Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Two-Gun Lady (1955)

I think most "B" Western fans would agree that any Western starring both Peggie Castle and Marie Windsor is a must-see, and I'm no exception.

I was intrigued by mention of the film in a discussion over at Riding the High Country, and since it's available via Amazon Watch Instantly streaming I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did, as it proved to be 71 minutes of enjoyable entertainment. There are countless solid, intriguing little Westerns out there just waiting to be rediscovered, and this is one of them.

Castle, whose first name is erroneously billed here as Peggy, plays Kate Masters, an elegant woman who brings her sharpshooting act to the saloon owned by Big Mike (Robert Lowery) in a dusty little Western town.

William Talman plays Dan, a drifter who stops in the same town and goes to work for nasty Jud Ivers (Ian MacDonald), whose son Ben (Earle Lyon) is a psychotic killer loved by saloon girl Bess (Marie Windsor).

Neither Kate nor Dan is exactly who they appear to be, but they find they have a common goal: justice for the death of Kate's parents.

I've seen some reviews disparaging various aspects of this film, including the low budget and William Talman as the leading man, and in an interview Windsor said, "I'm not fond of the picture — it was lightweight, and done in a hurry!”

Nonetheless, I have to say I liked Talman and was quite entertained by the film, despite -- or even because of -- its shortcomings. I always find Castle compelling, and of course Windsor is fun to watch as well.

My main criticism is that I would have liked to see a couple more scenes developing the relationship between Kate and Dan, but I thought that they had surprisingly good chemistry, whether tussling over a gun in Kate's hotel room or in the scene where she threatens to shoot Dan and he says he believes she can't, as "Learning to use a gun is not learning to kill." I bought into their relationship, abbreviated though the depiction was, and liked the story.

One of the amusing and unusual scenes in the movie takes place out at the Ivers ranch, when Dan is talking to Jud about an attack on his life by Jud's henchman Gruber (Norman Jolley). Bess (Windsor) walks into the room; she and Dan (Talman) both look startled, she scurries away, and after a beat Dan continues talking to Jud.

Windsor's presence is never explained, although since she's in her riding clothes and is in love with Jud's no-good son, her appearance at least makes a modicum of sense. I assumed an explanatory scene was left on the editing room floor, but various reviews on the internet suggest Windsor had inadvertently walked into the scene, but they kept right on filming! For me something like that just makes the movie more fun; we're not watching John Ford caliber art, and it's almost as though the viewer has the momentary chance to peer into the filmmaking process -- demonstrating that Windsor was correct, it was done in a hurry!

Barbara Turner, who plays the young tomboy Jennie Ivers, was married to Vic Morrow in the late '50s and is the mother of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Gregory Moffett, who plays one of the town boys, is the brother of actress Sharyn Moffett (THE LOCKET).

TWO-GUN LADY was written and directed by Richard Bartlett. Bartlett cowrote the original story with Norman Jolley, who appears in the film as Gruber. Bartlett coproduced the film with actors Earle Lyon and Ian MacDonald, who played Ben and Jud Ivers. MacDonald, incidentally, played the Sundance Kid in THE TEXAS RANGERS (1951), seen last weekend.

TWO-GUN LADY goes on my list of "B" Western winners. I'd love to know if anyone else finds it as much fun to watch as I did!


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I like it, Laura. Just saw it once but want to see it again (have a VHS though no longer have a tape player now).

It's perhaps not as evident here as in some of his others but director (and co-writer/co-producer) Richard Bartlett was very talented and had a fair amount of individuality. Sadly, his filmography is small--I've seen all nine of his movies made in the 1950s. After that he did his share of television (including some fine Wagon Train episodes usually written or co-written by him and Norman Jolley, and very marked by his personality), and only a few other features at intervals.

Lyon, Jolley and Tallman were all collaborators with Bartlett on more than one film and they did various things (in two of the early ones Bartlett too is also an actor--effective both as the lead in his first, the war movie SILENT RAIDERS and (especially) a really nasty bad guy in THE SILVER STAR which is the best of the early Westerns (in that Lyon is the reluctant hero). TWO-GUN LADY with underrated Castle and much admired Windsor is for me probably somewhere between THE SILVER STAR and somewhat more conventional THE DESPERATE TRAIL of the earlier Westerns.

Except for TWO-GUN LADY, the others of these are (or were) available from VCI in double feature sets, SILENT RAIDERS with the beautiful, memorable JUNGLE PATROL directed by Joseph Newman, and I recommend these sets.

Where Bartlett's career really picks up, as with the careers of other directors at his level, is in a contract at Universal-International of just a few years. Here he found a favorite actor in ex-stunt man Jock Mahoney, a personal favorite of mine, and made outstanding Westerns JOE DAKOTA (1957, perhaps his best and co-stars Luana Patten,
Charles McGraw and recently deceased and fondly remembered Barbara Lawrence) and a movie with one of the best ever titles MONEY, WOMEN AND GUNS (1958). Also, SLIM CARTER, a movie about Hollywood in which Mahoney plays a cowboy star who doesn't do his own stunts! When I had a chance to mention my fondness for this last one to Julie Adams, she was especially appreciative I remembered it--she has one of her best roles there. She mentioned the title in her inscription of my copy of her book.

