Budd Boetticher’s life story is one of Hollywood’s more unusual. A privileged Midwestern rich kid who found himself a bullfighter in Mexico and then, serendipitously, a film director more admired than famous, Boetticher has become something of a cult auteur thanks to his Westerns, which have risen in stature over the years. Sony’s “The Films of Budd Boetticher,” the studio’s first DVD collaboration with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, collects the best of them — the five he made for Columbia in the late 1950s — and pays them the respect they deserve, larding each excellent color transfer with substantive celebrity video introductions. The five-disc set also includes three full audio commentaries and a superb feature-length documentary on the helmer, making it a must for every oater connoisseur.
Boetticher came to movies via bullfighting — he was a technical advisor for Fox’s Tyrone Power starrer “Blood and Sand” (1941) — and then stayed to make movies, first cheap noirs, then cheap Westerns, some of which turned out to be inexpensive but brilliantly wrought. These are the ones collected here, each starring the stoic Randolph Scott: “The Tall T” (1957), “Decision at Sundown” (1957), “Buchanan Rides Alone” (1958), “Ride Lonesome” (1959) and “Comanche Station” (1960). Harry Joe Brown produced all five, and Burt Kennedy wrote four.
What makes them special, beyond Scott’s granite-like certitude and Kennedy’s steady drollery, is Boetticher’s amazing eye — not just for natural locations (he gives John Ford a run for his money), but also, more impressively, for composition. Here, if you will, is an almost classic Japanese aesthetic applied to Westerns. There can be no false moves in filmmaking this terse.
Much is made in the bonus features of linking these pics to Boetticher’s bullfighting past, and the analogies seem solid enough, even as Boetticher denied the connection. Which brings us to Bruce Ricker’s superb 2005 TCM docu “Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That,” scripted by critic Dave Kehr and narrated by Ed Harris.
At more than 80 minutes, the film has plenty of time to explore Boetticher’s life in detail, and it does, supplementing a fine narrative with plenty of talking-head footage from the likes of Robert Towne, Paul Schrader, Robert Stack, Andrew Sarris and the ubiquitous Peter Bogdanovich. The best of this material may be the intercut tete-a-tete between Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino, whose admiration of Boetticher clearly supplies a common bond.
Boetticher, who died in 2001, also shows up here thanks to the magic of archival film. In the most arresting of these segments, taped near the end of his life, he speaks candidly of his unhappy childhood. (“I was a sissy,” he nakedly declares at one point.)
As for the video introductions, by Scorsese, Eastwood and Taylor Hackford, all of whom knew Boetticher, they give thoughtful, personal testimonials extolling his cinematic virtues. Aptly, they merely whet the appetite for the full meal Boetticher’s Westerns provide.