HOLLYWOOD (Variety) – Budd Boetticher, director of a series of celebrated ’50s Westerns starring Randolph Scott, died Nov. 29 at his home in Ramona, Calif., after a battle with cancer. He was 85.
An expansive, ebullient personality whose adventures as a young matador in Mexico and as a horseman throughout his life were as significant to him as his Hollywood experiences, Boetticher made modestly budgeted genre pictures marked by idiosyncratic intelligence, an austere visual style, compact storytelling and elemental force that made him both a commercially successful filmmaker during his prime and a perennial favorite of film buffs. Just last year, a restored version of his long-unavailable Scott Western “Seven Men From Now” was a highlight at the Telluride and New York film festivals.
Made between 1956 and 1960, Boetticher’s Westerns with Scott were written mostly by the late Burt Kennedy and produced by Harry Joe Brown for Columbia Pictures. Scott normally played an embittered but stoic man pushed to violence by implacable villains, who often were played by exciting young actors discovered, or at least given a big push, by their work with Boetticher — among them Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Richard Boone and Lee Van Cleef.
The Ranown series, named after Scott and Brown, encompassed “Seven Men From Now,” “The Tall T,” “Decision at Sundown,” “Buchanan Rides Alone,” “Ride Lonesome,” “Westbound” and “Comanche Station.”
Born in Chicago in 1916, Oscar Boetticher Jr. was a varsity boxer and football player at Ohio State, but determined the course of his life when he traveled to Mexico in the mid-’30s and became a matador. The corrida remained a perennial passion for the brawny, physically imposing director, who recounted the life of a gringo bullfighter south of the border in his semi-autobiographical 1951 feature “The Bullfighter and the Lady,” which was produced by John Wayne, starred Robert Stack and earned Boetticher and Ray Nazarro an Oscar nomination for motion picture story.
Boetticher’s bullfighting experience provided his entree to Hollywood, where his first job was as technical adviser on Rouben Mamoulian’s 1941 “Blood and Sand. “ He rose quickly from menial studio jobs to assistant director (on “Cover Girl,” among others) and then to director of B movies, beginning with “One Mysterious Night” and “The Missing Juror” in 1944, and continuing with nine more, plus a number of military documentary and propaganda films through the end of the decade.
Between “Bullfighter” and his first Randolph Scott Western in 1956, Boetticher directed a dozen pictures, mostly adventure, suspense and sagebrush low-budgeters, including “The Cimarron Kid,” “Red Ball Express,” “Horizons West,” “City Beneath the Sea,” “The Man From the Alamo,” “The Magnificent Matador” and “The Killer Is Loose.”
In 1960, he directed the notable gangster drama “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.” But then, with his reputation steadily rising and many opportunities before him, he and his wife left in their Rolls-Royce for Mexico to make a documentary about Boetticher’s close friend, legendary matador Carlos Arruza.
The next seven years, recounted in his book “When in Disgrace,” were marked by staggering misfortune and tragedy: Boetticher was jailed and even briefly incarcerated in an insane asylum, his wife left him, his funds ran dry, he nearly died twice, and Arruza and several members of the film crew were killed in an automobile accident. Eventually, Boetticher finished the documentary, which was released in 1971.
Returning to Hollywood in 1967, Boetticher wrote the story for Don Siegel’s “Two Mules for Sister Sara” and went into business with Audie Murphy. But after just one film together, the Spanish-lensed “A Time for Dying,” which received minimal distribution in 1971, Murphy was killed in a plane crash that same year.
In later years, during which time his reputation was enhanced by laudatory critical articles, documentary appearances, film festival showings and retrospectives, which the director enthusiastically attended, Boetticher tried to get several projects off the ground, notably a major period piece called “A Horse for Mr. Barnum.”
But his only completed work was the 1985 documentary “My Kingdom For…,” which centered on his new passion, raising, training and riding Portuguese bullfighting horses, an enterprise he pursued with his fourth wife, Mary, on their property in Ramona, near San Diego. A skilled rejoneodor, Boetticher delighted his many visitors by dressing in formal bullfighting wear and putting his horses through intensely disciplined exercises in a ring especially constructed near his stables.
Originally cast in an important role in Robert Towne’s aborted “Chinatown” sequel, Boetticher eventually worked for Towne as an actor in “Tequila Sunrise” in 1988.
Once married to ’50s star Debra Paget, Boetticher is survived by his wife and two daughters.
By Todd McCarthy