The Tall T

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The Tall T is a 1957 western film directed by Budd Boetticher. It was adapted by Burt Kennedy from Elmore Leonard's short story "The Captives."

In 2000, The Tall T was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."


Passing a stagecoach way station on his journey into town, Pat Brennan agrees to return with some storebought candy for the friendly station manager's young son. At a ranch where he once worked, the cheerful Brennan loses his horse in a wager and is forced to walk home.

He gets a welcomed rescue from stagecoach driver Rintoon, hired to transport the just-married Willard Mims and his new wife Doretta. It tickles Brennan, who tells Rintoon this is the first time he's ever been on a honeymoon.

A light-hearted adventure takes a dramatic turn. Mistaking the coach for the regular stage, three outlaws emerge from hiding at the waystation. The gang is led by Frank Usher, and the ambush leads to the killing of Rintoon by the crack shot Chink, a vain and heartless member of Frank's gang.

Brennan then learns that the station manager and son have been murdered too, with their bodies cruelly thrown down a well.

Terrified of sharing the same fate, Mims reveals to the bandits that his wife is wealthy and worth a ransom. Frank decides to relocate Brennan and Mrs. Mims away from the station in a desolate area nearby until the $50,000 ransom can be requested and paid. He has the young outlaw Billy Jack ride along with to see Willard Mims' new father-in-law and issue the gang's demands.

Unlike the unctuous Mims or the two young, cold-blooded men he rides with, Frank recognizes in Brennan something he admires. In his mind, they are men who in different circumstances might have been friends.

Brennan knows full well, however, that he and Mrs. Mims can survive this ordeal only with the deaths of the entire gang. He urges her to be strong and do whatever's necessary to get through this. Aware that these could be the last hours of their lives, Brennan kisses her.

Her husband returns, saying his father-in-law has agreed to the ransom and is rounding up the money. Frank is disgusted with Mims, who has barely acknowledged the distress of his newlywed wife. Mims is granted permission to ride off by himself, collect the ransom and bring it back. He gets a short distance up the hill when Frank gives the order to Chink to gun Mims down.

Frank leaves Billy Jack and Chink to guard the hostages while he goes off to collect the money himself. However, Brennan implies that Frank should not be trusted, so Chink leaves the camp to keep an eye on Frank. Now Billy Jack is left to guard the two people on his own. Brennan has a hunch that the love-starved Billy Jack would try to take advantage of Mrs. Mims given the chance. When that happens, Brennan overpowers Billy Jack and kills him.

He and Mrs. Mims wait for the others to return. Chink hears the shots and returns first. Armed with a gun now, Brennan gets the drop on Chink. Frank returns with the money, but when he finds his the others are dead surrenders his gun and the money to Brennan. Frank then turns his back and decides to calmly mount his horse and ride off, betting that Brennan will be unwilling to shoot him in the back.

He is correct, but when the greedy Frank decides to turn around and come back for the money, guns blazing, Brennan shoots him dead. He and the newlywed widow begin the long journey home side by side.

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