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

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Fastest Gun Alive (MGM, 1956)


No matter how fast you are, there's always somebody faster





 
 
 
The essay I wrote the other day about the quick-on-the-draw hooey in Hollywood Westerns (click the link for that) prompted me to have another look at a movie which was in many ways the apogee (or nadir if you prefer) of that myth, MGM’s The Fastest Gun Alive.
 

That great Western actor Glenn Ford was at the top of his form in the mid-1950s and made two superb Westerns for Columbia directed by the talented Delmer Daves, Jubal, released in February 1956, and 3:10 to Yuma, which came out in August 1957. All the more surprising then that between these two fine pictures Ford would do one at MGM which verged on the lurid. The Fastest Gun Alive was released in June ’56.

Great Western actor

It was produced by Clarence Greene, known for his films noirs but whose only Western this was (unless you count Thunder in the Sun) and directed and co-written by Greene’s close collaborator Russell Rouse, who was in the same boat.

Production team

It did well for a low-budget black & white quickie, grossing $3.5m, not bad for ‘56. It seemed to strike a chord with the public, besotted by the fast-draw malarkey and eager to see the showdown. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times said, “The Fastest Gun Alive does manage to hit the target most of the time” and commented that “The production team of Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene … have handled some familiar Western ingredients with intelligence and dexterity.” Not sure I quite agree with that last part.

The picture had several weaknesses apart from the rather silly subject matter. One was third-billed Broderick Crawford as the lightning-fast bad guy, fanning his double-action Colts (you try it). Crawford loved Westerns and did as many as he could, sixteen features and eight TV shows, starting as a highly improbable Grat Dalton in When the Daltons Rode in 1940 and ending with an Alias Smith and Jones episode in 1973. For me the only one he was remotely good in was The Last Posse (1953). He was too bulky and above all used that quick-fire semi-gangster lingo which jarred in an oater. He was an Easterner, born in Philadelphia and making it on Broadway before moving to Hollywood. He was a large flapping fish out of water in Westerns.
 
Unsuited

He was good, though, at the tough-guy side of it, and to give him credit he brings that to The Fastest Gun, imposing his authority on all and sundry, including his two henchmen. Said henches were both very good in Westerns, John Dehner and Noah Beery Jr. Dehner especially, as Taylor Swope, really makes the most of his part and in fact comes near to stealing the show. This one came between his parts in A Day of Fury and Tension at Table Rock – he made three feature Westerns in ’56. He was always excellent in the genre, especially as a heavy. Beery was never less than completely convincing as a tough Westerner. For him this one, as badman Dink Wells, came between Jubal and Decision at Sundown. His name is one of those which makes you say “Oh, good’” when you see it in the crédits.

Great henchmen though

The story symmetrically opens and closes with one of those “Draw!” duels that the cheaper kind of Western (and evidently audiences) loved. Vinnie Harold (Crawford) and his two thugs have come into the town of Silver Rapids with the sole object of challenging a certain Clint Fallon (our old pal Walter Coy) to a fast-draw combat. Harold is ready to kill a man he does not know, or even be killed himself (if he loses) just to see who is the faster of the two. Well, he does that, and Fallon’s bit-part comes to a sudden end, but a philosophical blind man (Walter Baldwin) tells him that while he might be the faster today, there’s someone else faster still. Who? Harold asks angrily. The blind man doesn’t know but he just says, “However fast you are, there’s always somebody faster.” Harold looks somewhat disconcerted. The triumphal splendor of his victory has been tarnished.

Fallon isn't faster

The blind man is right, of course, for now we see Glenn Ford (Ford was reputed to be one of the fastest draws in Tinseltown) practicing outside his home of Cross Creek, and mighty quick he is too. We know for sure that in the last reel there will be a showdown between Glenn and Brod, and we shall finally learn who is the fastest gun of all – though not necessarily alive.

As I said the other day, it’s all moonshine. There was no tradition of fast draw in the West. Gunfights were usually a matter of impetuosity, fueled by liquor and hot tempers, often in and around saloons, rather than formal pre-announced duels in Main Street. Those low-slung open holsters didn’t exist, and the premium was on coolness and deliberation, not speed. Famous Westerners who perished from gunshot wounds tended to be shot from behind (Wild Bill Hickok, John Wesley HardinJesse James), or shotgunned (Bob Ford), or bushwhacked from hiding (Pat Garrett, Belle Starr), shot when unarmed (Billy the Kid) or committed suicide (John Ringo). Never mind. The face-to-face quick-draw showdown is an essential part of the Wild West mythos.

