The seven films directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott made between 1956 and 1960 are Westerns that behave like few other Western films. It’s hard describe what is so different about these works; like most Westerns they feature a character that might be described as a “hero,” sometimes with a sidekick as in Decision at Sundown, and villains. There are horses, gunplay, rough desert landscapes, small Western towns, even Indians. There is often a saloon, a tough saloon moll, as in this film, and rigid sense of code that the hero is determined to uphold. On the surface Boetticher’s works sound perfectly in sync with the genre. Yet his films are significantly different.
First of all the hero seldom behaves with the direct fortitude and surety of characters played, for example, by John Wayne. Wayne’s heroes generally know what they’re doing or, at least, what they’re trying to do, while Randolph Scott’s heroes, in this case Bart Allison, seem to be acting out of years of pain and vengeance based on the death of friends or, in this work and at least one other film, the wrongful death of his wife.
you was goin’ to kill him? Bart, you must be
I’ve hunted Kimbrough, but he didn’t know it.
Before I settle with him, I want him to know he’s
been, the truth isn’t an easy thing to face up to.
No man, including Tate Kimbrough, can take
another man’s wife away him unless she really
wants to be taken. So maybe you didn’t lose
anything that was really very worthwhile.
One can hardly imagine a movie that ends with the “hero,” still angry over the long ago events, being met by the villain, Kimbrough, now on his way out of town. Everything has shifted, the citizens now ready and willing to retake the responsibilities for their community, vaguely hoping that they can somehow show their appreciation to the intruder.
Seldom has a Western ended in a world so relativistic, with a hero who can help everyone but himself. His values, strangely, were perhaps the right ones provoked by the wrong situations. Accordingly, while moral values have been restored to Sundown, at sunup Allison will only be faced by a deeper quandary wherein justice, as he knows it, can no longer be served and wherein he himself has been duped by an innocent pride.