Saturday, November 05, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Gunsight Ridge (1957)

Note: This post on GUNSIGHT RIDGE (1957) is my contribution to the Joel McCrea Blogathon being hosted this weekend by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s. The blogathon, which celebrates McCrea's November 5th birthday, runs all weekend. Be sure to visit Toby's site for lots of great posts on Joel McCrea movies!

GUNSIGHT RIDGE was one of just a handful of Joel McCrea Westerns I'd not yet caught up with. It proved to be a very satisfying, well-done film which I rank as one of his stronger '50s films. I enjoyed it very much.

McCrea plays Mike Ryan, who arrives in a dusty desert hamlet initially seeming to be something of a charming drifter -- yet anyone with a discerning eye can also tell he's a quality man. Sure enough, in due course Mike reveals that he's a Wells Fargo agent who's on the trail of a man who's committed a string of robberies.

Mike joins forces with Sheriff Tom Jones (Addison Richards), who wants to solve the crimes he feels are a stain on his record. Mike's daughter Molly (Joan Weldon of THEM!) is initially dubious of Mike but it's soon clear there's an attraction between the pair.

The robber in question is Velvet Clark (Mark Stevens), who might best be described as a sensitive cold-blooded killer. (You might be sensitive too, if you were a cowboy named Velvet...) Clark once dreamed of being a concert pianist but couldn't afford he took up robbing stagecoaches instead. Though on paper the plotline may make one chuckle over such an improbable character, in the hands of charismatic Mark Stevens the story is plausible and interesting.

The film is helped by a strong script with some punchy dialogue, particularly as Ryan is getting to know the townspeople. Minor characters have a chance to shine, as the screenplay by Talbot and Elisabeth Jennings makes some memorable detours, whether it pauses for a quartet of rowdy ranchhands trashing their bunkhouse, an interrupted wedding (of Jody McCrea and Cindy Robbins), or to take in the visits of both Clark and Ryan to the home of a lonely frontier teenager (Carolyn Craig, who was Elizabeth Taylor's little sister in GIANT). Rather than needlessly taking up precious screen time, these sequences add texture and color to an already interesting film.

McCrea is completely winning as a confident man who's not overly worried about first impressions; he proves himself soon enough, shooting the gun from the hand of a cowboy who's about to plug the sheriff.

Weldon doesn't have a great deal to do, but her time on screen is most welcome, and she and McCrea have an appealing chemistry. Richards, who plays her sheriff father, had been on screen for nearly a quarter century at this point and has a good role here with considerable screen time.

Among the strong cast I especially enjoyed George Chandler, making roughly his 400th screen appearance as a hapless rustling ranch owner who is tricked out of tax money by Ryan and who's later chased off his own ranch by his cowhands. The Lazy Heart ranchhands, who inadvertently provide Clark with cover when they rob a train, are played by L.Q. Jones, Steve Mitchell, Jim Foxx, and Morgan Woodward, who DALLAS fans might remember for his long-running role as Jock Ewing's best friend, Punk Anderson.

The cast also features I. Stanford Jolley, Herb Vigran, Slim Pickens, Darlene Fields, Robert Griffin, and a very young Dan Blocker.

Production values for this United Artists film are relatively strong, including a good score by David Raksin (LAURA). It's a well-paced 85 minutes, directed by Francis D. Lyon and filmed in black and white by Ernest Laszlo. The movie was shot at easily recognizable locations at Old Tucson, as well as Southern California movie ranches including the Janss Conejo Ranch and the Bell Ranch.

GUNSIGHT RIDGE is available on DVD in a very affordable four-film set, along with two George Montgomery Westerns (GUN BELT and THE LONE GUN) and one with Rory Calhoun, RIDE OUT FOR REVENGE (1957).


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

It is indeed a very interesting movie thanks to the script. I love the byplay between McCrea and Stevens, an actor I am coming to appreciate. The character actors cast in these films distinguish the westerns of this era from others. Good actors with familiar faces; faces that fit the times.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Very nice review, Laura. We share a love for Joel McCrea the actor but also the human being. "GUNSIGHT RIDGE" is generally considered lesser McCrea but I am so pleased to read your positive review. Having Mark Stevens as his protagonist creates another strong presence in the movie and, as a result, I think the film is better than its reputation. Although it is true that the second half of the 50s saw a fade in his career I personally find enjoyment in all the films he made during that period. As has been said elsewhere, even lesser McCrea holds much pleasure and enjoyment.
Thanks for making this choice.

1:20 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

This one hasn't crossed my path before, but I definitely want to catch it now. Great review of a really nice sounding movie.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you chose this one, Laura, not least because it's a film I've yet to see. I do have a copy and I think I've put off watching it because I'd heard it's not among McCrea's best. Still, I remain a little intrigued, an the presence of Mark Stevens adds to that, and now that I've seen your positive assessment of it I think I'll have to movie it a few places up the queue.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

One I haven't seen yet but sounds interesting!

11:11 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for the enthusiastic comments on this Joel McCrea Western!

Caftan Woman and Jerry, I'm glad to know you like this one too; I agree, Jerry, it's better than its reputation. Deb and Kristina, I think you would like it.

Colin, I think one reason I had put this off was that like you I hadn't heard this was one of his better Westerns, so what a nice surprise to find it a solid, well-crafted film. Not a big classic, of course, but with quite a bit to elevate it above run-of-the-mill, as Jerry and Caftan Woman agree. I look forward to your thoughts on it when you catch up with it!

Best wishes,

11:50 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Good piece and a good choice since it never gets much attention. I think like you and most here who've seen it it's better than its reputation for me (and I agree with Jerry that though the second half of the 50s--after WICHITA-- finds some falling off in McCrea's Westerns, they are generally likable still and sometimes better than that). I only saw it once but what caught me most was Mark Stevens playing that classical piano playing outlaw--that really individualized him and he was intriguing. Stevens is an interesting actor and may be more effective as the bad guy, but a kind of inwardness he has can also make him good as the hero, if it's a well shaded character (GUNFIGHT IN TUCSON--I liked him a lot in that too). I most remember that scene of Stevens with the "lonely frontier teenager" (perfectly described) and that alone would get me back to it.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your comment and the kind words, Blake! I'm interested in how many of us actually really liked this film. I hope it will receive some reassessment from other Western fans as there is quite a bit in it to enjoy.

Hope you will have the chance to revisit it before long. I recommend the inexpensive set it's in. Hope to catch the last film in it I've not seen yet, with Rory Calhoun, before long.

Best wishes,

7:05 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

I agree, thought this was very well done, all the more so because I had never heard of it before. Films like this tend to be dismissed as "a minor McCrea western", but what the heck does that mean anyway? Is it a good western? If so, nothing small about that.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to know you liked this one also, Maricatrin!

A minor McCrea Western holds greater appeal for me than so many other types of movies... :)

Best wishes,

10:31 AM  

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