More usually shot from behind

Glenn goes by the name of George Temple and he is the stolid storekeeper in Cross Creek, having to deal with tiresome women who change their mind over the color of an ordered dress and other irritations. His young wife Dora is pregnant. She is played by the glam Jeanne Crain, about whom I was talking the other day, for she was the feisty rancher destined to fall for Alan Ladd in Guns of the Timberland (1960), as well as taking the female lead opposite Kirk Douglas in Man Without a Star (1955). Unfortunately the part allotted to her in The Fastest Gun requires her only to nag, endlessly, at her husband, until he comes close to belting her. It was a thankless role. This was because of the dubious decision by director/writer not to reveal until late in the movie why such a super-fast gun is holed up keeping store in a one-horse town.
 
She's a nag

On the plus side, this Western features some excellent character actors, such as Leif Erikson, John Dierkes, Rhys Williams, John Doucette and Chubby Johnson, all as townsmen, and in fact the small-town life is quite well portrayed. It is a claustrophobic place, one where everyone knows everyone else's business. Paul Birch is a tough sheriff of another town who with a posse is pursuing the three ne’er-do-wells because they shot his brother in a bank robbery. He will arrive in Cross Creek in the last reel.

Too much standing around and talking

However, another townsman is fourth-billed Russ Tamblyn, and his part really jars. He is only there to show off his acrobatic dancing skills, and for no other purpose, when he does a semi-comic turn at the town dance. This episode is bizarre, damages the atmosphere and tension and is strangely out of place. What he is doing in this movie is a mystery. He had started Westerns in Cave of Outlaws in 1951, did the hugely successful but dire musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (sometimes billed as a Western but not) in 1954, and then the semi-Western (more of a comedy-romance) Many Rivers to Cross in 1955. He would later figure in other oaters (including one, the soapy Cimarron, with Glenn Ford again) before ending up doing dreadful spaghettis in Europe. It was, for me, an undistinguished Western career.

We could have done without this bit

Back to the plus side: there’s some nice black & white photography by George J Folsey, ex-Lasky silent cameraman who in the talkie era at Metro shot Seven Brides but also worked on two of the studio’s good Westerns, Saddle the Wind and Vengeance Valley. Most of The Fastest Gun was done on the Western town set but there’s the odd nice location shot (Red Rock Canyon State Park). And class act André Previn wrote and conducted the music, as he did for some of my all-time favorite pictures such as Bad Day at Black Rock, Devil’s Doorway and Escape from Fort Bravo.

George was at the camera...
 
...and André had the baton
 
So you see there are some good things about the movie. Of course Glenn Ford was always superb. Like many Western actors he did occasionally appear in some pretty ordinary pictures, not to say weak ones, but which actor didn’t at some time or another? And Glenn was one of those actors who lifted even a bad film. He once said Doing nothing well is my definition of a good actor” and unlike many colleagues he always tried to pare down his parts, cutting out inessential lines. He came from the Gary Cooper school of underacting which was especially effective in Westerns. He was ideal as the hero who says little but steps up when the going gets tough.
 
Always top-class

The plot, by Frank D Gilroy from his own story, is pretty simple. It’s 1889. Wanting to prove himself the fastest gun in the West, Vinnie Harold arrives, by chance, at Cross Creek, a town too small to have a sheriff, where he learns from a small boy, Bobby, that a resident of the place is the fastest and most accurate gun anyone has ever seen. Unfortunately, the storekeeper has been goaded into proving his skills, plugging two silver dollars thrown in the air at the same time and shooting a dropped beer glass before it can land. The community knows that if this becomes known outside the town this will certainly draw in all the would-be fast guns of the territory, like flies to a honey-pot, to prove themselves quicker. In the church (in an overlong scene which should have been edited) they all swear never to reveal what they have witnessed. But naughty Bobby did not go to church, and blurts out the facts to the incoming Harold. Now, although Paul Birch’s posse is only about two hours behind, nothing will do for Harold but finding out who this ultra-fast gun is, and challenging him.

Frank wrote it

As I said, a pretty basic (and rather pulp) plot.

