in the mid-seventies, and the 1998 Walter Murch reconstruction), plus commentary on each disc by different folks, the complete Welles memo, a couple of featurette, interviews and such. This will be the first time either of the those earlier two versions have actually been home video in their original state (the old VHS and laserdisc releases of the film were of a studio job that combined footage from both of those old versions into one hybrid version). The anniversary branding explains the delay in the release, something fans have been expecting ever since the Murch-helmed reconstruction. The release date October 7. See the press release for the complete details on the release.

Paramount's DVD release of "Seven Men From Now"
Paramount's DVD release of "Seven Men From Now"

A release sure to receive less publicity but one that is equally exciting to me, however, is Sony’s Budd Boetticher Box Set, a collection of the Columbia “Ranown” films directed by Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott. The release has been long in the coming as only a couple of the films had been released to VHS (and those on substandard Goodtimes videos). Paramount’s 2005 DVD release of Seven Men From Now, the first collaboration between Boetticher, Scott and screenwriter Burt Kennedy, only whetted my appetite for the rest of the films.

Seven Men From Now (1956) set the tone and lean style for series, as if it was carved it in the stone-like visage of Randolph Scott’s weatherbeaten face. Boetticher had just come off a two-year stint with Universal, where he cranked out journeyman assignments (including his first westerns) with a muscular sense of action and place, and the austere little crime thriller The Killer Is Loose when producer John handed him the terse script by Burt Kennedy. More than perfect fit with Boetticher, it brought the best in the director. Boetticher pares himself down to the rugged essentials and wrenches up the tension between the central characters, isolated in the empty desert, with remarkable economy. He makes Kennedy’s dialogue sing like lyrics and turns Scott “limitations” as an actor into an expressive element of character: inexpressive and inflexible, hard, his voice that masks his feelings and his lanky body is perfectly at ease setting a horse or handling a gun but less sure in moments of emotional intimacy.

Producer/star Scott realized that he had a winning combination and immediately signed Boetticher up to direct for his own company at Columbia Pictures, where he cranked out low budget westernsthat made enormous profits. The made five films together at Columbia – The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Ride Lonesome (1959), and Comanche Station (1960) – three of them scripted by Kennedy. From The Tall T to Comanche Station, you can see Boetticher and Kennedy honing the style and structure established in 7 Men to a laconic austerity. That cycle stands next to the greatest works of Anthony Mann and John Ford: tight, taut, often savage little pictures that are both graceful and visceral, direct, and rich in character.

Randolph Scott with Maureen O\'Sullivan and Richard Boone in "The Tall T"
Randolph Scott with Maureen O'Sullivan and Richard Boone in "The Tall T"

The films have been languishing in the Sony vaults, occasionally running on Encore Westerns (where the widescreen movies were shown in painful pan-&-scan TV transfers) and, once in a while, getting revival screenings at film festivals and cinemateques. They briefly made the rounds in the wake of the revival of Seven Men From Now and new prints were struck for a retrospective at the 2007 Venice Film Festival. That was my first hint that a release might be in the offing. Unofficial but reliable rumors circulated that a set was being pulled together, and this week I received official confirmation: the Budd Boetticher Box Set is set for a November 4 release.

The set will feature all five Columbia collaborations on five discs, as well as the superior documentary Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That, produced by Clint Eastwood and originally show on Turner Classic Movies a couple of years ago. And there are commentary tracks and interviews to fill out the supplements. Here’s a preliminary list of special features from Sony:

Special Features:
Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jeanine Basinger
Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jeremy Arnold
Audio Commentary with Taylor Hackford
Clint Eastwood on “Comanche Station” (TBD)
Martin Scorsese on “The Tall T”
Taylor Hackford on “Buchanan Rides Alone”
Taylor Hackford on “Decision at Sundown”
Martin Scorsese on “Ride Lonesome”
“Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That” Documentary

I look forward to revisiting the films and reviewing the set. For more on Boetticher’s films and career, read my essay Ride Lonesome: The Career of Budd Boetticher and my review of Seven Men From Now, both on “Senses of Cinema.”

Thanks to Mark Steiner at Seattle’s own Scarecrow Video for the heads-up on this release.