Western Fiction



LUKE SHORT – The Whip. Bantam #1668, paperback original, 1957. Reprinted by Bantam several times. Also: Dell, paperback, 1992.  Previously published as a magazine serial; see below.

   A short note after the copyright page tells us the first two-thirds of this was serialized in Colliers until that magazine went out of business, then the remainder was picked up by The Saturday Evening Post  as a tribute to a fallen competitor. And to finish off a crackling fine yarn. (**)

   Said yarn is of Will Gannon, the kind of tough westerner best suited to books like this, who, as the story opens, commandeers a stagecoach from a drunken driver, gets it safely to town, and ends up appointed District Manager of a stretch of road rife with robbery, murder, slack discipline and bad food.

   The charm of this book is Luke Short’s ability to sketch out a tale of sudden violence against a background of the day-to-day work of running a business. He fills it in with a well-drawn cast of characters — mostly standard Western types, but well-drawn as such — and a convincing landscape for horses and men to travel and battle in.

   But as I say, what makes The Whip work is the balance Luke Short strikes between Gannon’s workaday chores and the escalating violence engineered by the ne’er-do-wells he’s replaced. Short builds carefully, effectively, to a prolonged chase and a grim conclusion that rings true.

   Definitely one for Western fans to check out!


(**) Steve and I have identified the first two parts of the three part serial:

     “Doom Cliff,” (serial) Collier’s Dec 21 1956, Jan 4 1957 [last issue]

   But the third and final installment supposedly published in The Saturday Evening Post has eluded us. Is the statement in the paperback edition incorrect? Have we missed something?

UPDATE: Mystery solved, thanks to the very kind assistance of pulp master Sai Shankar. See Comment #3.



EUGENE MANLOVE RHODES – The Proud Sheriff. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1935, with a preamble by Henry Herbert Knibbs. Dell #688, paperback. 1953 (cover by Robert Stanley). University of Oklahoma, hardcover/softcover, 1968/1977.

   If you want an introduction to the works of a major Western writer, this will do very nicely. It opens with a lengthy foreword, detailing the life and character of Eugene Manlove Rhodes, then follows with an excellent novella detailing the activities of the proud Sheriff, Spinal Maginnis.

   Maginnis is proud, a character explains, because there hasn‘t been a killing in his county in ten years. And because the Mexicans get along with the Americans, the miners get along with the ranchers, and the big rancher gets along with the smaller ones.

   He’s proud that there aren’t many rich men in his county, but no one goes to bed supperless. And he’s proud because “I been sheriff here near to eight years and made my few and simple arrests with ne’eer a shot fired.”

   Shortly after the story opens, Maginnis’ first cause for pride gets squelched by a double murder. And as the story ends, so does his final boast. In between times, Rhodes offers up a rich, fast-moving story filled with colorful characters, spiced with humor, and moved along at a steady pace by sound detective work and bursts of action.

   Mostly though, this is the story of Spinal Maginnis, the proud sheriff, and here Rhodes provides a character distinctive, well-rounded, and fascinating enough to keep the reader (this reader anyway) up way past bedtime.

LEONARD MEARES – Feud at Greco Canyon. The Braddock Detective Agency #4. Robert Hale/Black Horse Western, UK, hardcover, 1994. No other edition known.

   The Braddock Detective Agency consists of a well-matched husband-and-wife pair, Rick and Hattie Braddock. He’s a jack of all trades, having grown up moving all over the west with a travelling repertory group and carnival show. He’s a master of disguise and an actor very much adept at improvised dialogue, a card sharp and a piano player. She’s beautiful and has a past that includes stints as a chorus girl who is skilled at both make-up and characterization, a magician’s assistant, and as a knifethrower’s target. Or in other words, what better pair can you imagine to tackle outlaws, owlhoots and other miscreants of the Old West?

   Well, they do at times have to take cases the Pinkertons would probably pass up, In Feud at Greco Canyon, for example, they’re hired by the well-to-do daughter of the sheriff there who is getting up in years and is doing his best trying to stop a huge feud between the two major landowners in the area. One is a rancher, the other a farmer.

   The Braddocks go in undercover, he as a card sharp, she as a saloon singer. (See above.) The key to stopping the feud turns out to be finding the man who shot and killed one of the riders for one of the two sides, with one on the other accused of the deed and awaiting trial.

