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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Gun Duel in Durango (UA, 1957)

George rides again

After small parts in a great number of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and John Wayne B-Westerns in the 1930s, George Montgomery finally got to lead in one, the 1941 Riders of the Purple Sage, his 29th oater. 21 Westerns later, he led in a low-budget black & white Western made by Robert E Kent’s Peerless Productions (Kent's first Western as producer, in fact) and released by United Artists.

Kent was first and foremost a screenwriter and had made money from teenage rock ‘n’ roll pictures and gangster B-movies but he also did a fair number of Westerns, starting with a John Payne lumberjack picture in 1940. He wrote five for George Montgomery.

This one is standard fare, to be honest, but that doesn’t mean bad. Formulaic and predictable, it’s still energetic and fun. It was directed by good old Sidney Salkow (these oaters were directed by a select group of hacks, Fred F Sears, Earl Bellamy, William Castle, etc.) The screenplay was not by Kent but by Louis Stevens, who worked on the 1936 The Texas Rangers and its fun 1949 remake Streets of Laredo. He wrote Westerns for Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun, Joel McCrea and Robert Ryan, among others, so he was no mug.

I never thought Montgomery was all that good but he was tall and tough, and occasionally had a Clint Walkerish look about him. His voice reminds me of that of Clayton Moore, so few Academy awards were in the offing. Still, he was competent. In this one he is a classic good-badman, an outlaw who wants to hang up his irons and go straight but his erstwhile cronies won’t let him.

The cast benefits greatly from having Frank Ferguson (right) as the tough but fair sheriff but the gang aren’t much good: Steve Brodie is the ruthless boss (he murders an old timer – good old Syd Saylor - in cold blood in the first reel to establish his badman credentials) and Don ‘Red’ Barry, Henry Rowland, Al Wyatt, Joe Yrigoyen and Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan (so two Reds) are his fellow gangsters. It’s hardly a stellar line-up. Still, Denver Pyle is a Texas Ranger captain.

There’s a plot that reminds you of The Lone Hand a few years before: Will Sabre (Montgomery) arrives in town on a wagon with a young boy (Robbie Donovan), and Ann Robinson will become the child’s step-mother in due course. The hero will have to run with the bandits for a while but will eventually act bravely, defeat the gang and be exonerated, becoming a respectable member of the community. That’s just what happened to Joel McCrea in The Lone Hand, and indeed, it happened to a good many other Western heroes at different times also. The plot was not, shall we say, original.
Will and his adopted son Robbie
The leading lady has very slinky 1950s pants. She says she used to run “a gambling joint” (a common euphemism) but now she’s a rancher, working hard and doing well. She doesn’t want Will unless he’s genuinely reformed. The sheriff suspects that ‘Dan Tomlinson’, which is the name Will has assumed, might be bandit/gunfighter Sabre but still gets him a job in the bank, which seems a little rash, or at least implausible.

The boy is perky and plucky, as was the wont of boys in Westerns. The audience was often made up of youths of a similar age so they could identify with the lad, and their moms could approve of how clean and polite the boy is.
They form a family
I fear that Gun Duel in Durango does not have an enormous amount to recommend it. But if you like George Montgomery B-Westerns and have a spare 73 minutes you could certainly watch it.


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