"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gun Fury (Columbia, 1953)

The movie suddenly starts to grip you.

When you first start watching this, you think ho-hum, a 50s Western with Rock Hudson. And up to a point you keep thinking that all the way through. However, at one point the movie suddenly starts to grip you and you find yourself wondering if it isn’t directed by Budd Boetticher. Sure, Rock Hudson is no Randolph Scott but the movie is tight, action-packed and has some very good dialogue. Could it be written by Burt Kennedy?

Rock comes out of the Civil War determined not to fight ever again and is going to California by stage with Donna Reed to start a new life. But they come across crazed Confederate Philip Carey, the captain from Springfield Rifle, and his sidekick Leo Gordon the Great in his first big role (the same year he was to be Ed Lowe, shot by John Wayne in Hondo). These heavies hold up the stage, shoot Rock and leave him for dead, and run off with Donna. Rock comes to, naturally gives chase and joins up with Leo, who has fallen out with Carey and wants revenge, and an Indian, good old Neville Brand, also out for vengeance.

The heavies, including Lee Marvin, 29 but already in his 14th film and 5th Western, have very Elvis-style brylcreemed haircuts.

Visually, the film is nice. Like Hondo, it was filmed in 3D, which was all the rage in '53, and there are the obligatory knife thrusts at the camera and guns fired right at the viewer, which probably made them all jump. The 3D is a curiosity because the film was directed by Raoul Walsh who of course only had one eye, so he was never able to see it in anything more than 2D. (The same was true, film lovers, of AndrĂ© de Toth when he made House of Wax). It has a bright orange look to it and the primary colors are very strong, almost Johnny Guitarish. Filmed around Sedona (photography by Lester White), it has very pleasant Arizona scenery, even if the same area is obviously used again and again from different angles as they are supposed to be traveling a distance.

The music (Mischa Bakaleinikoff and Arthur Morton) is old-fashioned and often over the top. This, the bright colors and the indifferent acting by Hudson and overacting by Carey give the whole film a 50s B-movie look and feel. But the screenplay, by Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins (not Burt), is high class and the direction, by Walsh, very good. The story is really quite exciting as the pacifist worm turns and the inevitable showdown comes. The ending arrives suddenly, ten seconds after the final blow and Rock and Donna live happily ever after.
It’s a bit corny, yes, but it’s a tight, nifty B-Western well worth a look.


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