Saturday, April 11, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Gun Hawk (1963) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Rory Calhoun stars in the Allied Artists Western THE GUN HAWK (1963), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Calhoun plays gunfighter Blaine Madden, who returns to a Western town where his father (John Litel), the town drunk, is soon murdered by a couple of no-good cowboys (Lane Bradford and Glenn Stensel).

Madden follows the pair out of town and shoots them both down, but when his old friend Sheriff Corey (Rod Cameron) arrives shortly thereafter, Madden refuses to return to town and takes off, forcing the sheriff to shoot and wound Madden.

Madden is aided by young wanna-be gunslinger Reb Roan (Rod Lauren), and both men head for a small town hidden away behind a cave. Marleen (Ruta Lee) is happy to see Madden arrive, but he initially ignores her.

As time goes on, Madden looks increasingly unwell...and Sheriff Corey shows up in town determined to bring in his man.

I love the three leads, but I have to class this film as a disappointment, for a number of reasons, starting with the very '60s theme song and Lee's very '60s bouffant hair. Bad hairstyles were a constant issue for women in '60s period films, particularly WWII movies and Westerns -- Martha Hyer in THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966) being just one other example among many.

Those issues would be easy enough to overlook, given the strong cast, if it were a well-made film with a good story. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

While I initially somewhat enjoyed the first half hour or so simply for the pleasure of Calhoun and Cameron's company, it goes downhill from there, meandering slowly to an increasingly depressing and unpleasant conclusion.

When Lee shows up a half hour into the movie, it seems clear that much of her role was filmed solo, as she's constantly shown in a series of solitary reaction shots; it gets a bit odd after a while and adds to the "done on the cheap" feel of the movie. The picture seen here with her quizzical expression is typical of how she was used, though she does finally get some meatier scenes actually interacting with Calhoun in the last half of the movie.

Lauren has a semi-interesting character as the young wanna-be gunslinger, who isn't always very bright, but his heart's in the right place; in fact, the sheriff tries to recruit him as a deputy. As expected, Cameron is solid as the upright sheriff.

Quite honestly, for me the biggest pleasure in seeing this film was the use of the cave in Griffith Park's Bronson Canyon, which we just visited last month -- on one of the last days we were "out and about" before Los Angeles and California launched the current pandemic shutdown. It was a lot of fun seeing how the cave was used as the entrance to Blaine's hideaway town.

The movie also had a nice, if brief, appearance by perennial villain Robert J. Wilke, also seen in last night's NIGHT PASSAGE (1957).

Otherwise, this film is a slow 92-minute trudge to a bad ending. Can't win 'em all...

This was the last feature film directed by Edward Ludwig before he retired. It was shot by Paul Vogel. The supporting cast also includes Morgan Woodwards and Rodolfo Hoyos Jr.

The Warner Archive DVD print has a fine widescreen picture. I did feel the soundtrack could have been more crisp. The Warner Archive has a three-minute sample clip posted on YouTube -- which incidentally includes some of Lee's many reaction shots! There are no extras on the DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

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