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

Monday, July 12, 2010

Forty Guns (Fox, 1957)

After all, she was only a woman


Forty Guns is a rather trashy 1950s black and white, directed by Samuel Fuller. Fuller is admired by many Western fans, especially in Europe. I’ve never understood why. This movie is poorly written and directed.

Some say it was a prototype of the spaghetti Western. Not easy to see that but there certainly are some shared pulp qualities. It stars Barry Sullivan and Gene Barry as US marshal brothers in “Tombstone”. These two Barries wear frock coats and have a rep with a gun. They have a younger brother, Robert Dix, who longs to kill people too and finally gets his way by shooting a baddy in the back of the head, getting a frock coat and becoming town marshal.

Barbara Stanwyck is frankly ridiculous as the leader of a forty-gun band of desperadoes, although it is said that she allowed herself to be dragged down the street by a horse when her stuntperson refused to do it because it was too dangerous. Sounds a bit like a studio story to me. The Barries try but can’t do much with a wooden script and corny plot. John Ericson is Stanwyck’s loutish kid brother who keeps killing people in town. Hank Worden is about the best in a too-short part as ‘Marshal John Chisum’ (what?).

There are a few cheap double-entendres, salacious for the 50s. This kind of thing: Stanwyck, talking of Barry’s gun: “I'm not interested in you, Mr. Bonnell. It's your trademark. May I feel it?” Barry: “Uh-uh. It might go off in your face”. Stanwyck: “I'll take a chance”. You get the idea.
The songs are utterly dire and the main one sounds like variations on a theme of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’. It finishes with the memorable words, “After all, she was only a woman.”

The Joe Biroc photography, much of it rather dark, is good but the score (Harry Sukman) sucks.

The movie was not only directed but also produced and written by Fuller so there’s no one else to blame. He had a rather tabloid style suited to tough-guy war films or pulp underworld dramas but not right for Westerns. Forty Guns and his 1949 I Shot Jesse James are pretty lurid.

There are only two good bits in this film: the opening shot, where the forty thieves thunder past the lawman brothers’ wagon on their black horses, and the part towards the end where one of the Barries (I forget which; they’re interchangeable) shoots Barbara Stanwyck. Unfortunately she survives and chases his wagon as he is leaving town for California and, doubtless to Barry’s later undying regret, catches him up. OK, so I’ve spoiled the ending for you. But you won’t want to see the film anyway as (debit where debit’s due) it’s rubbish.

French auteuristes, of course, love it. To give you a flavor, look at the drivel on the review below. You probably can't read it but it says: "In this Western, which reminds us of Corneille and Shakespeare, Barbara Stanwyck incarnates a Citizen Kane of the prairie. Love is confronted by violence in a singular combat and in an aesthetic of fist-fighting particularly dear to the director Samuel Fuller. With, first and foremost, plastic virtuosity." I ask you. What total tosh. Do you think someone actually got paid for writing that?

NB I watched this again more recently and have written a revised post on this movie, Forty Guns Redux, which you can read by clicking the link.



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