The first things I have to say about this film are that it features one of the earliest credits for Tony Curtis, and that Rock Hudson is buried in the cast, and he plays an Indian. Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the film.
I like this kind of film. Now, that statement’s not much good to you without knowing what kind of film it is, but regardless of that I like it anyway. It’s the kind of film where several smaller stories are all tied together through coincidence, or an object being passed from one to another, as is the case here. There are some exceptions – I wasn’t wild about Au Hasard Balthazar or Babel – but these types of collective narratives, like Magnolia, Short Cuts, Crash and Traffic, usually appeal to me, and having a great ensemble cast never hurts either. Here, the element that ties the stories together is a rifle.
Our introduction to the eponymous weapon is through James Stewart’s Lin McAdam, a cowboy on the trail of Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally), a dangerous man with whom the two share a bitter past. When Lin rocks up in the town of Dodge City, presided over by Will Geer’s Wyatt Earp, he finds Dutch has entered into a shooting competition to win the rifle, so enters as well, mainly to stop his foe from winning the gun that won the West. After the competition, which also sees lookalikes of Davy Crockett and Colonel Sanders, so feels a bit like a western parody, the gun is passed from one person to the next, either by honest trade or dishonest force, and not always with it’s ammunition present. We follow the gun through the film until a fairly obvious and clearly signposted finale, where Lin eventually catches up to the on-the-run Dutch.
This film felt incredibly stagey and unnatural, so I rarely felt engrossed with the movie. For example, there’s an indoor scuffle early on that in which, mid-fight, someone draws the blinds to make the fight look more dramatic. Granted, this was also to try and hide the fisticuffs from those outside the window, but seeing as they were on the first storey I don’t think there was too much danger of that, and it’s clear it was done entirely to increase the dramatic tension. Also, a moment where Shelley Winters, who is great as the film’s predominant female presence, is sat tossing a coin up and down is just waiting for someone to come along and catch it mid-throw, and it just appears as if that’s the very reason shes sat there throwing it in the first place, which is just silly.
Stewart is good in the lead role, and he must have gotten on well with director Anthony Mann, as this is the first of 8 collaborations the pair shared, including The Naked Spur and The Man From Laramie, both of which also appear on the List. Some of the supporting cast are terrible though, particularly every bartender in the film, and there’s a moment where a man tries to hit on the girl whose fiance he just shot, which is bad form in my books.
If, like me, you love the sound of a bullet’s ricochet, then you’ll adore the final showdown, however I feel that there isn’t much here to hold the attention of people who don’t really like westerns. Now, I quite like them, so I thought the film was pretty good, though more could definitely have been done with the central premise, and the film peaks too early with the opening shooting competition.
Choose film 6/10
Mann did a lot to extend Stewart's career, by asking him to play somewhat flawed, rugged men.
Sounds interesting, I look forward to seeing their other works (James Stewart is a possible candidate for my Film-Makers Career series), though I didn't think Lin McAdam was that flawed, other than his dogged determination to follow Dutch Henry for ages.