Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Gunfighter

I mentioned this morning that there are some movies coming up on the Fox Movie Channel that I wanted to recommend. One of them is The Gunfighter, airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM.

Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, whom we see at the beginning of the movie walking into a bar in some Old West town. We don't know right off the bat that he's the gunfighter of the title, but all the other characters do. He's got a reputation that precedes itself, and there are apparently quite a lot of young men who idolize him for his gunfighting skills. That's kind of unfortunate for Ringo, who would really like to settle down. One of the young bucks at the bar keeps needling Ringo even though it's clear that Ringo would just like to be left alone. Eventually, the young man reaches for his gun, but Ringo is still a faster draw, and shoots the young man dead. That's a big problem, since the young man has three brothers who will want revenge. But again, Ringo is able to outsmart them and disarm them and let their horses free, allowing him to get at least a few hours' head start.

Ringo eventually makes his way to the town of Cayenne, where the marshal (Mallard Mitchell) is a man who used to be in a gang with Ringo. Ringo has specifically selected this town because his wife (Helen Westcott) and kid are living there, and he'd like them to go someplace with him to settle down. But he walks into the bar looking for information on where they might be, and once again, all the men recognize him. In this town, it's worse, as all the young boys look up to him and crowd the sidewalk in front of the bar, trying to peer into the window. On the other hand, you've got a marshal who doesn't want any trouble in his town, and as such would really like nothing better than if Ringo left right away. The boys' mothers also don't want Ringo around. They're puritan bitches of the shrieking "Won't somebody think of the children?" mold that still exists today and exerts too much influence over politics. Worse, though, is that Ringo's wife has tried to start a life of her own as the town's teacher, and the son doesn't know anything about his father.

And then there's the young man (Skip Homeier) who, like in the previous town, wants to challenge Ringo. He apparently thinks that if he can be the man to take down Ringo, he'll be revered like Jimmy Stewart's character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ringo, on the other hand, knows differently, and knows that the only future that would await Homeier is one constantly on the run trying to escape from all the people who would want to take him down.

The Gunfighter is an intelligent, grown-up movie that is not quite a traditional western so much as it is a psychological drama set in the Old West. Peck is as good as ever, and the rest of the cast around him does a good job. One I haven't mentioned yet is Karl Malden, who seems a bit miscast as the barkeeper in Cayenne. I think he's really better in more urban dramas, but he does a fine job here.

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