Unfortunately, Universal has little interest (maybe no interest really) in a Jock Mahoney set, let alone a Richard Bartlett set, but some of these are available in European DVDs.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I also like this movie. Nothing great, mind you, but nicely done and just different enough from the standard B-western to keep it interesting.
As to William Tallman...well, it seems to me that the problems with him are entirely physical. For one thing he doesn't really look, sound, or carry himself like what we expect from a denizen of the old west. Not as out of place as Bogart, mind you, but still he seems awfully 20th Century Urban.
The other physical problem in this instance is that he's a not particularly attractive man and it seems unlikely to couple him with the decidedly hotcha Castle.
On the plus side, though, Tallman was a really fine actor, whatever he did, so I'd rather see him here than not, and we'll just accept his shortcomings.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

"TWO-GUN LADY with underrated Castle and much admired Windsor is for me probably somewhere between THE SILVER STAR and somewhat more conventional THE DESPERATE TRAIL of the earlier Westerns."

I gave one of these titles wrong. That last one is called THE LONESOME TRAIL.

Attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder, and more than that it's what an actor can do to be convincing in a situation. I thought Talman and Castle convinced us of the attraction--they were both fine players.

My favorite example is THE SUSPECT (1945)--unhappily married Charles Laughton meets beautiful young Ella Raines and they fall in love. You'd never think of them as a couple, would you? To me, they both completely sold it, meaning I had no trouble believing Laughton would attract her.

Anyway, this is not to say Talman is my idea of a leading man normally, but I agree with Rick he was certainly a good actor and could handle whatever was given.. His best performance was probably on the other side of the coin--that cold-blooded killer in THE HITCH-HIKER.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see this one. I had never even heard of it. And I do like Peggie Castle.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake and Rick, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. After reading a fair amount of negativity out there on the web I really enjoyed hearing that I'm not the only one who liked this movie! Sometimes a movie just hits the spot, and this one did for me.

Re William Talman, he may not be handsome in the conventional sense, but personality and charisma count for a lot (perhaps more so with women?). I found him very appealing in both this and ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952) where his wife was played by gorgeous Margaret Sheridan. As with TWO-GUN LADY, it was believable to me that someone with his maturity and authority would have attracted a lovely woman.

I do agree with Rick that I wasn't entirely sure Talman was comfortable on a horse but I was willing to overlook that, LOL.

Blake, you provided so much great background! It's interesting the VCI DVD of SILENT RAIDERS and JUNGLE PATROL is only available from Amazon used (unless you want to pay a crazy price), but I see it's still available at the VCI website so I'll make it a point to pick up a copy there at some point as well as the LONESOME TRAIL set.

Blake, my dad loved JOE DAKOTA so I'm interested to hear there's a connection with the team that made TWO-GUN LADY ad JOE DAKOTA -- in fact I see Talman cowrote JOE DAKOTA, how interesting! I have a recording of that film from Encore Westerns so I'll make it a point to get to it sooner rather than later.

I believe a restoration of THE HITCH-HIKER is probably going to be shown at the Noir City Hollywood Festival this spring and if so I hope to see it there.

Best wishes,

12:13 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Not sure if I have seen this film but I rather think not. If I get the chance though.....I think Peggie Castle was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a screen. Good actress too - under-rated. Sad that she died young of cirrhosis of the liver. She must have had personal demons aplenty. I saw her this week in a fine "Lawman" episode called "The Press" (no. 47) where she shines.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

BTW, Laura, may I draw your attention back to comments I left at the end of Around The Blogosphere. I guess everyone moved on from that but I would enjoy your incisive feedback re Angela Richards.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry!

Thanks for the recommendation of that particular episode of LAWMAN, I'm not sure if I've seen it yet.

I just pulled out a CHEYENNE episode to watch with John Russell -- the conversations here, and at Toby's and Colin's places this week are all blurring (grin), but I think it was either you or John who mentioned it being a good one and I haven't seen that one yet either!

The Film Noir Foundation published a good profile of Peggie Castle a few months ago which is now available here. She certainly came to a sad end; it's a tragic thing that someone with such talent and beauty -- Gail Russell is a similar case -- had such struggles offscreen.

On a happier note, last fall I had the chance to see Peggie in I, THE JURY (1953) at the World 3D Film Expo and thought she was great!

I'm glad you pointed me back to the earlier discussion, Jerry, as occasionally I fall behind on the comments! I wish I had a greater memory of Angela Richards and found the info you shared most interesting!

Best wishes,

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never seen this one Laura and it sounds like a lot of fun.
I have seen two of the Mahoney/Bartlett westerns Blake mentioned - Money, Women and Guns & Joe Dakota. The latter is a great variation on the theme of Bad Day at Black Rock and a film I thoroughly enjoyed.


12:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for adding your feedback, Colin! I hope to catch JOE DAKOTA in the near future. :)

Hard to resist a title like MONEY, WOMEN AND GUNS! I see it was written by Montgomery Pittman, a name I know from MAVERICK.

Would be very interested in your opinion of TWO-GUN LADY when you catch up with it.

Best wishes,

1:34 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, your note crossed with mine last night and I missed it -- if you're a Peggie Castle fan you'll enjoy this film! Hope you can check it out soon. :)

Best wishes,

11:15 PM  

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