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USA 1957
Directed by
Samuel Fuller
80 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Forty Guns

Fuller's Western is more of a seed-bed of the genre's epic themes, better known in the work of directors like John Ford and George Stevens, than a fully-developed realization of them. As usual the problem lies with Fuller’s script which tends to move characters in whatever direction he wishes without the necessary on-screen evidence to convince the viewer of the credibility of their actions. Here it is the central relationship between tough gal, Barbara Stanwyck, and tough guy, Barry Sullivan, that most notably lacks motivation although the other emotional axes are not any more fulsomely dealt with. Still, Fuller was a genre film-maker with a taste for melodrama and there is no doubt that within those parameters Forty Guns is evidence of his skills. .

The story is set in the 1880, one of its themes being the end of the Old West, with Jessica Drummond (Stanwyck) and Griff Bonell (Sullivan) representing the dying order under which the gun the ruled the day. Griff and his brothers (the story is loosely based in the Earps) have arived to clean up the town that is effectively run as a private enterprise by the former. As the film’s main song “High Riding Woman” tells us Jessica is a woman whom every man desires but none can have UNLESS they take the whip out of her hand. No prizes for guessing that Griff is the man to do that (there's a entertainingly outrageous scene early in the film when Jessica asks to feel Griff's gun and he replies that it might go off in her face). 

There are other entanglements including Jessica’s devotion to her good-for-nothing younger brother (John Ericson) and Griff’s relationship with his brothers that make this film potentially a seething hot-bed of emotion. Fuller’s treatment however, is far too schematic to be effective. In particular, Dean Jagger’s breakdown over his love for Jessica is especially unconvincing

Notwithstanding, there is no doubt about Fuller’s auteur chops with many delicious visual moments: Eve Brent seen down the barrel of a gun that resurfaced in Godard’s A Bout De Souffle (1960) and the extreme close-ups of Griff’s eyes as he faces down Brockie that of course, Sergio Leone turned into a cinematic cliché as well as a beautiful moment, superbly rendered in black and white by cameraman Joseph Biroc. when Louvenia (Eve Brent) buries her husband as local songsmith, Barney (“Jidge” Carroll) sings an ode to love and death in the background. Not quite as poignant as Slim Pickens’ demise in Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973) to Dylan's 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' but wonderful nevertheless.

FYI: Yes, that is the then 49 year old Stanwyck doing her own stuntwork in the twister scene.




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