Sony // 1955 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // March 21st, 2006
"A man can't run all the time; he has to fight sooner or later." -- Owen Merritt (Randolph Scott)
Though Randolph Scott never achieved the fame of A-list western stars like John Wayne or Gary Cooper, he was a reliable genre fixture from the 1940s through to the late 1950s, achieving his greatest popularity with director Budd Boetticher in a series of films starting with 1956's Seven Men from Now. Man in the Saddle, which appeared several years before the fondly remembered Boetticher collaborations, isn't quite as notable as his later efforts, but with accomplished director Andre De Toth behind the camera, it remains worth a look for Scott fans.
In a fit of gold digging fever, Laurie (Joan Leslie, Hellgate) marries ruthless landowner Will Isham (Alexander Knox, Modesty Blaise). Her tall-in-the-saddle suitor Owen Merritt (Randolph Scott, Wagon Wheels) struggles to be a gracious loser, but try as he might, he can't figure why he was suddenly dropped like a hot potato. But is Laurie really in love? When Owen suspects that Will intends to take more than just his girl from him, he just has to follow the advice of his heart -- and his gun.
A slightly above average Technicolor oater starring Randolph Scott, Man in the Saddle is a sharply-directed little flick for the underrated western idol. Lensed by Andre De Toth, the infamous one-eyed director who later brought us one of the most visually-rich horror films ever made, 1953's House of Wax, Man in the Saddle is a beautifully shot film full of breathtaking vistas and lush ranch interiors. De Toth's flair for composition and color has the image popping off the screen in many scenes, and you can see the esteemed director's thumbprint throughout the film, enough to recommend this film to any viewer fond of striking cinematography.
And it's a good thing the film is so gosh darn pretty, because plotting was never De Toth's strong suit, and the unremarkable Man in the Saddle is no exception. Based on a similarly-titled novel by Ernest Haycox, the wholly predictable story is fraught with romantic melodrama and formulaic revenge, overused clichés that fail to hook in the viewer with anything particularly unique or compelling. Action, too, is rather slight, hinging on a few set-pieces like a runaway burning wagon, a lights-out gunfight, and an epic fistfight that demolishes a cabin and sends both participants rolling down the side of a mountain. These are great moments, to be sure, but they're too few and far between.
Scott is as good as always in his role as the unflappable Merritt. Though his strength on screen came from his cinematic reputation as a charismatic western icon rather than extraordinary acting skills, he occasionally held his own, and puts in a believable, no-frills performance here amongst a background of mostly capable character actors. Also worth noting is the presence of country crooner Tennessee Ernie Ford in one of his only screen roles. In addition to providing the film's opening credit theme song, Ford briefly appears in the film to provide a timely campfire ballad about love lost.
As usual, the Technicolor process looks quite good replicated on DVD. The colors are bright and solid, and generally a pleasure to look at. The problem comes from the source print, which is fraught with constant grain and observable source damage in some scenes. Sound is provided by a passable Dolby mono track; dialogue and music sound just fine. The only extras included are the "previews" standard on this type of bare bones Sony release.
As the studios have cleaned out their vaults looking for possible DVD releases, the market has been literally flooded with Randolph Scott westerns in the past few years. Man in the Saddle isn't one of his best known screen appearances, but it probably should be, if only because of De Toth's elaborate staging. Recommended for fans of 1950s westerns and Randolph Scott in particular.
Not guilty. This DVD gets off Scott-free.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated