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`Can I touch it?' asks Barbara Stanwyck's cattle queen, presumably
to Marshal Barry Sullivan's gun. `It might go off in your face', replies
Marshal. In this brief interchange lies the implicit heart of Sam Fuller's
somewhat surreal and operatic western, `Forty Guns'. Fans of more
western movies moseying in from great but chaste works like `My Darling
Clementine' or more contemporary cheroot-grinders like `Silverado' will
their expectations seriously challenged.
`Forty Guns' gets your attention immediately with a thunderous opening-credit ride-by. Ms. Stanwyck is astride a pure white stallion leading her Forty `guns' in a column of twos, like a female Custer on her way to a last stand that only she might be able to imagine. As the riders flow, without breaking stride, around a buckboard carrying the three Bonnell brothers, of whom Barry Sullivan's Griff is the eldest, each bro registers the proceedings with a facial expression consistent with his age and experience. It is, perhaps, with the exception of the previously-quoted sequence, the best moment in the film. The dust having settled, much of it on the Bonnells, 164 hooves fading into silence, the brothers repair to a nearby town for a rollicking bath. Thus it begins. Eventually it ends. You may or may not be quite sure what happened in between. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.
In terms of fundamental style, `Forty Guns' is really a 50's TV western jumped up the big board, complete with that genre's trademark, clothes-make-the-hombre ambience. The 50's TV western was a highly stylized form in which anyone having the correct attire could be a cowboy, even Gene Barry, who plays the middle Bonnell brother. Mr. Barry went on to a successful TV career, launched by the series `Bat Masterson', in which his undeniable urbanity percolated up through his character for several seasons, forcing out a Masterson who was rather too smirky, and overburdened by savoir faire. (The real Bat, born in rural Kansas, was a colleague of Wyatt Earp, and cut from the trans-outlaw cloth. He had polish, compared to many contemporaries, but was not a fop). A form as stylized and libidinously constrained as the 50's TV western then falls into the hands of Samuel Fuller, one of Hollywood's most intense and emotional directors; a man who would have shoved a submarine through a soda straw if he had felt the cinematic need. In the case of `Forty Guns', the result is a movie that struggles to proceed, straining in one direction while constantly implying that it would love to go in any number of others, like a big dog on a short leash. But it is this quality that gives the film much of its cult appeal. I'd be hard pressed to call it a good film, although many would. But it is absolutely interesting.
`Forty Guns' should probably not be anyone's first Western (It's really film noir, podnuh). Said person might not ever want to see another. Still, it's worthy of appreciation, if for no other reason than for what it tried to be. Westerns of the 60's and 70's (of which I remain a die-hard fan) often did service by examining sensitive social issues, mainly racism, buffering them with the remove of a century or so. Why not a western that attempts, in its own unusual way, to examine sexuality? Post-feminist womanhood will not be thrilled with the somewhat perfunctory, testosterone-uber-alles ending. But, given the rather startling preceding scene, the ending is entirely consistent with the film's innate strangeness, and its apparent message: love may be over-rated and should probably be avoided whenever possible. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like `Forty Guns', at least under a Stetson, though certainly under a snap-brim fedora. `Johnny Guitar' is in the same angst-arama zone but it's a girl-fight. In `Forty Guns', Barbara Stanwyck, though certainly a presence, is more the May Pole around which the boys gyrate, or on which they hang. The only films I can recall hitting me in quite the same way were some 60's products of the Kuchar Brothers (George and/or Mike). Kuchar films were works of droll, satirical, goofiness that happened to have assumed cinematic form (try keeping a straight face while just reading a list of their titles). `Forty Guns' felt much the same at times but was, apparently, being serious.
`Forty Guns' might stand up quite well to a remake, now that most audiences and studio suits have accepted that sex exists; preserve the stylistic essence of the original but let it be as tumescent as it needs to be. There is actually nothing wrong with the fundamental plot, which I won't reveal so you can project your own understanding. It simply lacks a certain level of on-screen flow. Story elements sort of roil in and out of view in this nearly over-full cauldron. But they're all in the same film, which helps. `Forty Guns' has a slightly messed-with feel to me and may not be entirely what the late Mr. Fuller had in mind. But, unfortunately, we probably won't be seeing a director's cut. The song, `High-riding Lady with a Whip', should certainly be preserved in any remake. It's a piece of music that is as hilariously strange as the rest of the film; one that seems to take itself entirely seriously while making you wonder, `Can this really be happening?'
Don't get off the Sam Fuller train at this outlying station. Fuller's the real deal, an artist who wielded a very distinct brush. Reboard and move on to the `The Steel Helmet', his gritty Korean War drama. If this one works for you, consider hanging out in Fullerville for a while. Anyone who appreciates film should become familiar with his work. And, if you thought the device of looking at one's target through the bore of a gun originated with the James Bond films, `Forty Guns' will set you straight, right down to the lands and grooves.
