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GUN PLAY begins with footage in which there are about 5000 Mexican
soldiers fighting about 5000 Rebel soldiers and there are many camera
setups and long-and-medium shots of the two forces fighting on the
mountains and down in the valley...and it is impressive indeed,
especially for a B-western made by Max and Arthur Alexander's Beacon
Productions, Inc. company.
Well, with the exception of some cuts to close-up shots of General Tirado (Dick Botiller) and Pedro (Julian Rivero) exchanging Caramba! shouts, and a couple more of Tirado's actual Rebel band, of about seven ragtag extras, the opening footage should be impressive; it is all stock footage from an earlier big-budget Universal film.
Anyway, General Tirado gets wounded in the battle, even though the battle he was in was stock footage from another battle, and he has his second-in-command, Pedro, get him across the border to the ranch of his old friend, John Holt (Charles K. French as Charles French.) There, he dies, but not before turning over his war chest (a saddle bag filled with gold) to Holt. The latter takes Pedro and some ranch hands, all blind-folded, out in the middle of his ranch, has them dig a hole and bury the gold. Then he tells them all to put on their blindfolds again and to "follow me." They do and, since the gold, later on in the film, is still where it was buried many years ago, none of them evidently sneaked a peek back behind Holt's back to see where they had just buried the gold.
Well, some years pass and Pedro (whose role name is shown as Young Pedro)in the cast credits, for certain, didn't sneak a peek, for the next time we see him he has a head filled with grey hair and is now Old Pedro, but he is still played by Julian Rivero. And it probably won't be long before somebody changes Rivero's currently-shown "Pedro" role to something like Young Pedro/Old Pedro.
Anyway, it is years later and John Holt has died and the now-old Young Pedro is hanging out with Ben Meeker (Tom London) in Ben Meeker's saloon, and telling Meeker the whole story of the battle and the burying of the gold, but doesn't mention that the battle was Universal stock footage. While it is never explained, Meeker also appears to double as the town Recorder or County Clerk or something, and he has the late Holt's will and also a letter he has written to his son, George Holt (Wally Wales) and daughter, Madge Holt (Marion Shilling), tipping them off to the fact that there is a treasure buried on the Holt Ranch, but his tip is a coded message and wouldn't do them much good if they even saw it, which they don't as Meeker politely and smoothly cuts that part off of their letter before he hands it over to them.
So, Meeker gathers up his henchies played by Roger Williams, Gordon Griffith and Barney Beasley---Barney actually has some dialogue lines in this one---and they head out to the Holt Ranch to see if they can find the treasure map there in a trunk. But they haul the trunk down to the South 40 to go through it, and then have to go back to the ranch to meet the arrival of the Holt kids, and Meeker tosses a pair of boots from the trunk over the side of a mesa ledge. Well, as luck would have it, Bill Williams (Big Boy Williams) and his saddle pal, Frank Gorman (Frank Yaconelli) are camping there, and the manna-from-the-sky boots are better than the ones Williams is wearing, so he takes them and leaves his. The best thing about this movie is that Yaconelli does not employ any kind of Italian or Mexican accent in this film.
Well, hard as it is to believe, the map showing the location of the buried treasure is in the heel of one of the boots---left, right---I forget---but no one in the cast knows that. Meeker, after applying some heat to the coded message (written using invisible ink, which explains the UK title of the film), soon learns that but, alas, the boots are no longer where he tossed them.
So, he throws a dance at his saloon and everybody who brings in a pair of old boots will be given a pair of new boots by George Morrell when they come in the door. Si Jenks shows up, trades in his old and gets new 'uns but doesn't stay for the dance, the lemonade or the brawl that breaks out. Big Boy, George, Frank and Madge come to the party but Big Boy doesn't trade his newly-acquired boots in at the boot swap concession, and Meeker's plan to acquire the boots with the map in the heel begins to look like he has made a large investment with no return. But he sees that Big Boy has on the pair he is looking for and it gets kind of silly after that.
Story and continuity by William Nolte and Nolte had only two scripts in his bag and used them over and over. The first was always about a missing treasure map that only some mysterious phantom figure knows about, and the second one always involved the same quest but the villain was always the man least likely to be suspected, since he was "confined" to a wheel chair. Actually, come to think of it, Nolte had only one script, and the villain could walk in both, but the cast didn't know he could in the wheel-chair version.
Remade as "Boots of Destiny" in 1937 starring Ken Maynard. The title of "Gun Play" was changed to "Lucky Boots" in the 50's when it was sold as part of a television package, but RKO's 1951 Tim Holt western was around and the title had to be changed.
Way back at the turn of the last century some Mexican general who had
his army like Villa, Zapata, and the rest of them did came across to
the USA and before he died buried a whole lot of loot. He hid a map of
his treasure, booty if you will, in the heel of some really nice
looking boots before he died.
Fast forward and by some incredible means Guinn Williams becomes owner of said boots and foreman of the ranch that Marion Shilling owns and the treasure is buried. A greedy neighbor played by Tom London knows about the map in the boot and will stop at nothing to get a hold of the loot.
That about sums up Gun Play. In those early years Guinn Williams was a cowboy hero in these poverty row westerns. But someone saw he could play amiable lunkheads so much better. Occasionally Williams could be a serious villain like in the first version of The Glass Key with George Raft. But for myself I can't get used to seeing him as anything other than a doofus sidekick as he was to Errol Flynn in a few westerns.
There's nothing much really to recommend Gun Play, a poverty row western with few pretensions and some bad editing.
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