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Behind a narration in the style of Jack Webb on TV's "Dragnet", U.S. Marshal Sam Nelson, posing as Sam Smith, is sent to a gold-boom town in California to learn the identity of three killers. Posing as a gunman and killer, he soon strikes up a friendship with card-sharp Alf Billings after saving him from being lynched when caught cheating in a card game. Billings suggests they become partners as his skill with cards (overlooking the near lynching he just escaped) and Sam's ability with guns should make them a fortune. Sam agrees, hoping that Billings will lead him to the men he is hunting. Billings leads him to Coldwater sheriff William Norris and Ernie Walker, Norris's partner in a saloon and gambling operation, both implicated in the murder case Sam is investigating. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
The Forty Niners may be a western, but it has the tone and documentary approach of a film like Calling Northside 777 or The House On 92nd Street modern crime dramas. It could also be compared to Dick Powell's Station West, a noir like western.
Wild Bill Elliott did this one for Allied Artists and it's a no frills western with accent on characterization as opposed to action, though we have enough of that. Elliott is a US Marshal working undercover to find out who killed one of his peers. It was a modern contract killing and they've got the guy who paid to have it done. He gave up the name of the middle man who arranged the contract and Elliott searches for him to lead him to the killers.
That middle man is Harry Morgan, a small time crooked gambler who has other sidelines. The rather strange bond that forms between Elliott and Morgan is what drives The Forty Niners. In fact in a way Morgan gets the girl here in the person of Virginia Grey who is married to one of Elliott's suspects.
The Forty Niners which title fixes the year and place the story takes place in is a good western with some really good characterizations. It was one of Harry Morgan's best screen roles and if you see it I'm sure you will agree.
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