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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Four Fast Guns (Universal, 1960)

Minor B-Western with some interest

A rather obscure black & white B-Western of 1960, Four Fast Guns does nevertheless have some interest. It didn't have a great start in life: Phoenix Films produced only three movies, two of them Westerns. Director William J Hole Jr worked almost exclusively in TV and this was his only big-screen Western. The cast was less than stellar, headed by James Craig, a sort of poor man’s Clark Gable who did the occasional B-Western in the 40s and 50s (see for example Fort Vengeance) and with Paul Richards, a regular on Western TV shows, as the bad guy. It’s a pretty standard town-taming plot as a tough hombre takes the job of dealing with the crooked activities of a saloon owner (Richards) and his lawless henchmen. So far, so unremarkable.
Arizona, 1873. We are in the town of Purgatory, visitors to which pass under a sign which reads ‘When You Ride Into Purgatory, Say Goodbye to God’, which though theologically inaccurate does have a certain ring to it. Edgar Buchanan is the rascally and bibulous keeper of the jail and narrator of the story, so that’s good. He introduces us to gunfighter Tom Sabin (Craig), who passes himself off as a ‘town tamer’, a tough gunman who will bring law ‘n’ order to a treed town. He sets about the task right away, talking tough to the wheelchair-bound piano-playing saloon keeper Hoag (Richards) who masterminds the rustlin’ in the area and has a team of henchmen to do his nefarious bidding. Hoag has a glam wife, Mary (Martha Vickers, a model who was a, er, protégée of David O Selznick and at another time Mrs. Mickey Rooney) who takes a shine to Sabin, which does not please Hoag much. In fact he sends a henchman over to the marshal’s office to shoot him but Sabin is too fast a gun for that and the henchman it is who expires.
Martha is handy with a Winchester
Hoag considers himself refined and, rather like saloon keeper Anthony Quinn in Warlock, has expensive luxuries imported from the east, even Europe, including a small Venus de Milo. The disabled man seems attracted to the brachially challenged beauty but I suppose it’s an ‘armless enough hobby. Still, refined or not, he’s certainly a ruthless town boss and so he sends for the three fastest guns in the West (who, with Sabin, make up the eponymous quartet) to gun the new town tamer down, and Hoag is ready to ante up thousands of dollars for the job.
Very much a low-budget b&w B-Western, even if it is in widescreen format
The lethal threat of the first to arrive, Mexican fast gun Quijano, is somewhat diminished when we realize it’s Chito Rafferty. Richard Martin played the cheery Irish-Mexican lothario so long that he doesn’t really convince as a deadly killer. Anyway he is soon disposed of, Sabin outdrawing him in the saloon. Next we get Blu Wright, in his only Western, as the lightning-fast gunslinger known as Farmer Brown (he used to be a peaceful homesteader until he was shot in the face and scarred and then became the most feared assassin in the West). He has a cunning plan to shoot Sabin under the poker table but we cease wondering if it’s going to work when we see townsmen hammering a cross with the farmer's name on it into the earth of his grave.
Chito an unlikely hired killer
Slick Johnny Naco all in black (Brett Halsey, more used to 50s low-budget juvenile delinquent pictures) is the last to try and he gets all ready to draw down on the town tamer when he suddenly recognizes his brother. Oops. He says he's going ahead with the job anyway but the last reel is taken up with the question of whether Johnny will go ahead and, fratricidally, earn his money or whether he and his bro together will gang up on the crooked town boss. Not many prizes for guessing which.

The situation is complicated by a punk kid who fancies himself quicker than anyone on the draw (the aptly named John Swift) but he is dramatically de trop and should really have been edited out. In fact a lot of the editing is on the clumsy side.
Craig is fastest gun in the West
In the end Sabin moves on, heading for Tombstone, and Edgar Buchanan gets the marshal’s badge. The number of times he was a marshal or judge in Westerns is really quite amazing – usually a rascally one.

You could watch Four Fast Guns. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

 "They call me Dipper. Forget me real name."
Edgar has a dipper tied round his neck to drink from.

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