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.
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.