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Posing as a schoolteacher, undercover government agent Ransome Callicut arrives in 1850's California to gather intelligence about an insurrectionist plot to have the southern part of the state secede to become a slave state. When he discovers a hidden cache of weapons, he reveals his true identity and assumes command of the local army post. Aided by sidekicks Monk Walker and Olaf Swenson he battles political assassination and other intrigues to unmask the ringleader of the plot and keep the Golden State in the Union. Written by
Gabe Taverney (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The film is set in 1850s. Most, if not all, of the firearms employed in the film post-date the American Civil War (1861-1865). Examples include Colt Single-Action Army revolvers and various lever-action rifles that first appear in the 1870s. See more »
Vigorous Randolph Scott western with unusual setting
THE MAN BEHIND THE GUN (listed as 1952 in Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide) is a Warner Bros. western starring Randolph Scott and set in Los Angeles, California in the early 1850s. The script is okay, the pace is fast and it has a large, colorful cast. There are a number of interesting elements in it that are worth noting. The Southern California setting enables the script to name-check landmarks in the area: San Pedro, Santa Monica and the LaBrea Tar Pits—which two characters visit at one point. (No sightings of woolly mammoths, though.) They even mention San Luis Obispo, which is further up the coast. The plot involves manipulation of the water supply to L.A. with a corrupt politician trying to take control of it. As such, it looks forward to Roman Polanski's CHINATOWN (1974), 22 years later. There's even a direct casting connection. The actor who plays a California senator here, Roy Roberts, plays L.A.'s mayor in CHINATOWN.
There are two significant Latino characters. One is female nightclub owner Chona Degnon, played by singer Lina Romay. She's the film's resident femme fatale and she tries to recruit Scott to help out with her gun-running sideline. She sings a couple of numbers, too. Some of you may remember her from her delightful live-action cameo in Tex Avery's cartoon, "Señor Droopy" (1950). The other Latino character is famed California bandit and folk hero Joaquin Murietta, well played by Robert Cabal, an actor I'm otherwise unfamiliar with. Other movies have been made about Murietta, including the TV movie, "Desperate Mission" (1971), starring Ricardo Montalban. Murietta is seen here on the cusp of his outlaw career and he becomes an ally of the hero. He's quite handy with both guns and knives and kills seven opponents, often quite casually.
The cast includes Patrice Wymore (looking quite beautiful) as the fiancée of a military officer (Philip Carey) assigned to work with Scott. She soon finds herself falling for Scott, an undercover officer sent by Washington to put down a planned secessionist revolt. Wymore and Romay have a pretty convincing catfight at one point. Dick Wesson and Alan Hale Jr. (taking up where his dad, a longtime Warners contract player, left off) play ex-soldiers who'd served with Scott in the Mexican War and who act as his reluctant sidekicks here. They provide much of the (forced) comic relief. Dependable heavy Morris Ankrum has too small a part as a die-hard secessionist. Other dependable heavies in the cast include Douglas Fowley and Anthony Caruso.
It's all mostly shot on studio sets, with location work saved for the action finale—a spectacular raid on the water pirates' camp. In a few sequences, the film uses stock footage culled from an earlier Warner Technicolor western. IMDb says it was SAN ANTONIO (1945). I'm more inclined to say it was DODGE CITY (1939)—and it's quite possible that the footage used in SAN ANTONIO was indeed taken from DODGE CITY as well. If anyone wants to watch all three of these films back-to-back just to get this straight, be my guest.
This isn't the best Randolph Scott western I've ever seen, but it's certainly above average for him.
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