It was Peck's idea for Jimmy Ringo to have a mustache--to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck's disgust. Zanuck thought that moviegoers liked to see a clean-shaven Peck. The picture was not a box office success at the time, but it ranks among the Top 10 western films of all time in my book.
The Gunfighter (1950)
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It was Peck's idea for Jimmy Ringo to have a mustache--to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck's disgust. Zanuck thought that moviegoers liked to see a clean-shaven Peck. The picture was not a box office success at the time, but it ranks among the Top 10 western films of all time in my book.
But the first picture to really start things moving on the road to producing western films with a dimension of intellect and reality was THE GUNFIGHTER. Produced by Nunnally Johnson in 1950 for 20th Century Fox this was the first time audiences would be exposed to an "adult" western. A dark downbeat story of the last days of a gunfighter (perfectly performed by Gregory Peck) told with genuine realism and honesty. Stylishly written by William Bowers and William Sellers the screenplay was based on an original story by William Bowers and Andre deToth. Sharply photographed in monochrome by the great Arthur Miller the movie was directed with a positive flair by Henry King.
Peck plays Jimmy Ringo the now world weary legendary gunfighter who after many years arrives back in town to see his estranged wife (Helen Westcott) and their small son. Hoping for a reconciliation - and with plans to start over in California - his presence in the town causes a great stir among the citizens and of course attracts all sorts of young guns out to make a "reputation" for themselves one of whom, alas, will be responsible for the doom of the protagonist in the final reel.
The picture is fleshed out with a marvellous cast. Millard Mitchell is excellent as the reformed outlaw turned Sheriff who once rode with Ringo and now wants him to leave town before trouble erupts. Good too is Skip Homeier as the brash errant young gun and Karl Malden as the amiable saloon owner. Helen Westcott gives a good performance as Ringo's wife. A well measured portrayal of a woman who still loves her husband and who promises to leave with him which ultimately can never be. Helen Westcott was an interesting actress! Very attractive with classical good looks she was born in 1928 but never distinguished herself in film and is remembered now only for THE GUNFIGHTER and possibly for her humorous turn as the Lady Diana in "The Adventures Of Don Juan" (1948) as Juan's "betrotted". After many parts in many indifferent films she became just another working actress mostly on Television. She died in 1998.
THE GUNFIGHTER stands up today as an engrossing taut and dramatic western which shows little signs of wear. But I have a problem with the omission of any kind of musical score. The great Alfred Newman composed a cracking defiant and robust main title and only gave what amounts to a coda for the closing of the picture but there is no underscoring whatsoever during the movie. And there are a couple of scenes that cry out for some scoring and would have benefited with the addition of music. For a studio that boasted one of the finest music departments in Hollywood under Newman's direction Fox were the worst offenders of sparse scoring during this period. Who knows? Perhaps it was a money saving Zanuck decision but a practice I always found to be impractical, doctrinaire and at the expense of more meaningful dramaturgy. Motion pictures are not plays which depend solely on the spoken word to connect to an audience. Film has the facility, through music, to heighten emotions, point up feelings of love and loss and to embellish triumphs and pathos. Therefore, since the possibility exists to add music to a film soundtrack to enhance dramatic impact, movies should be scored!
However, underscoring not withstanding, THE GUNFIGHTER still manages to remain one of cinema's most cherished and highly regarded westerns.
It is a deep dark western devoid of gunplay(until the conclusion)highlighted by a marvelous portrait painted by Gregory Peck as Jimmy Ringo, the gunfighter, trying to escape his past.
Ringo in his younger days was one of the "fastest guns in the west" who has survived to reach middle age. As he has matured he realizes you can't change what has happened.
Everywhere Ringo goes he is perceived as the "the fastest gun in the west" and everywhere he stops there is some young gun who wants to prove he is faster than the great Ringo. In fact when Ringo stops in a dusty town, he is being pursued by three brothers of his latest victim seeking revenge.
Ringo's arrival in this town is more than just co-incidence. We learn that the sheriff (what a performance by Millard Mitchell) used to run with the Ringo gang, the saloon singer was married to Ringo's best friend, and most importantly, Ringo's wife and son live there.
The bulk of the story is spent waiting to see if Ringo who lives by his wits as well as his guns, can survive.
The acting is uniform with Karl Malden as the saloon keeper and Skip Homeier standing alongside Peck of Mitchell for acting cudos
The script by Bill Bowers is taught and suspenseful. Henry King's in his second of 5 films with Peck(their previous collaboration was "Twelve O'Clock High") brings out the essence of a tired lonely tragic man without using any tricks(In fact there is no music except for the opening titles.
If you're looking for a shoot-em-up you won't find it here. If what you want is a top flight adult western, well pardner you've come to the right film.
This predicament is best conveyed, explored and given its full tragic weight in Henry King's 'The Gunfighter.'
Ringo (Gregory Peck), wearing his reputation as the fastest gun in the south-west territories like a heavy load, enters each bar warily when he needs a quiet drink, knowing full well the reactionfear, respect, perhaps admiration, and certainly the intervention in some form or other of a young upstart with itchy gun-fingers.
Although Ringo, guilty for previous sins, tries to refrain and to avoid the shoot-out... But he is always compelled to eliminate the worthless maladjusted gunmen, wishful for a big name...
