Friday, February 11, 2022

#2,707. The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953) - The Wild West


Director Andre De Toth followed up his 1953 horror classic House of Wax with yet another 3-D movie: the Randolph Scott western The Stranger Wore a Gun. And while the gimmick can sometimes be a tad distracting (with guns, lanterns, and the occasional fist flying towards the screen), the film itself has plenty else to offer.

Having served as a spy for guerrilla leader William Quantrill (James Millican) during the Civil War, Jeff Travis (Scott) wants nothing more than to leave his shady past behind him. Unfortunately, people insist on reminding him of it, causing the former spy to run for his life on more than one occasion.

Following the advice of his longtime girlfriend Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor), Jeff makes his way to Prescott, Arizona, where he agrees to work for Jules Mourret (George Macready) by posing as a federal agent. Jeff’s “job” is to spy on the local stagecoach line, passing information to Mourret so that he and his henchmen can hijack as many of the stage’s gold shipments as possible.

But when Jeff cozies up to Shelby Conroy (Joan Weldon), daughter of the stagecoach company’s owner (Pierre Watkin), he finds himself working against Mourret instead of for him, realizing all the while that crossing a man like Jules Mourret is the quickest way to end up dead.

Scott, who played the hero in such Budd Boetticher westerns as 7 Men From Now and The Tall T, is predictably strong throughout The Stranger Wore a Gun, despite playing a less-than-scrupulous character whose past often catches up with him (Scott would go on to play an even darker gunman nine years later, in Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country). Macready is equally effective as Jeff’s villainous employer, and Claire Trevor delivers as Jeff’s love interest.

The film also features Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine (in early roles) as Mourret’s henchmen, both of whom have a mean streak a mile long, and Alfonso Bedoya - best remembered as the Mexican bandit who didn’t need no stinking badges in John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - plays Degas, a thief and Mourret’s chief competitor.

Most of the action in The Stranger Wore a Gun is of the standard variety (stagecoach robberies, shoot-outs, etc), but the opening scene (Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas) and the finale (a showdown between Jeff and Mourret inside a burning building) are impressively staged. This, as well as the moral ambiguity of Scott’s Jeff (at times even the audience isn’t sure whose side he’s on), helped make The Stranger Wore a Gun a fascinating entry in the western genre.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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