   Meares does not take the case all that seriously, however. A light tone prevails. There is a lot more talk than action, and by that I mean a lot. The one shootout at the end takes less a page or two, and what is happening during it is not clearly defined. On the other hand, a subplot consisting of a incipient love affair between a deputy sheriff and the new schoolmarm takes up a couple of full chapters in comparison, which may (or may not) tell you all you need to know before you decide to seek this one out (or maybe not).

   In its own way, though, this one is fun to read, somewhat on the level of a Durango Kid B-western from the 40s. (I mean no disrespect here. The Durango Kid was my favorite cowboy in the movies when I was a kid.) Meares was an Australian writer of mostly westerns, with a few mysteries thrown in, but close to 750 books in all. Some of his westerns were published in the US by Bantam as by Marshall McCoy. These include books in both his “Larry & Stretch” and “Nevada Jim Gage” series, both of which became collectors’ items here for a while, perhaps more for their James Bama covers.

      The Rick & Hattie Braddock series —

Colorado Runaround, 1991.
The Major and the Miners, 1992.
Five Deadly Shadows, 1993.
Feud at Greco Canyon, 1994.



MARK SABIN – Winchester Cut. Gold Medal #144, paperback, 1951. recycled as Stranger from Arizona: Dodd, Mead, hardcover, 1956, as by Norman A. Fox. Also Dell #969, paperback, 1958; and Avon, paperback, 1987.

   I’ll use any excuse to sample a Gold Medal, and the title of this one intrigued me, winking up from a neat pile of paperbacks in a used book store on the main drag of an old hippie town somewhere in Ohio. So I bought it, then a few weeks later I cracked it open and found:

   He saw the basin first from a high promontory that gave him a far glimpse of dun grassland and the deep brown of grazing cattle. In the last sunlight, autumn haze lay over the land, making all things deceptive; a river sparkled in the immensity below, and ranch smoke lifted here and there, and a town’s roofs showed. He had a speculative moment, sitting his saddle and seeing all this; but a remembrance of his mission rose and stood stark in his consciousness, and all his thinking became a far cry out of the yesterdays.

   So I knew at least this guy loved to write. The ensuing pages filled out a book that’s nothing special, really, but a solid read.

   Clint Tracy arrives in Montana emotionally scarred by a Texas range war, battle hardened and ready for the heady ranchers’ feud he finds brewing. But he has his own agenda, and it has more to do with the people involved than with land or cattle. The characters turn out to be fairly standard types: tough old rancher, willful daughter, hot-headed son, etc. but the author writes them as if he’d just thought them up, and the result is they never seem as cliché’d as they really are.

   Sabin/Fox leans on the mystery of Tracy’s mission (which ain’t all that mysterious) a bit heavily at times, but he fills the story with enough riding, fighting and shooting to keep it lively, and when the range war finally erupts, it’s intelligently done. Nobody blunders for the sake of convenience, and Sabin/Fox’s lean prose carries the action very nicely indeed.

   Winchester Cut won’t get on anyone’s Ten Best List — Hell, it’ll never even make a Top100 — but it makes for an entertaining hour or so of the kind of fast-moving reading they just don’t seem to write anymore.

COLT .45. Warner Brothers, 1950. Randolph Scott, Ruth Roman, Zachary Scott, Lloyd Bridges, Alan Hale, Ian MacDonald, Chief Thundercloud. Screenwriter: Thomas W. Blackburn. Director: Edwin L. Marin.

   One of Alan Hale’s last films, alas, and I wish I could say it was a good one, not that either Alan Hale nor leading man Randolph Scott were at fault, nor Ruth Roman, radiantly beautiful in a Technicolor western.

   Scott plays a salesman named Steve Farrell traveling the west to sell the newly designed repeating Colt .45’s. His target buyers are lawmen who desperately need them to keep the unlawful elements of their territories at bay. Unfortunately, the fatal error on the part of one sheriff allows a pair of the guns to fall into the hands of a notorious outlaw (Zachary Scott), who then uses them on a spree of killing and robbing, while Farrell spends the next few months in jail.

   It’s quite a mixup, and not a very believable one, nor is the rest of the story, which continues with Farrell’s release from jail, vowing to track down the man who stole his guns. Zachary Scott always made a good villain, but someone let him pull out all the stops here, leering and spouting eye-bulging vitriol at anyone who dares cross his path, including members of his own gang.

