The Gunfighter (1950) – Henry King

 

More western goodness flows from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, as I dig into the first recommendation following my screening of High Noon.

The Gunfighter sees Gregory Peck ride into town as the notorious Jimmy Ringo. All he wants to do is see his true love, Peggy (Helen Westcott), who refuses to meet with him. His fame as a gunfighter, however, makes sure that trouble keeps finding him.

From the moment he steps into town, and the saloon, of course, men come gunning for him. He doesn’t want to draw down on these folk, but they keep pushing him, forcing him to defend himself.

When he confronts a young whelp, Eddie (Richard Jaeckel) his quickdraw puts the young man down, but it seems Eddie has brothers who may come looking for him, unless he takes care of the first.

Peck seems quite at home with a cowboy hat atop his head and six-shooters in his hands, and turns in a performance, while not reminiscent of Eastwood in Unforgiven, makes me recall it.

Karl Malden appears as a barkeep, Mac, as Ringo settles into town, taking a room above the saloon. His old friend, Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell) is the town marshal, who upon learning that Eddie’s brothers are after him warns him out of town, but Ringo just wants to see Peggy and his son, who doesn’t even know that Jimmy is his father.

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He plans to wait at the saloon until Strett brings Peggy to see him, all the while, well aware, that the three brothers are riding after him, and soon, the town will no doubt be filled with gunfire.

And he may not be wrong, it seems a number of folk don’t want him in town, and may stir up some trouble themselves, long before the brother ride in to town.

The film feels way to short, running at 85 minutes, and while I love Peck’s performance, I wish he’d been given just a bit more to do character-wise. He’s tired of gunfighting to be sure, and is focused solely on seeing Peggy, and you can see on his face that he is full of regrets, and tired, but he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to really expand on it. It’s a quiet, enjoyable performance. It’s almost all on his face.

It doesn’t rush to its climax, there are some nice character moments, as Strett and Ringo reminisce, prepare and hope, before Ringo makes his final decisions. There are some brilliant moments towards the film’s end that have an emotional impact

In the end, Ringo has to face the reality of his situation, with trouble coming, a woman who may no longer love him, a son who doesn’t know him, and age creeping up on him.

A gorgeous and fantastic film, with a great performance by Peck, and wow, that ending.

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