Friday, August 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Four Fast Guns (1960)

FOUR FAST GUNS (1960) was reviewed last month by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

Toby's enthusiasm inspired me to pull out my Darn Good Westerns Vol. 2 set and give the movie a look myself this week. I'm quite glad I did, as I found it a superior "B" Western -- no classic, to be sure, but creative and entertaining filmmaking on a shoestring budget.

James Craig plays gunslinger Tom Sabin, who kills a "town tamer" in self-defense and then takes his job in the unruly town of Purgatory. The local drunk (Edgar Buchanan) who sleeps in the sheriff's office warms to Sabin and helps him when needed.

Saloon owner Hoag (Paul Richards) doesn't want the town cleaned up and mails letters to three gunmen, offering a substantial fee to the man who succeeds in taking Sabin out. One of the men, Quijano, is played by Richard Martin of the Tim Holt Westerns, sort of an edgier spin on his womanizing Chito character; I was amused by the scene where he burst's into a lady's bath so she can read him the letter. This was Martin's last film.

Another of the gunmen is surly "Farmer Brown" (Blu Wright), and the last of the men, Johnny Naco (Brett Halsey), proves to be quite a surprise for Sabin, spinning the plot into unexpected directions in the film's final minutes.

Complicating matters throughout all of the above is Hoag's wife Mary (Martha Vickers), who finds herself falling for Sabin.

This film may have had a small budget but it has an engaging style. The economical yet dramatic presentation of Sabin's encounters with the first two hired gunmen called to mind the way Budd Boetticher staged the gunfights in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956); sometimes not showing everything is more effective than putting it all on the screen. The movie is also very well-paced, running just 72 minutes.

I've always liked James Craig, who had a knack for working with children in MGM films such as LOST ANGEL (1943), OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945), and BOYS' RANCH (1946). His 1944 MGM film GENTLE ANNIE, incidentally, is another unique Western which is worth seeking out.

Craig looks considerably more worn here than in his MGM days, just as he did in another good role in another good low-budget Western, MAN OR GUN (1958). While Craig's genial demeanor of his earlier films occasionally makes an appearance here, world-weariness, sadness, and a certain edginess dominate.

Martha Vickers is interesting as the saloon owner's wife with a yen for Sabin, though I felt that the script gave her short shrift in terms of helping us to understand why she married Sabin and has stuck with him, when he's clearly not a good man. Hoag and Mary are in the same scenes yet they virtually never interact, which is curious; possibly that's meant as a commentary on their relationship, or lack thereof. Mary's somewhat underdeveloped character is my only significant criticism of the film.

Vickers is best known for her spectacularly good performance as the disturbed Carmen Sternwood in THE BIG SLEEP (1946); I also fondly recall her from the musical THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946), which introduced me to the lovely song "Oh, But I Do." As with Richard Martin, this was Vickers' last feature film.

FOUR FAST GUNS was directed by William J. Hole Jr. and filmed in widescreen black and white by John M. Nickolaus Jr.

FOUR FAST GUNS is also available from VCI as a single-title DVD release.

Western fans should like this one. Recommended.


Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, good write-up of a most enjoyable Western. FOUR FAST GUNS is a corker of a story. The screenwriters James Edmiston and Dalllas Gaultois should be commended, as well as producer-director William J. Hole, Jr. for buying the screen rights to this curious Western drama. A viewer may go into this one not expecting much, but I think that they will be pleasantly surprised, especially if you like twists and turns.

I was also amused during the scene between gunfighter Quijano(Richard Martin) and Juanita. This being Richard Martin’s last movie, I’m sure he enjoyed the scene, because he never had one like this as Chito Rafferty, Tim Holt’s sidekick. The actress was uncredited, even at IMDb. Although, she was in publicity shots and on posters and lobby cards.

I thought Brett Halsey, as gunfighter Johnny Naco, was quite good. Halsey is still with us, and I wonder what he remembers about this movie. Paul Richards, as Hoag, was as always, a good slick villain.

6:46 AM  
Blogger john k said...

