The Warner Archive has another winner from its recent wave of Western releases. GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON (1958), like last weekend's RATON PASS (1951), proved to be quite an entertaining film.
GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON is a familiar story, but it's nicely produced, with the interesting Mark Stevens starring as Chip Coburn, a former outlaw. At one point Chip's brother, Marshal John Brazos (Forrest Tucker), had sent Chip off to jail for eight years. Chip now wants nothing but to be a rancher and doesn't even carry a gun, but his brother frets that Chip will never really change.
Chip has plans to ranch in Arizona Territory which are thwarted by wealthy Bodeen (Vaughn Taylor) and his cohorts. Despite many provocations, Chip patiently sidesteps confrontations, even when his friend the sheriff is killed. When it can't be avoided, he does take part in one brief barroom slugfest which hints that Chip is a potentially lethal man who means business when pushed.
Although I didn't care for the first five minutes of the movie -- it's more than disturbing, with Chip and John as young boys watching their father be hung! -- this is a very good Western with a satisfying premise. The tension builds and builds, with Bodeen even marrying Chip's saloon gal love (Gale Robbins), who sees a way to finally be respectable and have her own home, a decision she comes to regret.
The cleverly staged moment when Chip finally goes into action is terrific. He appears onscreen as something of a Western superhero, in an unusually colorful costume from his outlaw days.
It's not a perfect film; to date I'm still waiting for the movie which makes me a fan of Forrest Tucker. It's a stodgy performance as a character who's intractable for far too long. I kept wishing he'd finally figure out maybe he should double-check his assumptions. Curiously, despite Tucker's billing it's rather a brief role, with the less well known Kevin Hagen and John Ward having significantly more screen time.
It also would have been nice to have more colorful actors playing the villains. Where's a Robert J. Wilke or Michael Pate when you need him?
And as a side note, there was also a really bad shot of Stevens getting on a horse after a saloon shoot-out; there's a quick edit away but it should have been reshot!
The pros, though, far outweigh the negatives, starting with a good story and leading man. I find Stevens an unusual and compelling actor. As he aged he was fairly skinny, with thinning hair, yet while he was perhaps no longer conventionally handsome, the viewer's eyes never leave him when he's onscreen. He's very charismatic, even when he's simply quietly observing, as he does for much of the first half of the film. He's not an especially big man, but he's got attitude with a capital A.
I was unfamiliar with John Ward, who plays Chip's friend Slick, but he does a terrific job and is a lot of fun in the role. He added considerably to the film and is one of the reasons I'll be wanting to watch this one again.
I've always found Gale Robbins to be an entertaining performer, in musicals such as THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950), THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952), and CALAMITY JANE (1953). She has a good number early on, "I Need a Man," which can be previewed at the movie's Warner Archive listing.
GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON runs for 80 minutes. It was directed by Thomas Carr from a screenplay by Paul Leslie Peil and Robert L. Joseph. The movie was shot in CinemaScope by William Whitley at locations which included Old Tucson. (I almost expected Big John Cannon and Uncle Buck to come riding into a couple scenes!)
For more on this film, visit Toby's review at 50 Westerns From the 50s.
The Warner Archive DVD is a fine widescreen print. There are no extras.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.