Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959)

THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY is a good, solid Western. The script isn't anything particularly special, but it keeps the story moving along, and the film is elevated by the fine cast, especially Joel McCrea's lead performance as Bat Masterson. I'll be watching this one again.

Bat Masterson seems to attract trouble wherever he goes. He invariably ends up having to shoot it out with one person or another, and he invariably is the one left standing when the smoke clears.

When unexpected circumstances lead to Masterson being elected marshal of Dodge City, he cleans up the town, but his new job is jeopardized when he takes the law into his own hands to help an old friend (Walter Coy).

McCrea is outstanding as Masterson, a somewhat tormented man who hates gunfights yet can't seem to keep clear of them. He's a complex, interesting character who perhaps could as easily turn outlaw as marshal. Masterson is a man with a curious mixture of uncertainty and confidence, somewhat guilt-ridden yet courageous and honorable.

Masterson is attracted to beautiful Pauline (Julie Adams), the uptight daughter of the town minister (James Westerfield), and he's blind to the feelings of Lily (Nancy Gates), with whom he co-owns a saloon. Adams is particularly interesting as a woman who at times seems to want to change, yet she can't break out of her rigidity. Her performance subtly conveys her inner conflict; she's clearly attracted to Masterson, yet she can't seem to help herself from putting distance between them because he doesn't meet her ideals.

For the viewer, however, Bat's most enjoyable relationship is with Doc Tremaine (John McIntire), who quickly becomes Bat's righthand man in everything from running games at the saloon to setting free a mentally challenged young man (Wright King) who is going to be hanged. Doc is greatly entertained by participating in Bat's adventures, and the audience enjoys it too. McIntire is always an interesting actor, and his character contributes a great deal to the film's success.

The cast also includes Richard Anderson, Harry Lauter, Don Haggerty, Timothy Carey, Kasey Rogers, John Mitchum, and Frank Sully.

This film was directed by Joseph M. Newman. The CinemaScope photography was by Carl E. Guthrie. It runs 81 minutes.

In her new autobiography, THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR, Julie Adams writes of Joel McCrea with great admiration: "I fondly recall that, between takes, Joel would talk about his wife, the delightful actress Frances Dee, and the three sons they had together. Joel was a family man through and through, and he and Frances remained married the rest of his life. They lived on a ranch... I will always remember Joel as a man of good character. Besides being very handsome, it was what he stood for as a person, in life, and on the screen, that made him so very special."

A lovely tribute, and it makes me happier than ever that in a week's time I'll be able to visit the McCrea Ranch.

THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY is available on DVD.

It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available on the TCM website.

3 Comments:

Blogger MC said...

I don't think I've ever read anything about Joel McCrea that wasn't complimentary. He always comes across as one of the nicest, most decent men ever in Hollywood. :)

Thanks for a great review. I'll have to check this one out.

4:52 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You're going to the McCrea ranch? My heart leaps at the thought.

I want "The Gunfight at Dodge City" to be better than it is because it comes so close. It is the cast that keeps me coming back - my love for McCrea, my admiration for McIntire, etc.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, MC, and would enjoy knowing your thoughts when you see it.

I wish you could see the ranch too, Caftan Woman, I know it would mean a lot to you!

That's a good way to describe GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY. It doesn't quite "make it" to a certain level of excellence, but there's a lot to appreciate nonetheless.

Best wishes,
Laura

11:51 AM  

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