Tuesday, February 15, 2022

#2,709. Forty Guns (1957) - The Wild West


A horse-drawn wagon carrying three men makes its way down a lonely dirt path. Suddenly, dozens of gunmen on horseback, led by a woman riding a white steed, appear on the horizon, galloping towards the men at full speed. These gunmen - 40 of them, to be exact – follow the woman as she flies past the wagon, never once breaking stride.

These are the opening moments of Forty Guns, a tense, action-packed western, and a tale of power and love as only director Samuel Fuller could tell it.

The three in the wagon are the Bonnell brothers: Griff (Barry Sullivan), Wes (Gene Barry), and Chico (Robert Dix). Griff is a former gunslinger who now works for the Arizona Attorney General, bringing lawbreakers to justice, and his brothers help him out as best they can.

The lady on the white steed is Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), a wealthy landowner and the most powerful woman in Cochise County. The 40 men accompanying her, which includes Jessica’s out-of-control younger brother Brockie (John Ericson), are her bodyguards (her “Dragoons”, as she calls them). Griff is in the area to arrest Howard Swain (Chuck Roberson), one of Jessica’s Dragoons, for stage coach robbery.

Though seemingly on opposite sides of the law, Griff and Jessica soon find themselves falling in love. But some bad blood between their families, which starts when Griff arrests Brockie for shooting a nearly blind Federal Marshall (Hank Worden), kicks off a feud between the Bonnells and the Drummonds that grows nastier by the day.

Fuller packs plenty of style into Forty Guns, utilizing the widescreen Cinemascope to great effect. The opening sequence (detailed above) is spectacularly staged, as is the initial showdown between Griff and Brockie (Griff walks slowly up to a drunken Brockie, who is in the middle of the street, shouting threats at Griff to stay away. Once they are face-to-face, Griff coldcocks him). There’s also a very impressive scene that features a tornado, which surprises Griff and Jennifer while they’re out riding one afternoon (Stanwyck reportedly performed the stunt where Jennifer is dragged by her horse, which panics when the wind kicks up). Adding to the fun is co-star Judge Carroll, whose character Barney owns the local bath house; Carroll performs a couple of songs, including “High Ridin’ Woman”, a ballad about Jennifer Drummond.

Stanwyck is excellent as the strong-willed Jennifer, who, despite her influence, has no time for lawlessness. She turns Howard Swain over to Griff without a fight, and though she protects Brockie, Jennifer does her best to steer her younger brother away from trouble. Sullivan, essentially playing a fictional version of Wyatt Earp, is equally strong as the no-nonsense Griff, a man who abhors violence but will never back down from a fight.

The supporting cast, including Gene Barry (as Griff’s loyal brother Wes), Dean Jagger (as Sheriff Logan, who does whatever Jennifer Drummond tells him to do), and John Ericson (whose Brockie serves as the film’s chief villain), is also good, and Harry Sukman’s musical score adds the perfect amount of bombast to the film’s more intense scenes.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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