Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Gun for a Coward (1956) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

This summer I'm in the midst of reviewing numerous new releases from Kino Lorber's Studio Classics line.

Before continuing on with some of the latest titles, I thought I'd first circle back to the final film from a set released by Kino Lorber this spring, the Western Classics II Collection.

All three films in the set were from Universal Pictures. I previously reviewed the other two titles in the collection, PILLARS OF THE SKY (1956) and QUANTEZ (1957).

QUANTEZ starred Fred MacMurray, who is also the star of the final film in the set, GUN FOR A COWARD (1956).

MacMurray plays Will Keough, a struggling rancher who plays a paternal role with his much younger brothers, Bless (Jeffrey Hunter) and Hade (Dean Stockwell), as their father is no longer alive.

The Keough brothers' mother (Josephine Hutchinson) is an unhappy woman who has focused all her love on her middle son, Bless. She hopes to persuade him to move to St. Louis with her and is crushed to realize he wants to continue ranching alongside his brothers.

Will has had an "understanding" with a neighbor, Aud (Janice Rule, A WOMAN'S DEVOTION), that he'll propose when he has the ranch on its feet, but Will has put Aud off for years, and she and Bless eventually confess their love for one another. Telling Will the truth won't be comfortable.

But first, there's a cattle drive...

GUN FOR A COWARD struck me as more of a family melodrama which happens to be set on a ranch than as a pure Western.

It's a bit of an oddball film, with the characters having stilted ways of speaking; the overall tone reminded me a bit of the Robert Mitchum film TRACK OF THE CAT (1954), about another fractured family. There's a similar theme in each movie with a woman trying to encourage a younger son to stand up for himself amidst the family's strong personalities and conflicts.

Despite the awkward dialogue (by R. Wright Campbell) and being fairly predictable, I did like the movie pretty well, thanks to solid performances.

MacMurray and Hunter, two actors I appreciate a great deal, are both very strong in multidimensional roles. MacMurray's Will is a tough man because he's had to be, but he's also sympathetic. He tries as best he can to both coach Bless and give him the room to make his own choices as an adult. MacMurray's scenes as he tries to express his love for his uncaring mother are done without being mawkish and are quite poignant.

While young Hade is hot-tempered and seems destined for trouble, Bless is more sensitive, including having trouble shooting a gun. Bless struggles with being different, while at the same time demonstrating his own style of smarts and courage which is complementary to his brothers. For instance, Bless researches a plan to acquire land from a failing rancher; when the man shows up ready to fight, Bless works to negotiate a fair deal, while his brothers handle the man when he gets physically rowdy.

Rule is interesting as the tomboyish, thoughtful Aud, and Stockwell does a fine job as raucous Hade. Hutchinson is so annoying as the mother that I was frankly glad to see her exit the picture partway through.

Chill Wills, always a welcome presence, plays the ranch foreman who is Will's sounding board. The cast also includes great faces like Bob Steele, Bobby Hoy, Iron Eyes Cody, Betty Lynn, John Larch, and Chuck Hayward.

GUN FOR A COWARD runs 88 minutes. It was directed by Abner Biberman and filmed in CinemaScope by George Robinson.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is an attractive print with excellent sound. Extras include a commentary track by Lee Gambin, the trailer, and two additional trailers for other Westerns available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Lee R said...

Just once I'd like to see being released (on DVD, I don't use blu-ray) a movie that hasn't already been commercially released several times over in the past. Yes it's nice to see these Fred MacMurray movies (even if I have no blu ray) if you're new to western collecting but WHY oh WHY can't we see the release of Fred MacMurray movies that have NEVER been released? Now we're really talking about being happy.

How about Fred's western classics, "At Gunpoint" & "Face of A Fugitive"? Now this is what western fans have been panting for, westerns NOT already released before. I might even be persuaded to buy a blu ray if theses movies were to ever show up. Instead each blu ray western that comes out we've seen before (in Randolph Scott's case MANY times before) in previous releases.

Speaking of Randolph Scott and this deplorable situation of seeing nothing but "repeat" releases how about releasing another HIGHLY desirable R. Scott movie, never released before, "Sugarfoot". Now there would be something to buy.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Lee,

In an ideal world I'd love to have everything available, including titles that have never been previously released in any format.

That said, while they're not Westerns, it's only fair to point out that Kino Lorber is doing some wonderful work releasing "never previously available in any format" films along with doing Blu-ray upgrades of prior releases. Most recently these titles include THE WEB, LARCENY, and ALIAS NICK BEAL; CALCUTTA is another that comes to mind, and there are also some silent titles.

In Kino Lorber's case, their options are partly constrained by studios and what they're able to make deals to release. And the better sales are, the more chance we'll see interesting titles in the future.

I'd love to see SUGARFOOT have a release. Given how many other Scott Westerns are available, I'm assuming there are rights issues which have held it up, or perhaps something to do with the TV series of the same name. Otherwise, it seems like it would have been a cinch to have released. If anyone has more information on that title perhaps they can share it here. I'm also curious why GUNFIGHTERS, one of my Scott faves, has never had an official release.

Best wishes,

7:41 PM  

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