It turns out (eventually) that storekeeper George Temple is really George Kelby, son of the ‘sheriff of Laramie’, whose daddy was a famous lawman (he even cleaned up Abilene) and taught his offspring all he knew about fast draw. Now George has his daddy’s gun, complete with notches on the handle. The son excelled at the art of quick-draw, even exceeding his daddy's prowess, but never liked guns. He is extremely proficient at targets and such but has never faced a man – those notches were his father’s, not his. When the bad guys arrive Glenn will be obliged to test his metal for real. Of course he will tell his wife, in the best Western style, “You know I’ve gotta go out there, Dora”. Surely she already knew that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do? She is in a Western after all.

Notches

There’s an attempt at suspense in the last reel, when we see the men face off, hear the shots but do not know until the very end who the victor was. Not that it was all that hard to guess.

Showdown. Who will be faster?
This shot a bit like Carl Guthrie's aerial view of the showdown in Dawn at Socorro two years before.

Overall, there’s too much standing around and talking, and the pacing is uneven. The producers were clearly aiming for a taut The Gunfighter/High Noon psychological Western but writing and direction aren’t good enough for that. The picture does have some tension, and a somber atmosphere is created (though dangerously threatened by the Tamblyn moment), aided by the austere black & white and limited town set. Furthermore, there are some good performances (though it needed someone better than Crawford as main villain).

He liked the parts but

I found it more watchable than I did the first time around, and some people like this film, but if I were you I wouldn’t expect too much.


 


 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Bronco Buster (Universal, 1952)


Another go-round




 
 
I was talking the other day about Hollywood and the rodeo (click the link for that). 1952 was a landmark year in that story because The Lusty Men at RKO was a fine film, with director Nicholas Ray and star Robert Mitchum both at the top of their form. But at the same time, over at Universal, another rodeo ‘Western’ was in production, with some similarities of plot. These similarities were not surprising when one considers that Horace McCoy worked on the screenplay of both pictures.
 
Horace was at the typewriter

McCoy, author of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935) and many hard-boiled Depression-era stories, was a Western and rodeo buff. He worked on the scripts of – or his stories served as the basis for - pictures such as Western Union, Texas and Rage at Dawn. He wrote a lot of The Lusty Men, moved across town to write Bronco Buster, then went back to RKO to finish up The Lusty Men. On the Ray picture he worked with another rodeo/Western buff, David Dortort, while at Universal he collaborated with Lillie Hayward, who started writing for Tom Mix silents, moved on to Gene Autry talkies and whose best work was probably Blood on the Moon in 1948. McCoy and Hayward used as their starting point a story by Western writer Peter B Kyne.

Lillie co-wrote
 
and Mr Kyne wrote the original story

Bronco Buster was directed by Budd Boetticher. Boetticher, as I am sure you know, was passionate about horses (in fact he had started in the business as a horse wrangler in Of Mice and Men) and about bullfighting. Rodeos give ample scope for both those: both involve bulls and horses and both take place in an arena. From a Western perspective, Bronco Buster came between The Cimarron Kid and Seminole.

Budd was in his element

But Bronco Buster is only a sort-of Western. In common with The Lusty Men, and indeed later rodeo ‘Westerns’ such as JW Coop (review soon) and Junior Bonner, it has a contemporary setting, in this case the rodeo circuit in the 1951 season. And like those other rodeo pictures, Bronco Buster contains footage from real rodeos, at Phoenix, Calgary, Pendleton and Cheyenne, which heighten the semi-documentary feel to the pictures and add authenticity. In Boetticher’s case this was augmented by the use of real rodeo stars in the cast, men such as Casey Tibbs. The Technicolor helps realism too (The Lusty Men was in black & white).

It is the story of a talented tyro Bart Eaton (Hollywood hunk Scott Brady, soon to be leading in his own Westerns) who admires experienced champ Tom Moody (John Lund, who the month before had led the cast in Universal’s The Battle at Apache Pass) but the youngster gets too big for his cowboy boots and very swollen-headed. In fact he becomes insufferable. The situation is worsened by his wooing of Moody’s girlfriend Judy (Joyce Holden, a rather classic Boetticher blonde), so we get a conventional love triangle. Bart is handsome and dashing, while Tom seems to take Judy a bit for granted, and won’t set a date for the wedding, so Judy is a bit susceptible.