   One of whom is played by Lloyd Bridges, whose acting in this film is barely above that of an amateur in high school — or it could be the dialogue he is forced to say while trying his best not to be embarrassed by it. Bridges’ wife is portrayed by Ruth Roman, who gradually begins to realize the truth about her husband.

   One twist I didn’t see coming involves Alan Hale’s character, a sheriff with ulterior motives, and I dare not say more about that. It isn’t a big part, so I’d have to say that the only two reasons for watching this otherwise mediocre western are Randolph Scott, who could play any good guy in a western and make it convincing without half trying, and lovely Ruth Roman.




CHARLES NEIDER – The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones. Harper & Brothers, 1956. Crest #368, paperback,1960. University of Nevada Press, trade paperback, 1992.

ONE-EYED JACKS. Paramount, 1961. Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, Timothy Carey and Sam Gilman. Written (at various times) by Guy Trosper, Calder Willingham, Sam Peckinpah and Rod Serling. Directed by Marlon Brando.

   Like Day of the Outlaw, a book and film that grow widely dissimilar. But where Day’s incarnations are excellent, these are great.

   Charles Neider wrote a highly acclaimed biography of Mark Twain, and I read somewhere that he then set himself to a similar work about Billy the Kid, but gave it up after years of research and wrote the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones instead. His own introduction to a later edition tends to refute this story, but I like it anyway. In fact, Neider’s prose is very much like Twain’s. No surprise that, but it’s Twain in a nostalgic, elegiac tone, as the narrator, Doc Baker, looks back on youth and friendship now gone.

   Doc, however, is only the narrator. The subject of the book is a Billy the Kid figure, here named Hendry Jones, and Neider manages to convey second-hand the attraction and fear the character evokes in those around him: the easy charm, generosity, sexual magnetism and murderous nature of a man who lives only in the moment. Make no mistake, Hendry Jones is one of the great figures of Fiction and he’s right at home in a great novel.

   No wonder then that the character and the book would attract an actor of Marlon Brando’s caliber. And even less wonder that, having bought the novel and been given carte blanche on the film, Brando would feel compelled to re-shape it to his own psyche as One-Eyed Jacks.

   The result is nothing like the book, but there’s no arguing with the beauty of the thing. Brando directs himself with a knowing narcissism that makes for powerful cinema and plenty of just-plain-fun movie moments. He knows his own strengths, and writes and plays to them, with quietly-mumbled lines like “Don’t be doin’ her that way,” shot with all the impact of a stray bullet.

   For a self-indulgent egoist, Brando is surprisingly generous with his supporting players. At the top of the list, Karl Malden’s portrayal of venal hypocrisy is as compelling as Brando’s forthright knavery. Slim Pickens and Pina Pilar play lustful and lustee, arrogant and innocent, with real feeling, and Ben Johnson, my personal favorite, damnear steals the whole show as a bloody-eyed bank robber partnered with Brando.

   And oh yes: Timothy Carey, the sine qua non of quirky movies, got most of his scenes deleted (he was fired for causing trouble on the set and demanding that his salary be doubled), but survives long enough to try to back-shoot the Star — never a good idea in a Western.

   I read that tidbit in another book: A Million Feet of Film: The Making of One-eyed Jacks (2019) by Toby Roan. It’s full of information, with snippets from just about every biography, magazine article and gossip column on the subject, some quite juicy. I would have appreciated more insight (much of the material seems self-serving and rather suspect), but there’s no gainsaying the research and effort that went into this, and there are gems of information here, including:

   One of my favorite moments in the film is when Rio (Brando) catches up with his betrayer (Karl Malden) after five years in a Mexican jail and months of searching. The scene is set for a shoot-out… and they sit down and lie to each other in an extended scene, perfectly written and played!

   So imagine my surprise to learn that this was largely re-shot without Brando, when the Studio heads decided it made Malden’s character too sympathetic. I read the original dialogue here and looked at the scene again… and I had to agree with the Suits that this works much better! Credit goes to editor Archie Marshek and Karl Malden, for a seamless and captivating bit of Cinema.

T. T. FLYNN “Bushwhackers Die Hard.” Novelette. First published in Dime Western, January 1933. Collected in Prodigal of Death: A Western Quintet (Five Star, hardcover, 2001).

