A reformed Gunfighter Jimmy Ringo is on his way to a sleepy town in the hope of a reunion with his estranged sweetheart and their young son who he has never seen. On arrival, a chance meeting with some old friends including the town's Marshal gives the repentant Jimmy some respite. But as always Jimmy's reputation has already cast its shadow, this time in the form of three vengeful cowboys hot on his trail and a local gunslinger hoping to use Jimmy to make a name for himself. With a showdown looming, the town is soon in a frenzy as news of Jimmy's arrival spreads. His movements are restricted to the saloon while a secret meeting with his son can be arranged giving him ideas of a long term reunion with his family far removed from his wild past.Written by
Over a span of exactly 10 (1949 - 1959) years journeyman director Henry King shot five films starring Gregory Peck; two of them, The Snows Of Kilimanjaro and The Bravados were pretty ho-hum whilst the last one, Beloved Infidel with Peck as Scott Fitzgerald (King's next and final film was Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night)was woefully underrated and has still to find its audience. The first two, shot back to back, 12 O'Clock High and this one remain the pick of the bunch, two early and excellent studies of psychological stress. The Gunfighter is shot through with the air of inexorability that has been with us since Euripedes, Aeschylus and Sophocles were writing out of Athens in the 5th century BC. You are what you do; you can't reform and hope the Gods will forget your past. Take one false step and you've sealed your own fate. It's hard to think of an actor who, at the time (1950) could have conveyed an essentially decent killer (Alan Ladd of course did something very similar three years later in Shane but Ladd somehow lacked Peck's gravitas) so perfectly. Woefully underrated as an actor Peck was right on top of his game here, as he was in 12 O'Clock High and if they even considered 85 minute movies for Oscars then his Jimmy Ringo may well have preceded his Atticus Finch statuette-wise. William Bowers provided a very literate screenplay and snatches of dialogue have remained with me for years: an arrogant young punk (Richard Jaeckel) remarks to his barber-shop cronies that Ringo doesn't look so fast to him, 'I bet I'm faster than him', to which a friend replies drily 'if you're not can I have your saddle'; and Karl Malden's loquacious bartender, full of reminiscence of earlier encounters with Ringo 'I used to serve you and Bucky Harris all the time', to which Peck replies, equally drily, 'did we ever get a drink?'. Millard Mitchell was in both movies (12 O'Clock High and Gunfighter) and here he plays outlaw-turned-marshall Strett and serves as an illustration for what Peck's Ringo MIGHT have become if the Gods didn't have it in for him. We cover a lot of ground in 85 minutes whilst perversely seeming to have all the time in the world with King allowing his camera to linger on two-shots. Helen Westcott doesn't have much to do as Mrs Ringo but she lends just the right air of respectability that makes it hard for us to picture Ringo as a cold-blooded killer. As other posters have pointed out for a Western there's not all that much gun-play or even fistfights yet it towers over other Westerns that are packed with action. A real treasure.
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