Rivals for her affections

Judy’s dad Dan is good old Chill Wills, who is the rodeo clown. Clowns are essential in the arena not only to amuse the crowds but also to distract dangerous broncs and bulls and prevent fallen riders being trampled. It’s a dangerous and highly-skilled profession. They should probably have cast Slim Pickens in this part because he had really been a rodeo clown but Chill does a good job too. He actually has rather a key role in the drama.

Chill gets made up

Sam Peckinpah had certainly seen this movie. He too had his hero travel the circuit in a white Cadillac convertible towing a horsebox. Only Tom’s was a 1950 model, naturally. Like all these rodeo heroes, Tom has earned thousands (he says a top rider can earn up to $30,000 a year) but has got through it all and is down to his last buck. These characters were usually indigent and a bit feckless, and they were also usually awkward with women and indeed socially clumsy. Tom is no exception, though he is very well liked by his fellow competitors.

We see a lot of bronc busting, bulldogging, Roman riding (one fellow even rides five horses at once standing up), thanks to the skillfully intercut footage - you can often tell when stunt doubles are doing the actual work but it’s quite seamlessly managed in this picture. Well done, Budd, and your editor (Edward Curtiss).

As Bart becomes more and more arrogant and full of himself, hogging the limelight and duding himself up in fancy duds, he gets correspondingly increasingly unpopular on the circuit, with various compadres taking the mickey and playing practical jokes on him. He doesn’t care; all he wants is to win the championship, at any cost – including that of losing friends. In the end the buddy-relationship he had with Tom is busted and they become real rivals – in the arena and for the hand of Judy.

Soon to be a Western lead himself

But Bart goes too far, and his showboating causes the severe injury of clown Dan. From his hospital bed the broken Dan gives the young man a long sermon, and it strikes home. Bart decides to apologize to Tom and mend his ways. But before he can get a word out – biff! It’s fisticuffs at dawn. Or in the bar anyway. And the showdown will come in the arena…

It will be lerve (eventually)

The ending is too pat and too sudden, which is a pity because most of the picture is well done. I'm probably being a bit picky but I think it might also have been better if the Bart character had been a bit younger and Tom a bit older and going downhill. Broke-down bronc riders going nowhere were rather the feature of these movies. Brady was 28 and Lund 39; maybe it needed slightly different casting.

I'm not sure Lund was entirely cut out for Western roles

Bronco Buster is not the equal of The Lusty Men but it’s not at all bad, and would repay a watch. It was moderately well received. Variety said “A satisfying round of outdoor action thrills is provided by Bronco Buster. A lot of actual rodeo thrill footage is used to bolster authenticity and add interest to the development of what actually is a routine plot line. Excellent scripting and direction, however, gloss over and enliven the stock plot.”

The poster makes the picture look almost comic, but it isn't

 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Quick on the draw


The fastest gun in the West


They said my speed was next to none
But my lightning draw had just begun
When I heard a blast that stung my wrist
the gun went flying from my fist
And I was looking down the bore
Of the deadly .44
Of Ringo.

(Lorne Greene, Ringo)
 
Two men walk slowly toward each other in the dusty street, stop and fix each other with steely stares. Their hands hover over the butt of the holstered six-shooter on the hip (or in later Westerns lower down the thigh). Tension mounts. Bystanders move nervously aside. The goody does the decent thing and waits for the bad guy to draw first. It will avail the villain naught, though, for as soon as he has started to pull the gun from its scabbard the hero, with lightning speed, draws his own pistol and almost as part of the same movement fires it, the badman slumping to the ground wounded or killed.
 

You may just possibly have viewed this scene before. In fact it is almost a cliché. The one-on-one quick-draw gunfight, often as the climax to the story, is a mainstay of the Hollywood Western. In the seminal Western novel The Virginian (1902) author Owen Wister had his hero do the walk-down to face the villain Trampas at the end of the book – though his description of the actual combat is oblique. Wister knew that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and the Virginian must, despite the pleas and protests of his wife-to-be schoolteacher Molly, show courage and grit, and vanquish the lowdown rustler in mortal - and above all single - combat.

Even before Wister, the dime novels, which began being published contemporaneously with the frontier-era events they glorified, described in lurid terms these gunfights as if they were gladiatorial contests, referencing also the single combat of medieval knights and the European code duello, which was imported to New Orleans and other Southern climes. So the myth-making machinery was cranking out the quick-draw showdown legend long before Hollywood got into the act.

