Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Gun the Man Down (1956) - An Olive Films DVD Review

James Arness stars in GUN THE MAN DOWN (1956), a solid Western just released on DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films.

GUN THE MAN DOWN was made by John Wayne's Batjac Productions. It provided a starring role for Wayne's protege, James Arness, who had begun starring in the TV series GUNSMOKE the previous year; no one dreamed at that point the show would still be running two decades later!

This was also one of the earliest scripts by Burt Kennedy, whose first film released was Batjac's SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), starring Randolph Scott and directed by Budd Boetticher. Kennedy wrote all my favorite Scott-Boetticher films, including SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, and he directed my favorite James Garner movie, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969).

The same economical storytelling Kennedy used in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is on display here, starting with the fast-paced introduction to the characters. Rem Anderson (Arness) participates in a bank robbery with Rankin (Robert J. Wilke) and Farley (Don Megowan), but things go south and Rem is shot. Rankin and Farley take off with the stolen $40,000 and Rem's girl Janice (Angie Dickinson), leaving the wounded Rem behind to face the sheriff.

After serving his time, Rem goes looking for Rankin and Farley, who now run a saloon. Rem reclaims his horse from Farley and later deals with a hired gun (Michael Emmet) brought to town by Rankin, all under the watchful eye of the sheriff (Emile Meyer) and his young deputy (Harry Carey Jr.). What will Rem do next?

This was a fast-paced film, clocking in at 76 minutes, buoyed by a strong cast. In a sense it saves some time casting a familiar actor like Robert J. Wilke; a classic Western villain, the audience understands at first glance that he's probably not a good man. The chink in his armor is his weak spot for Janice, although it turns out in the end that, as suspected, he really only cares about himself.

For me the relationship of Meyer and Carey was the high point of the movie; the protective, paternal Meyer likes to send Carey fishing with his little boy when things heat up, keeping him out of harm's way. At one point the sheriff tells the frustrated deputy that the town will be there for a long time, and the deputy can take care of it once the sheriff is gone.

The sheriff also has a good relationship with Rem, regularly commenting he'd hate to have to hang him. At the end the sheriff is content to sit back with his deputy and let matters play out with Rem and Rankin, hoping Rem will choose to make the right decisions.

The only drawback for me was the resolution of Janice's storyline, which cast a bit of a sad pall over the end of the movie. Dickinson had a good role as a woman who'd had a life of hard knocks but dreamed of being "respectable."  I didn't care for the abrupt end to her story.

GUN THE MAN DOWN was directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and filmed by William H. Clothier, who both worked with John Wayne many times over the years.

The Olive Films DVD is a nice widescreen black and white print. There are a few individual shots which look too grainy, but for the most part it's a nice crisp picture. Unlike most Olive Films DVDs, the disc includes the trailer, a welcome inclusion.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this DVD.


Blogger Jerry E said...

A solid, taut little western. One of McLaglen's very best, helped enormously by Burt Kennedy's fine writing. Pity Arness did not make any more such features but I guess he just didn't have the time, not only starring in "GUNSMOKE" but also involved in production. But it was good to see him in such a contrasting role.

12:42 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

Sounds like a good one! I also love Burt Kennedy's scripts.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree, I would have liked to see Arness do more feature Westerns. It was interesting seeing him play a character who wasn't exactly the law and order type, given his most famous role.

Deb, I think you might enjoy this, Kennedy has some good lines in the script and finds interesting ways to compress the storytelling.

Best wishes,

7:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

A postscript, suddenly realized today I'd listed Burt Kennedy as the screenwriter of SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! when he was the director. (William Bowers wrote it.) I've updated the post!

Best wishes,

11:17 PM  
Blogger john knight said...

Hi Laura,

Again a very fair review.
At the time I thought the film was "just another programmer" and my opinion
has not changed over the years. (never saw this at the time of release but
caught it at a flea pit in the Sixties....UK title Arizona Mission.)
Considering those involved I was expecting more...good build up,flat ending.
Nice to see Emile Meyer in a sympathetic role for a change.
A far superior Kennedy scripted black & white Western was the underrated

Olive Films now seem to be dipping into the United Artists library and
for me GUN THE MAN DOWN was an odd choice for the high-def treatment.
I would have thought they would have chosen something far more high profile,
Andre De Toth's THE INDIAN FIGHTER for example.

BTW I watched the Explosive Media Blu Ray of COMANCHE STATION last night-did any
other Western make such great use of Lone Pine.
All I will say about the Blu Ray is that so far,it's the best high def transfer
that I have ever seen of a CinemaScope Western.

6:52 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Hi again Laura,

Just as an add on to the above I would rather Olive released some of the great
Republic A Westerns starring the likes of John Payne,Sterling Hayden,Rod Cameron,
Forrest Tucker and William Elliott.
Hollywood Scrapheap have proved good prints of these films DO exist.
Instead of GUN THE MAN DOWN (already out on DVD BTW) I would much rather we had
fare like HELL'S OUTPOST with Rod Cameron against a very bad John Russell.
This was lovely Joan Leslie's last Republic film. Joan always felt that Russell
should have been a far bigger star.
I am also more and more impressed by Adele Mara and Adrian Booth
the more films I see them in.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the feedback, John! It's interesting that a number of Olive's recent and upcoming releases have already has DVD releases. I know Westerns fans like ourselves wish for those rare titles we've yet to see! Perhaps if the current releases are successful it will allow them to delve into more obscure titles in the future. We can hope!

I'm also a fan of FORT DOBBS! That was an excellent film.

Best wishes,

11:48 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

"FORT DOBBS" is a big favourite at Jerry Towers!! I always liked Clint Walker in his Cheyenne Bodie TV role; considering he arrived in the role virtually from nowhere he had a commanding screen presence from the get-go.
I also think this film contained one of Virginia Mayo's best-ever performances.

3:39 AM  

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