I have a few more thoughts on Ride the High Country
Knudsen is lost without his wife, and so he is all one thing....no grey, it's all black and white. He wants it to be, because that's easier. He just slams the gate down. He doesn't know what to do with Elsa, doesn't know how to bring her up, so he quotes scripture, and is mad about it. All his love has been eaten up by his self pity. Does he love Elsa? I think he hates her for reminding him of her mother. He doesn't understand the string theory - letting your child step out a little bit at a time and then pulling them back.... until they know what to do. I think Knudsen doesn't know himself. He gets a glimmer right after he hits Elsa, then the door of scripture slams shut again. He blocks self knowledge with the Book.
I found Elsa's story more moving, but I liked the way Heck stood up and became a man. The young lovers play the game of attract and repel, kind of like Cary and Ingrid in Notorious
, getting steamed at each other for not wanting to say the L word. Heck is at first simply attracted to Elsa. They push each other away as all lovers do at some point, but Heck can't stand the idea that she might be hurt when the game goes too far. His interest in her well-being overcomes his anger at her provoking him. Thank goodness he trusted his instincts, and goes after her when she is trapped by the Hammonds. He becomes Steve, only this time, he keeps the girl, and throws the job away. This was Steve's one mistake.
Elsa's mistakes are very real to me. I can remember what it was like when I was young and foolish when I watch this movie - it all feels true, those very first mis-steps. Once Heck is gone, her decision to marry doesn't seem so smart. Going to someone out of boredom is usually a girl's first mistake in life and love. She only went to Billy because of her father and to propel Heck into action, forcing him to declare himself - but because she is young, she doesn't realize this about herself until Heck steps out of the picture and is gone. I think Mariette Hartley is superb at taking Elsa from headstrong and a little cocky, to confused, to uncomfortable, to real fear in her wedding scene, which is staged beautifully by Peckinpah. One shouldn't have to pay in such a way for your first mistake. This is where her father fell down. He didn't let her make small mistakes on her own, so her first was a doozy. I felt like I was at the gaping mouth of hell, watching the Hammonds, the barmaids and the whorehouse patrons carousing - it all seems so normal to them, so innocent any excuse for a party. It turns very quickly into a debauched orgy, where those partaking don't even see that what they are doing is wrong. It occurs to me that Peckinpah really knows how to skew right and wrong until they are opposite of what we thought they were. Then he places them smack dab against one another so we get a real eyeful of what is wrong with society.
There are so many contrasts in the movie - between young and old, wealth and poverty, even styles of living and loving. Every character can be compared to any other character and it works. Kind of like the Lang films, everyone has an affiliation to someone else, only to be broken or strengthened along the way.
One of the things I especially loved about RTHC was the writing. It's a tight-ish story, with the good guys not always so good, but also with them basically veering off their chosen path, unlike the old style westerns. They veer from their path in order to do the right thing, which is
like an old style western. It's a bridge film, between modern and old school. It is by no means a goody goody movie, quite the reverse, but the fact that the two men choose to go out "justified", rather than rich is enough old school to make me want to cry.
Another thing about the writing - the best thing in the movie are these one liners and meaningful zingers the two heroes trade back and forth, and with the rest of the cast. There are some GREAT lines sprinkled throughout this film, and I find the way they are integrated into the story thrilling. The way that Gil and Steve banter with one another or trade bible quotes is hilarious, and at the same time there is not a wasted breath between them. When they talk, it's peeled down to the merest of suggestion, so subtle. They are real friends, never using a sledghammer where a pin prick of conscience will do.
FrankGrimes, at the other site, mentioned that there are users and used in Peckinpah's films. In this case, Steve is the used and the weakest of men, the fat bankers, are the users. The used is such a better man. It's maddening! just like life today. In most movies up to this time, men worked their way up and became powerful and respected because they were strong and good. Here we see modern life in all it's glory - where the reverse is true.
I think Gil thought he needed
that money. He and Steve were far from well off - re: the boot scene. I think these two, especially Gil, finally saw and shrugged off what was unimportant (the money), and stepped purposefully into life - living it to the full by sacrificing their future for the young folks'. It makes me wonder what happens to Gil after this point? A sign of a great movie to me is one where I feel that things go on after the film is over.
I mentioned before that I loved the scene where Gil sidesteps the law by grabbing Edgar Buchanan's California bar certificate. He does the wrong thing for the right reasons. Here is Peckinpah at his best, again, changing our ideas of right and wrong to fit the situation. Gil takes action and goes on the offensive. Why do I love him for it? I don't know. Maybe because it shows a knowledge of human nature much deeper than even Steve's. He knows
Steve would never do it, and he knows it's the only way. I am a big sucker for this kind of action. Kind of like Tom Doniphon stepping in, protecting Ranse from Liberty Valance at the cost of his whole world. I know, it always comes down to that movie....everything relates to it.
All I know is, I need a right hand man like Gil! One who knows when to bend the rules, but one will not break. For Steve to go against the law, well, it would break him. For Gil it is simply one more slightly shady deal to be made. It's a noble thing he does here and we should not mistake the deed for the thought behind it. It isn't right, but it is
At first I liked Gil better, but Steve got to me later. There is something unyielding (in the best way) in Steve that takes longer to figure out. He is far greater in character, and though he is the "good" one, there is an amazing amount of depth in the character that can only have come from McCrea himself. I still don't know what he does that makes him so compelling. There aren't words for it. Maybe it's his ability to think on screen. One can only see it and marvel at the man.