Friday, February 15, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Gunsmoke (1953)

Last month I really enjoyed Audie Murphy in RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954) and NIGHT PASSAGE (1957). Those films definitely interested me in seeing more of Murphy's work, and tonight I caught him in GUNSMOKE, which I also enjoyed a great deal.

GUNSMOKE, which has no relationship to the long-running TV series, is about Reb Kittredge, a mild-mannered hired gunman. When he shows up for a job, he doesn't like his potential employer (Donald Randolph) and instead decides to throw in with the man Telford wants to get rid of, rancher Dan Saxon (the always-great Paul Kelly). It doesn't hurt that Saxon has an attractive daughter, Rita (Susan Cabot).

Reb and the Saxons work together to drive a herd of cattle to market to prevent Telford from foreclosing. Along the way Reb has to contend with competition for Rita from Saxon's hotheaded foreman, Curly (Jack Kelly of MAVERICK), and he must also deal with a friend, Johnny (Charles Drake), hired by Telford to get Reb out of the picture.

This fast-paced 79-minute film is a very satisfying movie which has pretty much everything I love in a Universal Western, including the typically deep cast. There are some nice plot twists along the way, including an early shootout between Reb and Dan, and a unique plan Dan develops for saving his ranch. Reb's plan to catch the bad guys in the final gun battle is clever and makes for a good action sequence, and there's another nice twist in his final confrontation with Johnny.

Murphy's quiet character is nonetheless a forceful presence, playing a man who won't be pushed around. He and Cabot are very well-matched and have a palpable chemistry that's apparent whenever they stand next to each other.

It's no secret I'm a big MAVERICK fan so it's always fun for me to catch up with Jack Kelly's earlier work. This is one of his typical fairly thankless early Universal roles as an up-to-no-good hired hand, but he's so handsome it's no surprise he eventually went on to something better. Jack Kelly also appeared with Audie Murphy in COLUMN SOUTH (1953) and in a major supporting role in Murphy's autobiographical film TO HELL AND BACK (1955).

As a side note, I had the feeling that the living room of Saxon's house might have been Rock Hudson and Julie Adams' house from THE LAWLESS BREED (1953), released the same year. I need to do a comparison sometime!

GUNSMOKE was directed by Nathan Juran (LAW AND ORDER, HIGHWAY DRAGNET). The screenplay by D.D. Beauchamp was based on a novel by Norman A. Fox. The movie was filmed in Big Bear Valley by Charles Boyle. The supporting cast includes Mary Castle, Chubby Johnson, and Jesse White.

I watched this film on a Universal videotape released in 2000. (It really hasn't been all that long since movies were still being put out on VHS!) This is a movie which will hopefully see a release either in the Universal Vault Series sold via Amazon or in TCM's Vault Collection.

The movie doesn't have any aspirations to be great art, but it's exactly what it sets out to be: an entertaining Western with interesting lead characters, plenty of action, a little humor, and a little romance. Recommended.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you on this one. It's minor Murphy, and makes no attempt to be any more than what it is, but it's very enjoyable.
Aside from the excellent cast, there's some fine location shooting too. I'd snap it up on DVD were it to be released.


2:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Colin! So glad you enjoyed this too. I'd love to have this on DVD, it's definitely a film with "rewatch value" which I look forward to seeing again in the future.

Always nice to hear from you, thanks for stopping by!

Best wishes,

10:17 AM  

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