50 Westerns From the 50s made me aware just how many of Scott's Westerns I still need to see, while the admiration everyone expressed for the man and his work made me enthusiastic to get started on the project sooner rather than later.
Tonight I watched GUNFIGHTERS (1947), a really excellent Western which I believe must rank in the upper tier of Scott's Westerns of the '40s and early '50s, before he began his notable collaboration with director Budd Boetticher. The film has a wonderful cast, a strong screenplay by Alan LeMay (THE SEARCHERS) based on a Zane Grey novel, and lovely Cinecolor photography by Fred Jackman Jr.
Kane is determined to put his guns behind him but goes out of the frying pan and into the fire, arriving at a friend's home just after he's been killed. Kane is accused of murder by the local deputy (Grant Withers, recently seen at a much younger age in SINNERS' HOLIDAY), but he's saved from a lynching by another old friend (Charley Grapewin). The sheriff (Charles Kemper), who is much wiser than his deputy, recognizes that Kane is no murderer and lets him go, encouraging Kane to hit the trail to California.
Kane lingers in town to try to solve his friend's murder, becoming entangled with a land baron (Griff Barnett) and his two lookalike daughters; Jane (Dorothy Hart), the good daughter, falls for Kane, while not-so-good Bess (Barbara Britton) is in love with her father's foreman Bard (Bruce Cabot), who doesn't seem to have clean hands regarding the murder. There's another ranch employee, Ben (Forrest Tucker), who's a truly bad man likely to end up facing Kane with their guns drawn.
Kemper's sheriff might be the film's best-written character, who has some really marvelous dialogue in his exchanges with Scott. I would have enjoyed seeing even more of him. Withers' not-so-nice deputy is part of a memorable scene where Kane keeps plugging him with bullets until the deputy spills the beans on what he knows about the murder. It's a pretty brutal scene for a 1947 Western.
Cabot's foreman draws a certain measure of sympathy because of his love for Bess, but he's not a good man, and Tucker's Ben is pure evil, happily shooting at old men and musing on his favorite ways to kill people. Ben is a snake who needs to be stamped into the ground.
With similar hairstyles and coloring, Hart and Britton look so much alike that it's entirely believable Kane initially mistakes one sister for the other; I wasn't clear if they were meant to be twins or simply sisters, but their resemblance was such that one of my only problems with the film was my own difficulty early on in telling the characters apart! In this publicity still with Randolph Scott, Britton is on the left and Hart on the right.
George Waggner. The film's locations included Sedona, Arizona, and Vasquez Rocks in California. The movie runs 87 minutes.
GUNFIGHTERS does not appear to be available in an authorized DVD. I was able to see it thanks to GetTV, which incidentally has been on the air one year as of today, February 3, 2015.
Randolph Scott fans should find GUNFIGHTERS a most satisfying Western.