10 Classics to see in 2013!
I started out the year keeping up a good pace viewing the films on my list, watching one film per month, but then I went off track during film festival season last spring -- so now I'll be trying to watch a couple per month for the rest of the year in order to complete viewing my list!
When I made up this year's list of films I wanted to be sure to finally see, I decided to include a Western I'd never seen among the titles. As a Westerns fan, I've caught a great many classic and not-so-classic films in that genre over the years, but it wasn't until I put SHANE (1953) on my list a couple of years ago that I finally saw it. I enjoyed it tremendously, which encouraged me to search for other significant Western titles I might not have seen yet.
That led me to THE GUNFIGHTER (1950), which currently has a 7.7 rating on IMDb, and I'm glad I chose it. THE GUNFIGHTER was an excellent film, although I admit that the film's overarching sense of doom made it a bit painful for me to watch towards the end. Nonetheless, I recommend it highly.
THE GUNFIGHTER, directed by Henry King, tells the story of a day in the life of the title character, whose name is Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck). Jimmy, the fastest gun in the West, is weary of being challenged to draw by young punks. On his way to what Jimmy hopes is a new, anonymous life in California or the Northwest, Jimmy stops in the small, muddy town of Cayenne to see his long-estranged wife Peggy (Helen Westcott) and their young son (B.G. Norman), who was an infant when his father last saw him.
Hot on Jimmy's trail, looking for vengeance, are the three brothers (Alan Hale Jr., David Clarke, and John Picard) of the last man (Richard Jaeckel) Jimmy had to kill in self-defense. Meanwhile, a nasty young hothead (Skip Homeier) in town wants to make a name for himself by taking on the famous Jimmy Ringo.
Homeier honestly was the one clunker in the film for me; I know his character was supposed to be an irrational jerk, but his performance was so over the top loud that I had a little trouble believing him. It was the only performance which took me "out of the story," noticing the actor instead of the character.
THE GUNFIGHTER's story unfolds in a brisk 85 minutes. The tightly paced script was by William Bowers, who did outstanding work on everything from THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (1949) to CRY DANGER (1951) to SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969). Bowers' screenplay was based on a story by Bowers and director Andre De Toth, for which they shared an Oscar nomination. According to IMDb, the story also had uncredited contributions from Roger Corman and producer Nunnally Johnson.
This is the best-known performance by Helen Westcott (HOMICIDE, GUN BELT), an interesting, restrained young actress who successfully conveys a long-ago broken heart and longing for Jimmy, along with the steel to make certain her decisions are in their young son's best interest. I was intrigued that despite their strong love for one another, Jimmy and Peggy never kiss (movie posters to the contrary!); I think perhaps Jimmy felt he had to earn it first, and in Peggy's case, I think perhaps she feared doing so would be an emotional dam break.
The supporting cast is topped by Millard Mitchell, never better as Jimmy's fearsomely tough old compadre who is now a marshal. Mitchell's final confrontation with Homeier is unforgettable. There's also a nice role for Jean Parker as the widow of one of Jimmy's old friends. Karl Malden is the obsequious bartender.
The movie was shot in black and white by Arthur C. Miller, with locations including Lone Pine and Death Valley. The score was by Alfred Newman.
THE GUNFIGHTER is available on DVD in a three-film Fox Western Classics collection, along with RAWHIDE (1951) and GARDEN OF EVIL (1954).
It was also released on VHS.