   T. T. Flynn was one of the more prolific pulp writers, with hundreds of stories in both the detective and western pulp magazines. He tried but never really made the switch over to mass market paperbacks when the pulps began to die out, as some of his contemporary authors did.

   The two featured players in “Bushwhackers Die Hard” are a couple of rambling cowpokes named Lonesome Lang and Tarnation Tucker, who seem to delight in poking their noses into other people’s business, however, rather than poking cows. Even though team-ups such as this were quite commonplace in the western pulps, this appears to be their only recorded adventure together.

   Which begins by finding a dead man beside his buggy, which they had watched fly off the side of a mountaintop road, Investigating, they discover it wasn’t the fall hat killed him. He’d been shot and killed instead while maneuvering his way down the treacherous road. Their services the are offered to the man’s beautiful daughter, unwillingly on her part, as she believes they are on the rancher working against her father.

   Ah, misunderstandings. How could western stories such as this ever have been written without them? Flynn had a smooth and flowing writing style, which serves him in good stead in this average to middling pulp yarn, that and a good sense of what life was like in the west in a time when automobiles were just beginning to appear in such tales.


LEE WELLS – Day of the Outlaw. Rinehart, hardcover, 1955. Dell #906, paperback, 1956.

DAY OF THE OUTLAW. United Artists, 1959. Robert Ryan, Burl Ives, Tina Louise, Nehemia Persoff, David Nelson, Venetia Stevenson, Jack Lambert, Lance Fuller, Elisha Cook Jr, Dabs Greer, Robert Cornthwaite, William Schallert, and Paul Wexler. Screenplay by Philip Yordan, based on the novel by Lee Wells. Directed by André De Toth.

   Two very different takes on the story, each memorable in its own way.

   Both deal with an isolated frontier community imprisoned by snow and mud, a tough rancher willing to kill for more land, and a band of outlaws just barely under the control of a hardened chief, who take over the town. But from there on, the book and the film go different ways.

   In Wells’ novel, the Rancher Blaise Starrett (The name seems a deliberate reference to Shane, released two years earlier.) has a foreman, Dan Murdock, who refuses to follow his boss’s murderous program and gets fired for his scruples. From that point on, Dan becomes the book’s central character. There are minor digressions to limn the thoughts and actions of townsfolk and desperadoes, but mostly we follow his efforts to a) unseat the outlaws; b) keep his neighbors and those he loves from gettin’ they fool heads blowed off; c) thwart Starrett’s lethal scheme; and d) get in out of the damn weather, which veers from mudslide to blizzard as only Wyoming weather can.

   Murdock doesn’t always succeed at this, which lends a real sense of uncertainty to the outcome, as we follow his progress through fights & frustrations to a dan-dan-dandy final shootout between the citizens and a last, lethal gunman who bids fair to kill them all. Wells has a gift for detailing fast action and dangerous personalities with equal flair, and the result is a book that kept me up reading past my bedtime. Which is why I became a Grown-up.

   In the film however, Dan Murdock(played by Nehemiah Persoff) gets blind drunk early on and pretty much drops out of the action as Starrett (Robert Ryan at his toughest) decides to gun down the inconvenient nesters in a “fair” fight, only to have his plans smattered (“smattered?”I like that. I think I’ll keep it.) his plans smattered by the dirtiest-looking bunch of renegades to hit the screen till The Wild Bunch.

   These baddies seem on the edge of smattering up the whole town, but they’re held in tenuous check by Burl Ives, who clings to the fantasy that they are a disciplined bunch and he their leader — and Burl Ives is about the only actor possessed of a screen presence imposing enough to carry it off. He actually projects a sense of power over the likes of Jack Lambert, Lance Fuller and Paul Wexler (more on him later) while they convey a sense of incipient chaos you can feel coming through the screen.

   Oh – did I mention Ive’s character is dying of a bullet wound? And if he goes, his owlhoots look all set on rape, murder, and wholesale destruction — for starters.

   It’s all very tense, but I have to say it also gets awfully confining after a while, with so much happening indoors. Even when they get outside, the landscape is flat and uninteresting, and I found myself growing restless until…

   Well I’ll just say the last part of Day of the Outlaw is spectacular and literally chilling, with Robert Ryan and the outlaws struggling through a blizzard to an eerie, silent, haunting climax.

