An old-time Hollywood producer once quantified the difference between big budget and low budget westerns.  The number of horses drawing a stagecoach is always a dead giveaway.  Big budget westerns boast six-horse teams, while low-budget sagebrushers make do with four-horse teams.
Most television westerns prefer four-horse teams. A two-horse team hauls the stagecoach around in “Run for the High Country” (*½ OUT OF ****), an uninspired, saddle-sore saga about a veteran lawman on the trail of several murderous desperadoes.  Presumably, this ultra-low budget western could only afford a two-horse team.
B-movie actor Paul Winter not only wrote and directed this revisionist oater, but he also played the lead and edited it, too. Furthermore, in true auteur fashion, Winter co-produced it with Patty Daniels-Winters, and they haven’t pinched pennies on most of their production values. The sets, wardrobe, vehicles, and the spectacular Arizona scenery are all exemplary.
You won’t see any of those idiotic rodeo Stetsons which are so jarring. Moreover, the firearms are entirely appropriate to the period. Everybody wields either .45 caliber Colt revolvers or .30-30 Winchester repeaters. Unfortunately, that two-horse stagecoach is the only big flaw.  At the risk of belaboring the point, it just doesn’t look right to have two horses pulling a stagecoach.
Imagine what the silhouette on Wells Fargo Banks would look like if only two horses were dragging around that coach, and you’ll appreciate my argument.  If this were the only problem in “Run for the High Country,” you could probably ignore it, but alas it isn’t.
Colorado-based U.S. Marshal John Towne (Paul Winters of “Get Shorty”) is forged from the same crucible as Marshal Matt Dillon in the long-running “Gunsmoke” television series.  He is riding to Arizona to see a woman, when Chacon (Art Montano) and his quartet of outlaws ambush him after they have robbed a stagecoach and killed everybody on it.
Billy  O’Toole (Devin Flaherty) grazes Towne with a head shot. Rather than finishing off the wounded lawman, the outlaws amuse themselves. They disarm him, shackle his hands behind his back, while leaving him in the saddle with a noose stretched tight around his throat.  Miraculously, Towne’s horse doesn’t spook.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t keep our hero from sweating out the rest of the day, the entire night, and part of the following day waiting for the inevitable.  Eventually, a young Navajo boy, Binschii (Aden Yazzie), who has suffered his own share of hardships, comes across the lawman and cuts the rope.
The youngster has been on the lam since Chacon murdered his father and grandfather in cold blood.  Indeed, prejudice against Indians runs high in this oater, and Towne emerges as the only white who makes allowances for them. Ultimately, the marshal and the boy become close friends, and Towne grows fiercely protective of the pint-sized Navajo boy.
Ironically, Towne’s gratitude toward Binschii for saving his life later puts him in jeopardy.  After Towne escorts his young savior into a saloon for lunch, he finds himself at odds with the bigoted owner refuses to serve them.  Naturally, Towne doesn’t budge, and the local constabulary jails him before they realize who they have incarcerated.
Towne entrusts the Navajo boy’s welfare temporarily to a trading post owner and then rides out after Chacon.  Meantime, Chaco and his gang have arranged to sell rifles to renegade Indians in exchange for gold.  Towne stumbles onto Billy alone and questions him about Chacon’s whereabouts.  The weather-beaten marshal drowns the desperado without remorse in a stream because Billy raped and killed an innocent woman on the stagecoach that Chacon and his gang robbed.
Indeed, Chacon has everybody on the stagecoach killed so that no witnesses can identify them. Theoretically, Towne believes all men are either good or evil with no shades of gray. Furthermore, he believes evil men can be thwarted, but that it can never be totally eliminated.  Predictably, all the white settlers abhor the little Native American.  Towne reacts with rage and incredulity at their attitude toward the helpless Navajo.  Later, he administers the equivalent of a coup de grace to the villainous town sheriff after the latter assembles a posse to kill not only him but also the Navajo.
Although the production of “Run for the High Country” values lend this thrifty western an aura of authenticity, the performances and the widescreen cinematography can only be described as shoddy.  First-time actors and actresses embarrass themselves. They utter their contrived lines of dialogue without any ring of conviction, and they sound like they are reading their dialogue from cue cards hidden off camera.
Winter relies on voice-over narration so we can gain some insight into the various characters.  Sadly, everybody mumbles to themselves, and it is difficult to keep them separate from the others.  The U.S. Marshal shares his insights as well as those of the child.  Mind you, “Run for the High Country” contains some interesting dialogue, but the delivery of those lines is undercut by the wooden acting.
Winter is really no more confident in front of the camera than the rest of his cast.  He looks far too old to be playing a rough and tough lawman.  Worse, despite having helmed six low-budget films, such as “The Freeway  Maniac” (1989) and “Cowboy Zombies” (2016), Winter has no idea how to develop atmosphere or generate suspense.  The cinematography and the editing are each inferior, too.
The gunfights are choreographed with neither flair nor fluidity.  The finale where our lone hero confronts several horsemen charging with guns blazing lacks excitement.  The best thing you can do with “Run for the High Country” (obviously an homage on the title of Sam Peckinpah’s classic western “Ride the High Country”) is run from it. For more movie reviews click here:
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