The Summer Movie Blog-A-Thon presents this charge: “Summer brings with it an air of nostalgia — not just of ice cream trucks, swing sets and pool parties, but of the movies we grew up with during summer vacation… write about our favorite summer childhood movies and memories.” Here’s mine.
Being a movie-collecting family, and this being the pre-home video 1970s, we always packed a 16mm projector and stack of prints for the trip. One particular summer, when I was 10 or 11, two of the films that made the trek (in a Chevrolet station wagon) were Budd Boetticher’s Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) and Roger Corman’s Pit And The Pendulum (1961). This trip was one of the best times of my life. And those two films remain among my favorites.
Strawn is a tiny town of about 800 or so people — a couple hours West of Dallas. My grandmother, Zelma McCullough, worked in the lone grocery store. At least once a day, my cousins and I would walk into town to visit her, get a Dr. Pepper and a pack of Odd Rods bubble gum cards. Then we’d stop by my grandpa’s barn — and grab another Dr. Pepper and a handful of pecans. (The barn’s refrigerator seemed to contain nothing but Dr. Pepper and pharmaceuticals for the horses.) Along the way, there was always an old rusted Ford or something to climb on.
Summers in Strawn get really, really hot. And sitting under the window-unit air conditioner watching a Randolph Scott movie, projected onto the bright white living room wall, was a nice way to beat the heat. That’s how I first saw Buchanan Rides Alone. Several times over those two-to-three weeks. I remember the projector we ran it on — one of those green Bell & Howells many people remember from high school. I can hear its clicky purr mixed with the hum of the A/C. I can recall the brownish color of the slightly-faded print. (No telling what it looks like now.) And I can still recite a lot of its dialogue. Same goes for Pit And The Pendulum. With it, I also came to appreciate how widescreen (Panavision, in this case) can be used to startling effect.
I also recall thinking Randolph Scott, as Buchanan, was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. He looked cool (though I didn’t like the hat they gave him to wear). He got to say cool, smart-ass things (courtesy of writers Charles Lang and an uncredited Burt Kennedy) and shoot people. Plus, he had a Southern accent, which made me feel better about mine.
You read a lot about the cinematic experience — film, in a theater, with an audience. That’s how we’re meant to see these things. But film, at my grandmother’s house, with a cousin or two — that’s pretty good, too. So while Buchanan isn’t as good a picture as, say, Seven Men From Now (1956) or Ride Lonesome (1959), it has that summer in Strawn going for it — which makes it a great great film indeed.