It’s a memorable line from the classic western, “Ride The High Country”. The 1962 MGM film was released with little fanfare. Hard to figure because it starred two long-time movie cowboy heroes, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea and was directed by the maverick, Sam Peckinpah.
“High Country” also introduced the spunky Mariette Hartley. The supporting cast reads like a who’s who of top-notch character actors: James Drury, Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, John Anderson, John Davis Chandler, Edgar Buchanan and R.G. Armstrong (no, not a relation).
Another classic western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was released the same year and overshadowed “Ride The High Country.”
“All I want to do is..enter my house justified” is Joel McCrea’s summation of his very ethical lawman who’s grown old and, with little money to show for his estimable career, but refuses to abandon his ethics for a grab of the money he’s transporting from a mining town to the bank that hired him based on his reputation.McCrea is sharing his belief in honesty with longtime pal, Randolph Scott who temporarily has been seduced by greed and plans to steal the money. It’s against typecasting to have Randolph Scott as the former lawman on the verge of becoming a thief — at the expense of his life-long and honorable friend, Joel McCrea. When I saw the film in ’62, I found it hard to grasp Randolph Scott as a bad guy.
He does a very believable job as the ambivalent villain wannabe. Scott’s old and jaded gunfighter is exasperated by a lifetime of upholding the law with very little money to show for all the bullets he’s taken. It’s the old west take on “show me the money.”
Joel McCrea’s insistence on honesty and taking the high road despite many obstacles is a parable for our current political world where ethics and honesty have become a sham and a bad joke leveled at people blinded by our P.T. Barnum Commander-In-Chief.
Can you imagine a Presidential tweet saying, “All I want to do is enter my house justified”? The unfolding impeachment proceedings mock any pretense at ethics and honesty in the Oval Office. The McCrea line also flies in the face of all the Gordon Gekkos in our public arena where “greed is good” is the unofficial mantra.
Think of the high-profile celebrity parents facing the music and jail time for trying to buy a college diploma for their kids. You don’t enter your house justified with that as your moral code. Our political and moral swamp is spilling over instead of being drained.
It’s taken a while for me to see “Ride The High Country” as more than just an excellent western. Its underlying message about moral codes is clear to me now. The same can be said for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the movie that gave us the iconic (yes iconic) line:
“This is the west, Sir. When fact catches up with myth,
you print the legend.”
There’s a lot of legend printing going on these days. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Liberty Valance wannabes trying to muck with our Constitution and standards set by the men who wrote it. To be fair, some of those guys liked to print the legend too. But, that’s another story.
Randolph Scott sees the light in a memorable shoot out, teaming up with Joel McCrea, to take down execrable killers at the end of “Ride The High Country.” Spoiler alert?
Nah. Would you expect anything less from Randolph Scott?
We could use Scott and McCrea right now to run the current gang of miscreants out of town and out of the country — with some jail time thrown in.
They will never enter their house justified.