Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Shotgun (1955)

SHOTGUN is a solid, well-acted Western with beautiful Sedona locations and an appealing lead trio of actors in Sterling Hayden, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Zachary Scott.

Hayden plays Clay Hardin, a lawman with a wild past who is determined to track down the man who murdered his boss, Marshal Fletcher (Lane Chandler). As Clay searches, he meets up with Abby (DeCarlo), a saloon girl, and Reb Carlton (Scott), a bounty hunter.

Clay and Reb form a wary alliance, periodically brawling or threatening to shoot one another, but backing each other up when it matters most. Clay and Abby also start out at odds but slowly develop an affection for one another.

The rocky relationships of these characters are what make the film particularly interesting and worthwhile. The movie did have a couple scenes of over-the-top violence which I found quite unpleasant and disconcerting in a mid-'50s Western -- parents with sensitive children may want to exercise caution in that regard -- but other than that, it's a well-scripted, action-packed Western.

(Speaking of something unusual for a mid-'50s Western, the poster art is also rather...eyebrow-raising.)

The screenplay, in fact, was cowritten by frequent Western actor Rory Calhoun, teamed with Clarke Reynolds. This was Calhoun's only script; he is also said to have been the uncredited writer of the story for his own film DOMINO KID (1957). Calhoun wasn't the only Western actor to double as a screenwriter in the '50s; Western regulars Michael Pate and Leo Gordon also worked as writers.

Calhoun, incidentally, gave DeCarlo away at the wedding ceremony when she married stuntman Bob Morgan the same year SHOTGUN was released.

DeCarlo doesn't get to exhibit much of the humor which is one of her strong points, but she's good as a tough, occasionally wild woman struggling to survive on the frontier. Hayden is also very good as the implacable lawman who refuses to be dissuaded from his mission, and the charismatic Scott enlivens the proceedings considerably whenever he's on screen. No one did slimy sarcasm better than Zachary Scott!

The vast majority of the movie was shot outdoors on location, and it's perhaps worth noting that the actors are all rather filthy in this film, with stained, soiled clothes; it's much more realistic in that regard than many Westerns. (If only DeCarlo weren't saddled with such an unattractive, short hairstyle, which unnecessarily ages her beyond her 32 years.) The following year the Richard Widmark Western THE LAST WAGON (1956) was also filmed in Sedona.

SHOTGUN was directed by Lesley Selander. The supporting cast incudes Robert J. Wilke, Angela Greene, and Guy Prescott. It runs 80 minutes.

SHOTGUN is available on DVD in the six-film set Darn Good Westerns, Vol. 2. As I write, Amazon has such a low price that this set is a steal, at just a couple dollars per movie. Paul Mavis reviewed the set at DVD Talk in 2009.

Unfortunately the DVD has gone into the no man's land of the "saved" section at Netflix, so unless their recent practice changes, don't expect it to be available there again in the future.

October 24th Update: Welcome to visitors from 50 Westerns from the 50s, and thanks to Toby for the link!


Blogger Colin said...

I enjoyed this movie a lot. It's a solid effort and has absolutely no pretensions.
There's a nice, mean streak running through it that seems especially suited to Sterling Hayden's hard-bitten persona.


3:03 AM  
Blogger Page said...

I haven't seen Shotgun but I really enjoyed your review. Throwing in interesting trivia like Rory being the co-screen writer made it an even better read.
Well done!

1:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Colin, I always enjoy hearing your thoughts on Westerns in particular. Glad you were able to see it too.

I appreciate your kind words, Page, and hope you get the chance to check out this interesting little movie. I love learning unique bits of info about each film!

Best wishes,

6:00 PM  

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