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A young cowboy, whose dedication to the principles of peace and reason has earned him a reputation for cowardice, overcomes his psychological aversion to violence after his elder brother unjustly censures him for not joining in a foolhardy gunfight in which their youngest brother is killed. Written by
Gun for a Coward is directed by Abner Biberman and written by R. Wright Campbell. It stars Fred MacMurray, Jeffrey Hunter, Janice Rule, Chill Wills, Dean Stockwell and Josephine Hutchinson. Out of Universal International Pictures, film is a CinemaScope production in Eastman Color, with photography by George Robinson and music by Joseph Gershenson.
Three brothers must contend with big personal differences whilst also trying to see off a band of cattle rustlers who are pillaging from their herd.
But you don't cover me with your shadow.
So many good things involved with this production it feels unfair to label it as dull, but dull is ultimately how it ends up being after film has run its course. The cast assembled is a strong one, the dialogue is sharp and well written, and the location photography out of Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is most pleasing. Prolific Western scorer Gershenson also produces a highly effective score, very reflective of the characters' stuttering emotions. But with a running time of almost 90 minutes the makers have over stretched the family feud premise by having too many periods of story inactivity. Biggest problem of all is that the coward of the title, Bless' (Hunter) back story is never fully formed, adding little snippets here and there doesn't do it justice. For instance: it's only late in the day that we find his reputation is tarnished outside of his family, the whole damn town are down on him. A better director than jobber for hire Biberman would surely have got more from this tortured character axis.
Stockwell and Hunter are not the best of actors all told, but they fit right into the roles of two brothers made of different stuff. Stockwell does a good turn as the young and fearless one, and Hunter as the middle brother of the three effectively conveys the psychological pangs that sting him during the plot. The elder brother is played by MacMurray, who offers up a weary surrogate father performance for this fatherless family. It's the death of the father that is the catalyst for Hunter's problems. While Hutchinson adds a bit of class as the fretful mother and Wills is always good value for money. Rule gets the short straw from the screenplay, in what is a critical (two fold) role, she isn't asked to do anything other than look pretty and say soothing words to tortured Bless. The action is competently constructed, though the art of throwing a convincing punch is sadly missing here. And the ending, whilst being predictable (no shades of the far superior Saddle the Wind here), has enough warmth about it for those not in need of blackness in their Western viewings.
By definition it is very much a B movie in the truest sense of the term, but there is good in the production, even if it is undone by slackness elsewhere. 5.5/10
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