   And now a word about the cast. Ryan & Ives dominate the thing, but I was impressed by what director André De Toth did with the outlaws. David Nelson (Ricky’s older brother) projects youthful angst as a kid gone wrong; Lance Fuller, inept leading man in things like Voodoo Woman and The She Creature, is actually quite good here as a grinning gun-happy back-shooter; Jack Lambert is the only actor who could scowl and sneer at the same time, and Paul Wexler…

   Wexler’s star never rose high nor shined brightly in Hollywood, but I recall him fondly as the sinister butler in The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters and Henry Daniell’s lip-sewn gofer in The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake. Here he plays a mixed-race desperado whose fixed stare threatens to steal the show from all the better actors.

   Films are too often judged and condemned based on their faithfulness to the book, but I found this one just as enjoyable in its own way. And when I say that about a film from a book I couldn’t put down, well… Try them both.



THOMAS W. BLACKBURN – Short Grass. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1947. Bantam #207, paperback, 1948; #1164, paperback 1953. Other editions include Dell, paperback, 1973.

SHORT GRASS. Allied Artists, 1950. Rod Cameron, Johnny Mack Brown, Cathy Downs, Morris Ankrum, Alan Hale Jr. Raymond Walburn, Harry Woods, Stanley Andrews, Riley Hill, Jeff York, Tristam Coffin and Lee Tung Foo. Screenplay by Thomas W. Blackburn. Directed by Lesley Selander.

   An excellent book turned into a superior B Western.

   I started watching Short Grass last month and was immediately struck by something rare in B Westerns: Depth. Early on, wandering gunfighter Steve Lewellen (Rod Cameron) gets dry-gulched by Myron Healey, who is in the employ of big rancher Hal Fenton (Morris Ankrum.) He survives (Healey doesn’t) and is nursed back to health by small rancher Pete Lynch (Stanley Andrews) and his daughter Sharon (Cathy Downs — whom you may remember in the title role of My Darling Clementine.)

   The whole episode serves as a plot device to put Rod on the side of the small ranchers, but the film takes a few minutes to tell us a bit about Myron Healey’s character, and how he comes up against Rod Cameron. The two even have a bit of edgy interaction before getting on with the story, and I wondered why a B-Western would take such pains with a throwaway character like Healey’s. Then I saw that the screenplay was by the author of the book, who would naturally try to get as much of his story on screen as he could.

   Then I started wondering about the book itself. So I dug out a copy to compare and contrast with the film, and it was a revelation.

   Don’t get me wrong. Short Grass is not a great novel. But it’s a damn fine one, and it made a superior B Western. But where was I?

   Oh Yeah: In the book, Steve Lewellen uses his prowess to keep Pete Lynch from being crowded off his range. But when he kills Fenton’s hot-head brother he realizes the odds are too great, and if he stays it will bring worse trouble. So he advises his friend to sell out and rides away from the woman he has grown to love.

   That’s book one of a two hundred page novel. Book two finds Lassiter three years later, farming on the outskirts of a small town called Brokenbow, which threatens to become a wide-open town since the railroad arrived and drew in the cattle drives—headed by Fenton.

   And this is where Blackburn turns a standard western into something a bit better, sketching out vivid portraits of the townsfolk: a town-taming sheriff, a Swede farmer, crusty old doctor, shopkeeper… and even a Chinese Cook. They all come to life here and join in the action, of which there is plenty.

   Ah yes, the action. You couldn’t ask for anything better. In one scene Lewellen takes on four opponents and Blackburn makes it read real, not like some pulp-book superman. And he wraps things up with a running gun battle through the streets: Townsfolk vs drovers, and never lets the reader lose track of who’s where and what hit whom—a neat trick, and he does it well.


   When Allied Artists made this into a movie they were still sloughing off the Monogram persona, like a caterpillar turning hopefully moth-ward, and they fashioned Short Grass firmly in the B+ mode, with sturdy sets, good stunting, lots of extras, and names familiar to Western fans.

   Blackburn cut out the unnecessary characters, put the bit parts in deep focus (as in the opening cited above) and changed what needed changing; in the book, the virile, town-taming sheriff is fooling around with the wife of the Newspaper Editor. In the movie he’s tough, paunchy Johnny Mack Brown, loving her pure & chaste from afar.

