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A reformed Gunfighter Jimmy Ringo is on his way to a sleepy town in the hope of a reunion with his estranged sweetheart and their young son who he has never seen. On arrival, a chance meeting with some old friends including the town's Marshal gives the repentant Jimmy some respite. But as always Jimmy's reputation has already cast its shadow, this time in the form of three vengeful cowboys hot on his trail and a local gunslinger hoping to use Jimmy to make a name for himself. With a showdown looming, the town is soon in a frenzy as news of Jimmy's arrival spreads. His movements are restricted to the saloon while a secret meeting with his son can be arranged giving him ideas of a long term reunion with his family far removed from his wild past. Written by
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THE GUNFIGHTER is the seventh western movie I've watched in the last couple of weeks in my quest to catch up with a bunch of films I've never seen that I recorded from TV. And I've made sure I've posted a review as I viewed each for the first time.
THE GUNFIGHTER is another superb western from a director not normally associated with the genre. Falling squarely between the 1940s and 1950s, I was at first uncertain at to which camp this film fell into. It has all the incidents you'd expect in a 1940s oater, but overlaid with the kind of psychology and sensibilities you'd expect in a 1950s western. In the end, I decided this is a film about contrasts.
The first contrast you notice is the visual one. The movie is shot in black and white and it seems that those were the only two tones available to director Henry King. The exteriors are bright, bleached out and hard on the eyes. The interiors are dark, cool and gloomy. There doesn't seem to be much shades of grey going on (of course, I could have been watching a bad print, but work with me, here ...)
This visual contract is echoed by the contrasts between the characters. The first of these we see is the contrast between Peck's Jimmy Ringo and the dumb kid who challenges him in the first bar. Ringo tries to talk him round, the kid won't have it and goes for his gun. But Ringo - of course - is faster. Darwinism at work ...
The next telling contrast is between Ringo and his old compadre, Town Marshall Mark Street. While Ringo still drifts from town to town, occasionally having to show some punk who's fastest, Mark has gone respectable and settled down. Mark is a respected citizen while Ringo's presence causes mothers to call their children indoors.
Then there's the contrast between Peggy, Ringo's estranged wife, and the gossipping, prejudiced biddies of the town. Is it any coincidence that Peggy is a teacher, representing education and, by implication, civilisation?
THE GUNFIGHTER is very tightly plotted at just 85 minutes. It seems longer because of the wealth of incident it packed into its slender running time. Film makers of today could learn a lot about how to pace a story from films like this.
If it shows up on TCM or somesuch satellite/cable channel, do yourself a favour and make the effort to catch it. It's well worth your while.
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