Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Top Gun (1955)

TOP GUN is a fairly average '50s Western with a familiar plot, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes an undemanding formula Western with a good cast is just the thing to relax with at the end of a long day.

In a story with some echoes of HIGH NOON (1952) and the same year's
MAN WITH THE GUN (1955), Sterling Hayden plays Rick Martin, who has returned to his hometown but isn't welcome due to his "expertise" with guns.

Rick, meanwhile, has learned that leading townsman Canby Judd (William Bishop) cheated his mother out of her farm and is probably behind her death. Canby has also become engaged to Rick's old flame Laura (Karin Booth of CRIPPLE CREEK, whose name is misspelled Karen in the credits).

Before Rick can deal with Canby, he's forced into a gunfight with hotheaded Lem Sutter (25-year-old Rod Taylor in an early role). Rick's going to be run out of town by day's end -- but when word comes that murderous Tom Quentin (John Dehner) and his gang are on the way to loot and plunder the town, the townspeople are forced to reconsider their attitudes toward Rick, as none of them want to put themselves in the line of fire defending the town.

Sterling Hayden was very busy in the mid-'50s -- in 1954 and 1955 alone, he was in a dozen movies! The majority were film noir and Western titles, including SUDDENLY (1954), NAKED ALIBI (1954), ARROW IN THE DUST (1954), JOHNNY GUITAR (1954), CRIME WAVE (1954), and SHOTGUN (1955), with a random title like PRINCE VALIANT (1954) also in the mix.

The role of the gunfighter abandoned by his girl and his longtime neighbors is well suited to Hayden's stoic personality. Rick has a strong friendship with just one man in town, hotel keeper Jim O'Hara (Regis Toomey). It's a good role for Toomey, and the easy friendship of the two men is one of the nice aspects of the movie.

Booth is a bit bland as Laura; perhaps someone with a little more spunk was needed to play off Hayden's buttoned-down, unemotive type. In fact, Hayden is more warm and interesting playing opposite the easy-going, genial Toomey than the stiff Booth. Booth almost seemed a tad too old for Hayden, but it turns out they were born the same year.

As a side note, in one nighttime scene near the conclusion Booth is wearing way too much lipstick, which miraculously disappears in scenes set later that evening!

My bottom line is that, despite its flaws, including an obviously low budget, I liked this film. It's not the best Western ever made, but any Western combining Hayden, Toomey, Dehner, and Taylor works for me, and other fans of the genre will likely enjoy it.

This 73-minute film was directed by Ray Nazarro. It was shot in black and white by Lester White. The supporting cast includes Denver Pyle, James Millican, and Hugh Sanders.

TOP GUN is available on DVD-R from MGM.

It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.


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