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André De Toth
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Comanche Creek, Colorado, 1875: Prisoner Jack Mason is broken out of jail by a gang of strangers. They use him in a robbery, then when the dead-or-alive reward is high enough, they shoot him and collect. The National Detective Agency, now knowing the gang's methods, arranges to have agent Bob Gifford jailed in Comanche Creek for train robbery. The gang takes the bait (not before Gifford catches the eye of lovely saloon-keeper Abbie). But how will the bait get off the hook? Written by
Mike O'Brien, Chief National Detective Agency:
Now, let's go over what we know so far. We're faced with a shrewd and ruthless gang of outlaws. Their operation is clever and deadly. They wait until a man with a price on his head is jailed, then spring him and use him as a front man for a series of holdups...making sure he is the only one ever recognized. The reward keeps going up. When it reaches three or four thousand dollars, the man is killed. Somebody is hired to collect the reward.
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Minor Audie Murphy western with some unexpected pleasures
GUNFIGHT AT COMANCHE CREEK (1964), done for Allied Artists, was part of Audie Murphy's last, frenzied wave of quickie westerns before his virtual retirement after 1966. It's a low-budget production shot on Hollywood backlots and nearby California locations, but within those parameters it actually boasts a well-written script by Edward Bernds, competent direction by B-movie vet Frank McDonald, and crisp photography by Joseph Biroc, a trio of professionals who were old hands at this kind of thing. It's also got a solid cast of familiar players who clearly know how to put on a good show for western fans.
Murphy stars as a Pinkerton-type detective who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang which specializes in a unique brand of caper. They bust known criminals out of jail, use them as front men in robberies until the price on their heads goes up, and then kill them and turn them in for the reward. When Murphy's partner is betrayed by someone who is secretly the brains behind the gang, Murphy is put in a particularly dicey situation--unarmed, unaided, and suspected of being the undercover agent that he is. While some of the plot turns will be predictable to western buffs, the script generates enough suspenseful situations to keep viewers glued, despite the fact that there really isn't a whole lot of action until the title shootout which comes at the very end.
Murphy is more relaxed than usual here, playing someone older, more experienced and more confident than the young, tormented loner he usually played. He's even something of a womanizer, a character touch not often applied to his roles. The star generally thrived when faced with formidable bad guys and he's got a colorful rogues' gallery to contend with here, including DeForest Kelley ("Star Trek") as the head of the gang and Adam Williams (NORTH BY NORTHWEST) and Mort Mills (TOUCH OF EVIL, PSYCHO) as convincingly snarling heavies. Also on hand are Ben Cooper (JOHNNY GUITAR) as a reluctant gang member, Colleen Miller as a lady saloon keeper, John Hubbard as the wily town marshal, Jan Merlin as Murphy's partner, old-timer Eddie Quillan as a hotel clerk, and the venerable Tom Browne Henry as the head of the detective agency. Future soap star Susan Seaforth has a brief turn in the requisite role of the rancher's love-starved daughter. Reed Hadley recites the abundant narration as if this were an episode of his old "Racket Squad" TV series. Such a strategy gives the unmistakable feel of a crime drama to the proceedings.
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