Jessicca Drummond ( Barbara Stanwick ) is an untameable owner who rules
over a small city in Arizona county . The cattle queen is supported by
a little army formed by forty gunfighters . Her power will be modified
in arriving the Bonnell brothers ( Barry Sullivan, Gene Evans and Dix
). One of them ( Sullivan ) is proclaimed sheriff and his vision from
law and justice differs quite of Jessica Drummond and her brother (
John Erikson ), a young gunman eager to take up a life of crime .
This is a magnificent Western plenty of violence , hatred ,gun-play, an impossible love story...in a word : emotion , besides it contains effective action sequences as the raid on the small town . Of course , there are ritual shootouts among gunslingers confronting each other in some quick-draw duels in the accepted Western movie fashion , but this time with no observing the honorable ¨ Code of the west ¨ . The showdown isn't the usual because of it is developed of strangest manner and no habitual rules , just like is seen at the initial and final feud . The film has exciting and captivating images as when Barbara Stanwick appears riding in her white stallion with his forty henchmen worn in black and in column( just like Alibaba and the forty thieves from ¨Thousand and one nights¨ book ) and strange images of a dead man on the showcase with the caption : murdered by Bonell brothers and shot in back . Furthermore , it packs a sensational black and white cinematography by Joseph Biroc . The film gets excellent edition by Gene Fowler , he is a famous editor and occasionally director of Western and Sci-Fi ( I married a monster from outer space , I was a teenage wolf ). Samuel Fuller direction is inspired , he directed other three especial Western ( Run of the arrow , Baron the Arizona , I shot Jesse James ). But ¨ Forty guns ¨ is the best , he realized a thrilling and fascinating story , nowadays converted in an essential and indispensable cult movie. Rating : Better than average. Wholesome watching .
If you've never seen this film, I think you'll find it a bit different
from most classic westerns. It's really more of a film noir, I thought,
and I liked that angle. I say "film noir" because of feel. This western
had stark black-and-white photography with tons of shadows and it had a
dramatic scene near the end that was very noir-ish. I was very
impressed with the ending, and that's all I will say as to not spoil it
The DVD has the option of fullscreen or widescreen. Please consider the latter, because that is how it was presented: in "cinemascope," and you'll want to see photographer Joseph Birac's work in all its glory.
For Barbara Stanwyck fans, this might be a little disappointing because Barry Sullivan is the star of the film, not her, despite the billing. Sullivan plays "Griff Bonnell" and he is the principal figure in the movie, although Stanwyck's presence and character in the story are very strong as "Jessica Drummond." "Griff," along with his brothers, played by Gene Barry and Robert Dix, have more lines than Stanwyck, who doesn't even come on screen until 20 of the 80 minutes have elapsed.
All the characters are pretty interesting, however, no matter what their screen time. Those include some strange supporting roles, particularly two lawmen who don't sound and act like lawmen: Hank Worden's marshal role in the beginning and Dean Jagger's stint as the sheriff who has designs on Stanwyck.
To repeat, this is an odd story. I mean, how often does one see a tornado in the middle of a western movie? Some of the lines in here were quite profound, too, and some were uttered really stupidly. It's a curiosity piece, that's for sure.....but definitely worth watching if good photography and odd characters interest you.
This movie is one of my favorite Sam Fuller films and for that matter of one Stanwyck's best. This was one of Stanwyck's later pictures when she had a lower price range and she made some of her best pictures in this period. I know not too many people are going to agree with that but so what. Barry Sullivan never made it out of the "B" pictures and when he did he was just in a supporting role. Sullivan plays a Wyatt Earp type with his two brothers and he just wants to retire. The old west is dying out and Stanwyck would also like to get out. This movie sort of reminds you of Johnny Guitar with Joan Crawford but it would hard to say which one is better. If you are a fan of Stanwyck's or Fuller's would should see this movie.
When Fuller made this film he was influenced by "Rebel Without a Cause" for the role of John Ericson. He also placed sexual double meanings like when Barbara Stanwick describes a man as "everything with two feet and a gun". He also stated in his biography: "My forty guns were forty p---ks. My powerful heroine had her way in the sack with all forty, then cast them aside for the forty-first "gun", Griff." There are two scenes which are kind of surrealistic, the first at the beginning when you see Barbara Stanwick in a white horse followed by the forty men in dark horses wildly galloping. The second when Barbara is shown having dinner with the forty men in a luxurious giant table all of them impeccably dressed. That's the kind of scenes you would expect from Bunuel, who knew Fuller. By the way, the setting for this scene was from "Tara" of "Gone With The Wind" remodeled. Barry Sullivan, Gene Barry and Robert Dix are the three brothers who come to town and get in trouble with John Ericson, Barbara's brother and the sheriff Dean Jagger.Gene Barry falls in love with the beautiful Ziva Roddan. The final shootout is fantastic, Fuller got inspired by an incident that happened when he was fighting in World War 2. The Cinemascope in black and white is superb and the hysterical pace of the film keeps you constantly on the edge.