It's fine to see this very minor Western get not only the Toby Treatment but now
showcased by Laura as well.
I always love it when minor,obscure films get some well deserved attention.
Another film which deserves more love and attention is MAN OR GUN which has been
name dropped here several times and indeed reviewed-I'd love to see it in it's
2.35 widescreen ratio.
Paul Richards always reminds me of Johnny Cash.
Never knew why Martha Vickers stunning turn in THE BIG SLEEP never made her a major star,
she may have "over married" in her short lifetime-A.C.Lyles,Mickey Rooney and finally
Manuel Rojas-(so good in BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE).

8:30 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Nice point, John - Paul Richards has always reminded me of Johnny Cash too.

I support Walter and John's praise for your review, Laura. It is indeed always good to find recognition for these smaller movies. I saw this western at a fleapit cinema c.1960-1 in a double bill with ??.

I was struck even then how, quite suddenly really, the western was disappearing off our screens, at least in any great number compared with even a year earlier. I guess the huge number of TV western series at the time, plus changes afoot in the studio system, played major parts in the reason for this. But somehow I always associate "FOUR FAST GUNS" with that feeling of decline. Enjoyable little vest-pocket western, for all that.

10:42 AM  
Blogger john k said...

I'm sure I can track down what FOUR FAST GUNS played with in the UK.

Thanks for highlighting Margot's fabulous blog Down These Mean Streets.
I love her writing style-it crackles with the intensity of a vintage Raoul Walsh
Warners flick. I only follow a few blogs-yours of course,the two Toby's,Kristina's
Colin's; Mike's Take On The Movies and Jeff Arnold's West. I also love Vienna's blog but
rarely comment. There are other sensational blogs out there but one only has so much
time especially if you wish to make comments.
Margo only seems to have been blogging recently so it's easy to catch up with her back
pages.I loved her take on DECOY which both of us consider the greatest Monogram
Picture ever made. I was VERY surprised to see when Colin listed his film collection
recently DECOY was nowhere to be found-very surprised that it's escaped his radar.
Also very splendid to see Walter venturing Down These Mean Streets.

7:26 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura.....
Just to correct myself Colin HAS got DECOY in his collection-it's just his filing
system that confused me-it was released by Warners paired with CRIME WAVE.
Laura,you just have to see DECOY; again it's one of those films that I had
no high hopes for that just blew me away.Jean Gillie is beyond sensational in
this film too bad that we lost her at such a young age.

2:07 AM  
Anonymous Toby said...

Laura —

So glad you liked this. The deeper and deeper I go into these things — or to use a better metaphor, the farther and farther I ride through them, the more I appreciate these little ones. It's where you see what a difference writing, acting, direction — and most of all, craft and creativity, can make.

The quick way they handled the "fast guns" was inspired, I thought. It's what you'd expect the movie to be about, but they were brushed off, making time for the REAL story. So cool.

Lucky for us all, Hollywood cranked out a gillion of these things. Let's go watch em!


8:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

This post initially went up at a very hectic time so I didn't get a chance to respond then. Just wanted to take a minute, in case anyone returns to this post, to let you all know the feedback was greatly appreciated!!

Walter, I appreciate you adding the writers' names to the mix. They did a fine job. And it was fun to see Martin's "Chito"-type persona a little differently here!

John, MAN OR GUN is a terrific little movie. I love when a relatively "minor" film like that or FOUR FAST GUNS surprises the viewer with "something more" than expected. (PS The Academy is showing the restored DECOY on 9/17 at the Linwood Dunn theater but alas I cannot make it... I'll be sure to check out Margot's take on it at Down These Mean Streets.)

Jerry, love that you have a memory of seeing this, that's really fun. :)

Toby, I agree, it's fascinating to see these "little" films and be able to separate out those where the filmmakers brought something extra to routine material and made it into something special. Those "fast gun" scenes were terrific.

I hope I never get to the bottom of all that's out there to sample...of course, I guess in that event I'll be ready to see everything all over again! LOL.

Best wishes,

4:53 PM  

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