Friday, October 03, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Gunsmoke in Tucson (1958) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

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.

When a kindly farmer (Kevin Hagen of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) is targeted for murder by a Bodeen henchman, Chip has finally had enough, and Bodeen and his men learn, to their regret, exactly who they've been needling. With Chip's pal Slick Kirby (John Ward) showing up in town and backing his plays, Chip proves he's a force to be reckoned with fighting on the side of right. Yet unfortunately his brother still believes he's up to no good...

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.

Gale Kobe has an extraneous role as a "good" girl who's waited years for Chip. I'm not sure what the purpose of her character was, other than perhaps to show that someone decent knew Chip was a good man deep down. Kobe became a soap opera producer and passed away last year.

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.


Blogger Jerry E said...

We've been waiting for your review of this nice little western to complement the other review over at Toby's. It was worth the wait, Laura.

I need to get this widescreen release NOW. I noted your comments re the outfit Mark Stevens puts on from his badman days. This is an Allied Artists film and someone there had a soft spot for those "storm-flap front" shirts, I would guess, as they cropped up a lot (Bill Elliott, Wayne Morris, Rod Cameron for starters).

Sorry you have not taken to Forrest Tucker yet, Laura. When it turns up I would recommend "THE QUIET GUN" - for me, one of Tucker's best ever roles - strong, quiet and authoritative.

4:44 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Wonderful,wonderful review Laura,you've certainly nailed another one!
After Johnny Guitar's put-down of Forrest Tucker over at Toby's
recently I find you don't care for him either.
I am a huge Tucker fan but I must say I prefer him as a baddie as
opposed to a good guy.
The Rod Cameron Western SAN ANTONE is worth checking out,Forrest is
a nasty piece of work in that one,but it's a great performance as
He is terrific in the underrated FORT MASSACRE (soon to get the Blu
Ray treatment from Explosive media in Germany)
Soon I will be sending you FINGER MAN which has Tucker as a charming
but ruthless and brutal mobster. Director Harold Schuster and
writer Warren Douglas make sure we are more drawn to Tucker's
character than the "over" hard boiled Frank Lovejoy.
It's a little gem of a gangster picture and I hope it meets with your
I like the bad guys in GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON and find the trio of
John Cliff,George Keymas and Richard Reeves most appealing.
I am enjoying more of Reeves lately and loved him showing his
"sensitive" side in the splendid Noir LOOPHOLE another gem from the
Harold Schuster/Warren Douglas team. The Warner Archive transfer in
lovely widescreen is superb.
I am quiet "upbeat" for a change today I've just watched the "teaser"
trailer for Clint Eastwood's up and coming AMERICAN SNIPER. This is
one film that will get me back into the cinema.
Too bad I'm not a gambling man otherwise I would put my dough on
Sienna Miller winning a best actress Oscar....I do digress don't I.
Anyway now I'm off to somewhere called The Phantom Empire where
there is a review of Les Selander's very fine FORT VENGEANCE.
It's comforting that other people (apart from your good self and Toby)
are getting on Selander's case.

4:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry and John,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful notes and especially your support! I'm delighted you enjoyed the review -- I sure enjoyed the movie! It's yet another example of how many lesser-known Westerns are waiting for discovery.

Jerry, do get it and let me know your further impressions.

I wouldn't precisely say I don't like Tucker -- although I felt he was pretty wooden in this one. He's never impressed me but at the same time I've seen relatively few of his films. I'm open-minded though and have at least a couple of his movies here to check out -- hoping he'll grow on me! Really looking forward to checking out FINGER MAN with my fave Frank Lovejoy.

John, I purchased LOOPHOLE earlier this year but have not yet watched it so I'll be watching for Reeves. Perhaps I'll appreciate the baddies from this film more as I come to know their work. Maybe it was unfair of me but I kept thinking how nice a Stevens vs. Wilke confrontation would have been LOL.

I've been visiting Phantom Empire recently -- and signed up for the upcoming British Empire in Film blogathon -- but just realized that site is not in my blogroll and have rectified that.

Best wishes,

11:43 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura
Yes I have signed up to the British Empire Blogathon (as a guest blog).
I'll be looking for your selection..


4:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I'm really delighted to hear you signed up to do a guest blog for the British Empire Blogathon, that's wonderful! Looking forward to it. :)

Best wishes,

5:42 PM  
OpenID fiftieswesterns said...

Many good points, Laura.

My enthusiasm for Forrest Tucker comes largely from a handful of films: Hellfire (1949--I love anybody who had anything to do with this one), Rage At Dawn (1955), The Quiet Gun (1956) and The Abominable Snowman.

His part in Gunsmoke In Tucson was a bit one-dimensional and underdeveloped.

And I loathe F Troop.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Toby! I appreciate you listing your favorite Tucker performances. You sure have me curious about HELLFIRE (1949).

Yeah, stuff like F TROOP just isn't my type of TV, LOL.

Best wishes,

11:27 AM  

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