This is the only one I've watched from a handful of Westerns Fuller
made - and it's just as individualistic as any of his War films!
Despite the presence of an A-list star in Barbara Stanwyck (past her
prime but still extraordinary), at a mere 80 minutes, the film was
pretty much considered a second-feature - which isn't necessarily a bad
thing, since this very compactness allows it greater focus on the
themes inherent in Fuller's script (which are pretty much treated like
high melodrama in the rampant style of Anthony Mann's THE FURIES
, also with Stanwyck, and Nicholas Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR )!
Still, the rest of cast is equally impressive - especially Barry Sullivan (though never quite achieving stardom, he's suitably imposing here as the ageing but steadfast hero and matches Stanwyck every step of the way), Dean Jagger (in a role vaguely similar to the one he played in BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK , but with even fewer redeeming qualities) and John Ericson (also from BLACK ROCK, but in a completely different role as Stanwyck's hot-headed younger brother). There's also crooner Jidge Carroll on hand (in his one-and-only film) who, apart from performing two tolerable ballads, acts as a sort of Chorus to the proceedings!
Besides, the film features a number of effective scenes (an ambush, a hurricane, a matter-of-factly-presented suicide and a remarkable final shoot-out) - which are made even more memorable by Joseph Biroc's superlative 'Scope photography.
Forty Guns (1957)
Sam Fuller's style is uncompromising and over the top. He pushes both melodrama and visual drama. And he's also extremely astute handling the actors and the space and light they move through. His movies are definitely experiences, from "The Naked Kiss" to "The Big Red One" all the way back to the masterpiece, "Pickup on South Street."
And he usually tells a strong clear story. That's the big weakness here. It's as if all the over-sized elements, including Barbara Stanwyck as this unlikely woman power queen frontier figure with forty men at her beck and call, are juggled around enough to keep it interesting just on their own. Not only will the progress of events be sometimes confusing, it will at times also be too unlikely to hold water, which is even worse.
Not that the movie isn't a thrill to watch. I mean watch, with your eyes. The sparkling widescreen photography is so good, so very good and original, you can't help but like that part of it. In a way that's sustaining--it's what kept me glued. But that's my thing. I'm a photographer. I love the physical structure of movies. This movie was made for me. It's made to be studied.
And that's what "Forty Guns" is famous for, an over-sized influence. The French writers of the time (like Godard) and some later American upstarts (like Tarantino) have praised the filmmaking, if not always the film. You can certainly see, and appreciate, how much a movie like this foreshadowed the spaghetti westerns which have become so famous, but which were made six and more years later.
And that's worth remembering, too. Westerns, as a genre, are well worn by now. The themes have been worked and overworked. To make a new fresh western means pushing it to some limit, and for Fuller that means a soap opera exaggeration. That means galloping horses endlessly around a waiting stagecoach as the horses jump in fear. That means a man walking up to his rival and walking and walking, far longer than it would take to cover the hundred yards shown, until reaching him and punching, not shooting him. It means a final glorious scene that is shown farther and farther in the distance and all you see are two little dots as figures--and yet you know what just happened, and how satisfying that is.
And how unreasonable the events were getting us to that point. "Forty Guns" plays loose with archetypes in a pre-post-modern way that has made it weirdly contemporary. Fuller's films, like his unlikely contemporary Douglas Sirk's, have taken on a life of their own, as flawed as they are. This may not be the best place to start to love his work, but it's a good place to start to understand where movies had gotten to--some would say fallen--by the late 1950s. Check it out.
Sam Fuller actually made a good number of westerns in his early career,
and thanks to DVD we are finally able to see these at home just in
these past few years. I can't say how long I was looking for "Baron of
Arizona." Pleased to say that this one is just as ambitious and
fulfilling as the other two that I've seen, "Baron" and "I Shot Jesse
James." Barbara Stanwyck is welcome in ANY western film as far as I'm
concerned, and Barry Sullivan's "long walk" is the most stylish you'll
ever see. Dean Jagger provides his usual characterization of a
conflicted and compromised noble man.