Was this all hokum? Did gunmen really face off in Main Street at key moments of the day such as dawn, noon or sundown and settle their differences by seeing who would be faster to draw and fire?

The short answer is no. Sorry.

The first revolvers were in any case far too heavy and cumbersome for a fast draw from a side holster. They were great horse pistols, usually carried in scabbards attached to the saddle. The Walker Colt, for example, introduced in 1847 and in service through the Mexican and Civil Wars, was 15.5 inches (390 mm) in length and weighed four and a half pounds (more than 2 kg). Try getting that out in a microsecond. This is the gun Mattie wields in the 1969 version of True Grit, and when she sees Tom Chaney it takes an age to extract it and cock it, and when she fires the recoil knocks her flat on her back.  The .44 Remington New Model Army, a popular handgun current between 1862 and 1875, was only slightly lighter and smaller, at 2 lb 13 oz (1.27 kg) and 13.25 inches (337 mm) in length.

More like a cannon

It wasn’t until the mid-1870s that a smaller and lighter pistol became popular in the West, the famous Colt .45 Peacemaker. It was still no derringer, the seven-inch barrel model weighing in at just over 2 lbs (about 1 kg) and being 12.5 inches (318 mm) long.

Peacemaker
 
Most people carried guns such as these in a pocket or stuck in the waistband of their pants. According to History Net (external link), the first holsters evolved from military use, and were carried on the right side, with the pistol butt facing forward, so that a soldier on horseback could cross-draw his pistol with his left hand and leave his right hand free to wield his saber. Many Army veterans continued to wear their civilian guns this way, in holsters with and without flaps, on the Western frontier after the Civil War. “It is uncertain who first thought up the idea of what became the traditional ‘cowboy’ holster, commonly referred to as the Mexican Loop or El Paso Loop holster.” And the article adds, “These Mexican Loop holsters that were usually worn high on the hip into the 20th century were not fast-draw holsters, and the so-called Hollywood fast-draw holsters of the 1950s movie boom simply did not exist in the 1800s.”

Calamity favored the cross draw

Mexican loop

In 1882 the ‘Bridgeport rig’ was patented by one Louis S Flatau, sheriff of Camp County, Texas. This enabled the user to rotate the pistol attached to the belt upwards so that a person could fire without actually removing the gun. It was scorned by the military but a few lawmen did use it, notably James B Gillett, Marshal of El Paso, Texas, and it is sometimes called the Gillett rig for that reason. But it was far from common.

Natty rig

The whole notion of speed, which has become the mainstay of the genre, and indeed has developed into a sport on its own, has dubious roots. In formal duels accuracy and calmness were far more to be prized than speed, and usually the antagonists approached each other with their firearms already drawn. According to Robert K DeArment, biographer of Bat Masterson, in the ‘Wild West’ the very expression “quick on the draw” had its more modern meaning, referring to a person who would go for his gun at the slightest provocation, rather than a person able to withdraw the weapon with speed.

Thomas J Dimsdale, in his 1953 account of The Vigilantes of Montana, did write of lawman/road agent Henry Plummer that he was “the quickest hand with the revolver of any man in the mountains. He could draw the pistol and discharge the five loads in three seconds.” If Dimsdale is being accurate that would seem to suggest that speed was at a premium. In a mêlée it probably was.

The first fast gun?

Another website, The Straight Dope, in its article Did Western gunfighters really face off one-on-one? (external link again) tells us that “a fair fight offered too great a chance that the guy starting it might get killed.” On March 9, 1877 gamblers Jim Levy and Charlie Harrison fell out over a card game in Shingle and Locke’s Saloon in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Levy challenged Harrison to take it outside. So they squared off in the street, in a very rare Hollywoodesque contretemps. Harrison grabbed his gun wildly but Levy was cooler and took careful aim, plugging his man. Unfortunately it all got a bit less Wild West after that because Levy approached his fallen opponent and methodically shot him again while he was down – this unsporting act was a contravention of the Hollywood gunslinger code of conduct, as you know. Harrison died 13 days later. In 1882 Levy got too cocky, trying the same ploy when he quarreled with another gambler, John Murphy, in Tucson, Arizona. Levy challenged him to a showdown the following day. That night, though, Murphy and a couple of friends spied Levy in a doorway and, deciding that there was no time like the present, shot him dead on the spot.