   Allied Artists picked Lesley Selander to direct, and no one could have made a better job of it. Selander was a dab hand with action, and he visualizes Blackburn’s fights and shoot-outs just as he wrote them. But more than this, Selander — who brought Hopalong Casssidy and The Lone Ranger to the scree — had a feel for the mythic qualities of the men and their story. When, after many minutes of furious battle, the battered gunman and the wounded lawman lock arms and march across the street into a saloon full of bad guys, it carries all the feeling of a similar moment in Ride the High Country. Peckinpah did it better, but Selander did it first.

   You can enjoy Short Grass equally as book or movie, but I recommend you try both. And before I wrap this up, I should add that Tom W Blackburn was also a songwriter of sorts with one solid gold record to his credit.

   Can you name it?


THE TALL T (AND OTHER WESTERN ADVENTURES) Avon #775, 1957, featuring: “The Tall T” (originally “The Captives”) by Elmore Leonard, 1955; “The Man from Gant’s Place” by Steve Frazee, 1951; “The Twilighters” by Noel M Loomis, 1954.

THE TALL T. Columbia, 1957. Randolph Scott, Maureen O’Sullivan, Richard Boone, Henry Silva, Arthur Hunnicutt, Skip Homeier, and John Hubbard. Screenoplay by Burt Kennedy from the story by Elmore Leonard. Directed by Budd Boetticher.

   Whathehell does that title mean?

   But leave that be for now. Perhaps it will convey the quality of the book if I say that the Elmore Leonard story, while quite good, is the least of the three here.

   Leonard’s tale is a tight-knit saga of a hold-up-turned-kidnapping, with Rancher Pat Brennan reluctantly along for the ride as three killers hold heiress Doretta Mims for ransom and send her husband — Willard Mims, the name says it all — to make arrangements. The characters are well defined, the action deftly done, but it all seems a bit too terse, as if there were a novel inside this story, yearning to break out.

   I will add though that I saw the film before reading the book, and my judgement may be more critically impaired than usual. More on this anon. For now I’ll just say, as if it needed saying, that Elmore Leonard knew how to write action and move a story fast without seeming rushed.

   But “The Man from Gant’s Place” takes the prize here. A simple tale of a boy fresh off the farm walking into the middle of a range war, that overturns every cliché known to pulp writers. Steve Frazee isn’t well remembered among Western writers, but he had a way of looking at hard work and senseless gunplay that gave his stories depth as well as life, and this is one of his best.

   And the book rounds off with one of the grimmest western stories I’ve ever read: “The Twilighters,” a narrative of dishonor among thieves filled with shocking brutality. Tough, scary and unforgettable.

   I will add that the book is graced with a gaudy cover and loads of shots from the film, and conclude that it’s an attractive package indeed, and one worth seeking out.


   As for the movie made from it, this is a minority opinion, but I’ve always felt that the first twenty minutes were a waste of film, and watching them was a wanton squandering of my precious youth. But the film proper truly takes off when the three bad guys ooze out of the darkened swing station, and from there on it attains a high level of tension and feeling until (SPOILER ALERT!) Randolph Scott flushes them back into the darkness from whence they oozed at film’s end.

   I say “tension” because The Tall T reels at the edge of violence like a drunk at a wedding, with Henry Silva as a killer who enjoys his work entirely too much, Skip Homeier as an outlaw too dumb to be honest, and Richard Boone as their leader, who doesn’t really want to kill Scott but knows he will have to do it in the end.

   All four actors seem so at home in their parts that one doesn’t even notice them acting, and Maureen O’Sullivan matches them as the homely prize they must fight over. Arthur Hunnicutt tosses off another of his pitch-perfect performances as himself, and even John Hubbard, the forgettable leading man of The Mummy’s Tomb, has moments of rare and well-done intensity.

   Best of all, writer Burt Kennedy fleshes out the empty spaces in Elmore Leonard’s story with genuine sensitivity. When Boone and Scott talk quietly about ranching and outlawry, they’re really talking about life itself and why they ended up on opposite sides of it. Boone in particular seems trapped in his role no less than his captives, and his confabs with Scott are as much a struggle for escape as Scott will undertake when the chips go flying.

   The Tall T is, in short, what poets and philosophers call “a must-see” and though I have yet to figure out what the title means, it’s a film I can watch again and again with pleasure.

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