Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

THE WALKING HILLS. Columbia, 1949. Randolph Scott, Ella Raines, William Bishop, John Ireland, Arthur Kennedy, Edgar Buchanan, Josh White and Jerome Courtland. Written by Alan Le May. Directed by John Sturges.

   Any movie where Josh White sings is worth watching, but this one is also an off-beat contemporary western that manages to be leisurely and edgy at the same time.

   In a seedy border town, a few casual acquaintances and complete strangers sit in on a pick-up poker game and catch an off-hand remark that puts them on the trail of a lost treasure in the desert just north of the line. Soon they’ve left the city on horseback and are in the desert to dig out the gold and get rich.

   And of course it just ain’t that simple.

   For one thing, one of the party (William Bishop) is wanted for a murder he never done. And another member (John Ireland) is the PI hired to catch him, now detoured by the lure of wealth. A couple other treasure-seekers have guilty secrets of their own, and Ella Raines, who joined the party to be with her man, apparently ditched Randy years ago to run off with Bishop.

   Complicated enough for you? The wonder is that director Sturges and writer Alan Le May keep it all feeling (and moving) very fast and straightforward, the story unfolding at its own pace as the characters interact with a natural grace that never seems forced.

   Here for the first time that I know of, Randolph Scott seems to be moving toward the complex persona that typified his best films of the 1950s: terse, authoritative and reserved, but with some kind of personal sensitivity just beneath that sun-baked surface.

   Throughout the 1940s, Scott played a lot of very dull parts. He played them well, but they seemed to be nothing but a succession of square-dealing lawmen, hard-working engineers, dedicated soldiers, and even honest lawyers. His good-bad guy in Western Union was a pleasant exception, but his bad-bad guy in The Spoilers was strictly from Sominex till he threw a punch at the Duke.

   It was producer Harry Joe Brown who first saw some deeper potential in Scott, and began developing it in films like this one, Man in the Saddle, Coroner Creek, and finally the films with Budd Boetticher that led up to Ride the High Country.

    Walking Hills gives us this character playing out his part against some breath-taking desert landscapes in a story with admirable pace, tension, and plenty of action.

   And there’s also Josh White singing.