Fuller centers the film around a few key scenes, specific confrontations that define the rest of the action surrounding them. His sense of style in terms of the characters and their interactions with their surroundings is impressive. For instance the scene with the man who's supposed to trick Griff into an ambush -- we really get to know that character and sense his fear just in a short time. I love how he and his actors make use of accidents and physical limitations of the sets. For instance there's a bit where Sullivan is running towards the action and a tumbleweed comes across his path, and he leaps across it in a really stylish way. In some circumstances that could have become a ruined take, but Fuller obviously has his actor so much into the spirit of the scene that he basically reacts in character. You can sense Fuller's ability to focus his actors that way hanging over both the action and dialog scenes.
I'd have to see the film again to really say much about its theme or its subject, but it seems to be in the classic mold of westerns about the end of the "Old West." Stanwyck and Sullivan represent different types of iconic western presence that will depart from the world forever with that ending.
The conclusion of the film is a bit underwhelming, but other than that I really have no complaints about this film. It's fine western entertainment from the closing days of the western about the closing days of the west.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If anything could be counted on from director Fuller, it was the unexpected. Whether it's a bald prostitute beating a man with her high heel ("The Naked Kiss") or a group of soldiers delivering a baby inside a tank during WWII ("The Big Red 1"), chances are that viewers watching a film of his are bound to get a surprise or two. In this rousing western, things get off to a blistering start as the title henchmen are galloping along a dirt road, led by their queen (Stanwyck), all dressed in black atop a white horse. Facing them in the opposite direction are Sullivan, Barry and Dix who are on their way into town. After the experience of eating the dust of 41 horses, the first thing they must do is find a bath! Fortunately, Carroll runs a bathhouse which boasts a bevy of half-barrels out back, situated so that a half-dozen or so men can wash up all at once while listening to him croon a love (?) song he's written about Stanwyck entitled "Woman with a Whip"! And this is just in the opening minutes of the film. Meanwhile, Stanwyck's baby brother Ericson is shooting up the town, up to and including the aged Marshal Worden who is all but blind. When Sullivan gives him what-for and takes Worden's place, Stanwyck and her built-in set of corrupt officials must scramble to avoid being found out. Sullivan and Stanwyck enjoy a give and take romance until things go sour, notably on the day that his brother Barry marries gunsmith apprentice Brent. Far more interesting than the rather routine elements of the story is the way that Fuller presents everything. The music is highly dramatic, the script is tangy, the shots are inventive and the staging of sequences is intriguing. The level of violence and cruelty is substantial for a 1957 film. Yes, Stanwyck does occasionally look silly with her frilly dresses and her obvious hairpiece (items she would practically eliminate, at least after half a season, when she later took TV by storm on "The Big Valley"), but her persona shines through nonetheless. She appears to have completed at least some of her demanding stunt work. Sullivan gets to strut his stuff as one very imposing gunslinger and is a good match for Stanwyck. Able support comes from Jagger as a sycophantic sheriff and Ericson as the practically deranged delinquent brother. Brent looks a wee bit ridiculous with her fluffy, blonde hair obscured slightly by a visor. Barry demonstrates a smooth quality that would serve him well in his TV roles. There are many memorable sequences, such as Stanwyck's dinner table and the resolution of a strange knocking sound in her home. There's even a tough little sandstorm, caused by a tornado. Unfortunately, a studio-imposed ending alters the way Fuller wanted it all to play out, but that one misstep doesn't wreck the entire film.
I often record films off TCM or other film channels and I'll nearly
always record westerns. Often I don't get past the first few minutes
but every now and then I come across a real classic. I wasn't aware of
this film or its cult status when I watched it so I was able to form an
opinion without a prior bias.
Firstly I was impressed by the opening scene of Barbara Stanwyck and her forty horsemen thundering across the screen and richness of the black and white cinematography. The film itself immediately grabbed my interest and the dialogue was at times cheesy, at times full of sexual innuendo, but always interesting. It was only when it came to a scene where the Bonnell brothers are walking through Tombstone that I realised I was watching a single shot that went on and on and on. There's no merit in doing long tracking shots just for the hell of it but this was something that worked beautifully.
The composition of many shots and their realisation was quite magnificent and I would love to see this on a big screen now. One scene where a widow is shot from below and there is a long pan past the hearse to a singer under a tree and back again puts most modern music videos to shame.
It has to be said that this is also one of the silliest and campest films ever made with its emphasis, not to mention song, on a "high riding woman with a whip". The general fondling of firearms and sexual references are so blatant that it seems surprising that this film wasn't universally condemned by the usual suspects on its release.
I was also impressed by the cast who weren't what you might expect for a western. I especially liked Barry Sullivan's pre-Leone, pre-Eastwood portrayal of the gunslinger.
All in all a complete delight. I'm looking forward to watching it again.
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