Remington drew it
 
It owed much to the tradition of dueling

Bat Masterson, in his Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier, published in 1907 when he was a journalist in New York, said of Harrison that he was “the most expert man I ever saw with a pistol. He could shoot faster and straighter than any man I knew”. But this, Masterson said, was at target shooting, and the implication is that the speed was at shooting the pistol repeatedly rather than drawing it from the holster. Masterson himself always emphasized deliberation over speed. 

Bat didn't have much time for speed

Famous gunmen met their end in distinctly unglamorous circumstances that Hollywood would never have countenanced (though delighted in recounting afterwards), for speed had nothing to do with it. Wild Bill Hickok died in Nuttall and Mann’s No. 10 saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota on August 1, 1876, shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. Bob Ford, who himself had shot Jesse James in the back, was gunned down in his own tent saloon in Creede, Colorado on June 8, 1892 by a shotgun-wielding Edward O’Kelley. And Texas gunman John Wesley Hardin was also shot in the head from behind, on August 19, 1895, by Constable John Selman in the Acme Saloon, El Paso. It all seems very far from the myth. The true West hero whom many regard as the archetypal gunfighter, Hickok, famously didn’t always use holsters at all, keeping his pistols in his belt or a sash about his waist.

Wild Bill

According to Louis L’Amour, the Texas desperado Cullen Baker was the first to develop the art of drawing a gun with speed. In The First Fast Draw (1959) Baker (who is more of a goody than a baddy) develops the skill in self-defense, practicing until perfect at rapidly pulling a revolver and firing it before his opponent has realized what was happening. Believe that if you will.
 
RIP


There are so many Westerns movies in which the lightning-fast draw is eulogized. In Man Without a Star (1955) Dempsey Rae (Kirk Douglas) shows off to the young Jeff (William Campbell) by twirling his gun fancily, and the boy really wants to learn that. But Kirk tells him no, “Twirling a gun never saved a man’s life.” And he adds, “There’s only one thing you gotta learn. Get it out fast, and then put it away slow.” In The Tin Star (1957) expert gunman Henry Fonda teaches tyro sheriff Anthony Perkins how to draw fast and fire with accuracy. Getting that gun out fast and shooting first will save his life. Some Westerns, such as A Gunfight (1972) or The Quick and the Dead (the 1995 version) even have quick-draw gunfights as spectator sports.

Hank instructs

Indeed, the very titles of Westerns stress the importance of being quick on the draw. Fast on the Draw (1950), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), The Last of the Fast Guns (1958), The Quick Gun (1964), Four Fast Guns (1960), and many more all added to the myth. What counted was how fast you could get that gun out of its holster and start blazing away.


Some Western actors prided themselves on their quick-on-the-draw skills. In an article in True West magazine, Marshall Trimble tells us that the first fast-draw competition to determine who would take the crown happened at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1954. Hugh O’Brian, not yet that famous because Wyatt Earp hadn’t started on TV, claimed that his 0.25 of a second was the fastest. O’Brian challenged Audie Murphy to a contest, but when Murphy requested live ammunition, O’Brian sagely declined. Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Jock Mahoney and James Arness also challenged for the title of Fastest Gun in Hollywood.

Many thought Glenn was the fastest gun alive

Modern day quick-draw experts are certainly capable of remarkable speed. In 1980, Bob Munden was named “the fastest man with a gun who ever lived” by The Guinness Book of Records. He even married a fast-draw artist: Becky Munden was the women’s quick-draw champion. It is claimed that Bob could draw his weapon, shoot two different targets with precision, and re-holster his gun in a mere .02 seconds. It seems impossible. It can’t be possible!

Bob in action

I would like to have seen a showdown between Bob and Lucky Luke. Lucky, we all know, was so quick on the draw that he was “plus vite que son ombre” – he could even outdraw his own shadow.

Now that's fast

But there was simply no tradition of this in the Old West. Competitive athletes such as Mr. Munden practice for hours a day, for years, just on that skill. In reality, though, when men resorted to gunplay in the nineteenth century West it was a question of coolness, accuracy and determination to down the opponent or opponents, and had little to do with how fast a gun could be extracted from its resting place. As Bob Munden himself said, “There weren’t any fast-draw artists in the Old West. The guns weren’t designed for it, and the holsters were designed to keep the gun in place.”

It’s a pity. We don’t like our Western myths being debunked. Still, I guess that’s why they are myths.