Northern Arizona University.
When we arrived at our hotel, I was pleased to discover the wi-fi had been greatly improved since our last visit in May. I settled in to relax with a movie on my Kindle Fire after our long drive.
The movie I chose from Netflix Instant was MAN OR GUN. I wasn't expecting a great deal from this Republic Western, but I like the cast -- Macdonald Carey, Audrey Totter, and James Craig -- so thought I'd give it a try.
MAN OR GUN turned out to be a real find, a well-executed, original film which surmounted its low budget with interesting characters, well-placed humor, a touch of mysticism, and a pair of creatively staged gunfights to end the film. Within the conventions of the Western, it also managed to avoid some cliches, resulting in a surprising and very satisfying ending.
A gunslinger (Carey) staggers into Dusty Flats, New Mexico. Having lost his horse in the desert, all he's got to his name is a fancy gun he found along the way.
Dusty Flats is a nasty little town overrun by the Corley family, and the gunslinger instantly finds himself drawn into a shootout in the saloon run by Fran Dare (Totter). When he guns down two men, including a Corley (Ken Lynch), without even blinking, there are whispers he may be the famous gunfighter Scott Yancey, but Fran dubs him "Maybe" Smith.
Thanks to the shootout, Maybe comes into some reward money and decides to buy a local farm and settle down...but people just won't stop challenging him and his gun. Maybe never loses a gunfight, which gets to be a running joke with the complacent old sheriff (James Gleason), who appreciates the fact that Maybe is cleaning up the town.
Some town folks start to wonder -- is Maybe's success due to his skill, or is there something special about his gun? Mike Ferris (Warren Stevens), who wants to run the town himself, offers Pinch Corley (Craig) a reward if he'll go gunning for Maybe -- and also get him the gun.
There are a few creaky moments and bits of awkward dialogue, mostly surrounding Pinch's Indian wife, played by Donna Reed lookalike Jill Jarmyn. (Jarmyn married her movie husband, James Craig, the following year.) For the most part, though, this is quite an interesting and well-done film. There are some great bits of dialogue; a lackadaisical exchange between Maybe and the sheriff about the only witness to a gunfight being a horse had me sputtering with laughter.
Carey had previously come close to stealing the Ray Milland Western COPPER CANYON (1950) with a charismatic performance as the film's chief villain. He's not an actor who's the subject of much discussion in classic film circles today, but I find I always enjoy him, whether he's playing the earnest young detective in Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), chasing after Paulette Goddard in HAZARD (1948), or playing Nick in THE GREAT GATSBY (1949). Here he's believable as a man who's getting older and would really like to trade in his guns for a good woman and a ranch, if only men would stop seeking him out to prove they're faster on the draw. He has some great wry line deliveries.
Totter's character is initially somewhat ambiguous, but she's always interesting, and I liked how her part of the storyline concluded. Stevens likewise can always be counted on, especially when playing a villain.
I always enjoyed James Craig in his MGM films of the '40s, where he was particularly good acting opposite children in films such as LOST ANGEL (1945), OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945), and BOYS' RANCH (1946). He's older and beefier here, minus the Gable-style mustache of his MGM years, but he's still got a certain charm, and Pinch's sincere love for his devoted wife immediately pegs him as an atypical villain. His character grows more interesting from there.
I was quite impressed with the staging of the back-to-back gun battles which end the film. There are some nice unexpected moments, particularly concerning James Craig's character. I was watching the movie with earphones, and my son commented he could tell I was really enjoying it from my reactions!
Albert C. Gannaway directed this 79-minute film from an original screenplay by Vance Skarstedt and James J. Cassity. It was filmed in Naturama by Jack A. Marta.
This is a film I'd really like to see come out on DVD. In the meantime, as mentioned above, it can be seen via Netflix streaming.
2013 Update: MAN OR GUN is not currently on Netflix Instant, but it can now be streamed on Amazon Prime.