Sam Peckinpah's second film, Ride the High Country, is a captivating Western about two old gunslingers who reunite for a dangerous job. With limited resources and futures, their relationship is tested, as is each man's character, along the journey.
Former marshal Steven Judd (Joel McCrea) is hired by a bank to transport gold from the mining town of Coarse Gold. Six miners have been killed trying to make the trip, but he needs the work. Steve runs into his old deputy Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott), who is working as a hustler with a young man named Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), and hires them to ride with him. Gil and Heck plan to rob the shipment, and Gil wants Steve to join them, thinking they are both entitled after having so little to show for risking their lives in the service of others.
The trio stop at the farm of Joshua Knudsen (R. G. Armstrong). He is a religious man and is so overbearing in the protection of his daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley) she runs away to Coarse where her fiancee Billy Hammond (James Drury) is working as a miner. She tags along to the chagrin of the two older men. However, Billy is a cad and pays little attention to his brothers mauling her. Hearing Elsa's screams, Steve and Heck rescue her, but Billy and his brothers wont give her up, further complicating Steve's job.
The script is very well written. The characters come across as believable people gives them an authenticity, and it also helps to have two talented actors like McCrea and Scott in the lead roles. The plot twists derive from the characters' choices in a believable manner and don't feel forced to movie the story along to particular points. The ending comes to a natural conclusion from the events that preceded it, even though the audience might want a different outcome.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The picture delivers great colors as seen in the decorations about the town and the decor of the whorehouse as well as the strong earth tones as they make their way to Coarse Gold. Blacks are inky. Shadow delineation is good, but some objects swallowed up in the darkness, as seen in the Knudsen barn. Grain is natural but increases against blue sky. The image looks very clean, free of wear and defect. The original mono audio is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The dialogue is clear, but the dubbing is apparent. There's not an abundant use of effects and music and the dynamic range is limited by the source.
Extras include an informative commentary by Nick Redman and three authors of Peckinpah books, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle. Taken from the 2006 DVD release, "A Justified Life: Sam Peckinpah and the High Country" (23 min) finds Peckinpah's sister talking of their family's history. There is also a trailer (3 min).
Ride the High Country is a marvelous Western that gets a worthy high-definition release from Warner Archive. The video shines as bright as the film's two lead actors.