The pattern is set early on when Peck has to shoot a boy (Richard Jaecke1) in self-defense. And so a feud beginsyou feel it's only one of manywith the three brothers of the boy (Alan Hale Jr., David Clarke and John Pickard) hell-bent for revenge
Peck deals with this situation, at least for the moment, sighs and then moves on to a place that passes for home... Here is his wife (Helen Westcott) and his son, who won't, however, be providing him with a welcome since in the eight years that husband and family have been apart the wife has been trying to build a life of their own Here also is a sheriff (Millard Mitchell) formerly engaged in Peck's outlaw activities, but now reformed, and an old girl friend (Jean Parker) ready to he1p him in anything that concerns him most His actual concern is reconciliation with his wife and a new life together There is a tentative rapprochement but, of course, there is another of those young contender interventions, this time in the person of Skip Homeier
Henry King draws up carefully the ultimate end of the 'top gun of the West.' His film is an inclination towards a classical tragedy, destined to be destroyed inevitably... Peck strikes the right note from his first edgy entry... He wants to shake off his past... He is disgusted to kill in order to survive... He is aimless for a change, sick with death and glory, showing tiredness of killing, conscious to a tragic fate one day...
Peck is superb in his brief and nervy reunion with his small son, impressed like the rest of the local kids by the fact that Jimmy Ringo, the gunfighter, is in town...
"The Gunfighter", keen and penetrating, explosive and tense, is beautifully acted, tautly directed and superbly photographed by Arthur Miller in black-and-white...
THE GUNFIGHTER is another superb western from a director not normally associated with the genre. Falling squarely between the 1940s and 1950s, I was at first uncertain at to which camp this film fell into. It has all the incidents you'd expect in a 1940s oater, but overlaid with the kind of psychology and sensibilities you'd expect in a 1950s western. In the end, I decided this is a film about contrasts.
The first contrast you notice is the visual one. The movie is shot in black and white and it seems that those were the only two tones available to director Henry King. The exteriors are bright, bleached out and hard on the eyes. The interiors are dark, cool and gloomy. There doesn't seem to be much shades of grey going on (of course, I could have been watching a bad print, but work with me, here ...)
This visual contrast is echoed by the contrasts between the characters. The first of these we see is the contrast between Peck's Jimmy Ringo and the dumb kid who challenges him in the first bar. Ringo tries to talk him round, the kid won't have it and goes for his gun. But Ringo - of course - is faster. Darwinism at work ...
The next telling contrast is between Ringo and his old compadre, Town Marshall Mark Street. While Ringo still drifts from town to town, occasionally having to show some punk who's fastest, Mark has gone respectable and settled down. Mark is a respected citizen while Ringo's presence causes mothers to call their children indoors.
Then there's the contrast between Peggy, Ringo's estranged wife, and the gossipping, prejudiced biddies of the town. Is it any coincidence that Peggy is a teacher, representing education and, by implication, civilisation?
THE GUNFIGHTER is very tightly plotted at just 85 minutes. It seems longer because of the wealth of incident it packed into its slender running time. Film makers of today could learn a lot about how to pace a story from films like this.
If it shows up on TCM or somesuch satellite/cable channel, do yourself a favour and make the effort to catch it. It's well worth your while.
This film is skimmed down to an absolute minimum with Gregory Peck as Jimmy Ringo, notorious killer and the deadliest shot in the Old West. Though his appetite for bloodletting is over, Ringo is forced to stay on the run from young ambitious gunners determined to shoot him down. After killing an upstart in self-defense, he escapes to the nearby town of Caynenne. There, he hopes to convince his estranged wife (Helen Westcott) to resume their life together, but his arrival causes a sensation. With more young bucks gunning for him, Ringo's fate lies in the hands of the sheriff (Millard Mitchell), his old bandit partner.
With this film the old credo, "less is more", is evident. No great showdowns, not much action, just Gregory Peck in a great character study with carefully built-up tension. He never let me down, giving a fantastic performance, again.
Camera Obscura --- 9/10
Tautly and skillfully directed by old studio veteran Henry King, and filmed in stark black and white, this hour and twenty-five minute picture moves along at a brisk pace with nary a wasted scene, all along building suspense while painting intense character studies. Gregory Peck, as the title's badman, and Millard Mitchell as his lawman friend, both turn in overpowering performances, with fine support coming from Jean Parker, Karl Malden, Helen Westcott, and Skip Homeier. The Gunfighter is tough, tense, poignant, gritty, authentic, dramatically engaging, and first rate in every way. The story by William Bowers and William Sellers drew an Acedmy Award nomination. The movie was well received by critics but not by the paying public for some reason. Yet it is now widely, and deservedly recognized as an all-time classic Western.
That being said and without detracting from its formidable merits, The Gunfighter was hardly the first "adult" or "mature" Western, as pundits on this forum and elsewhere keep saying. To think so, you must practically ignore most of the "A" Western pictures produced in the 1940's. Does Red River (1948) with its tough, brutal, overbearing antihero and its grand epic story seem to you to have been made for children? No, and neither were any of the "A" Westerns of the same era. "Adult" can't mean sexual situations here, because there was no hanky-panky in The Gunfighter. But there was a plenty in Duel In The Sun (1946), Peck's first Western and a text book example of the way Old Hollywood movie makers knew how to steam your eye glasses without really showing much! And if show and tell is required, get a load of Marlene Dietrich's outfit in the opening scene of The Spoilers (1942). Some very immature types think "mature" means displaying a nihilistic attitude. If that's you, check out Lust For Gold (1949 -- see my review). You can wallow in its angst and love it! But that wasn't the attitude The Gunfighter had anyway. If "mature" requires a dark, brooding, doom-laden, noir-type story, take a gander at early Robert Mitchum opus Pursued (1947), or Ramrod (1947). Are we talking a concentration on character development, adult, even sexual situations, complex dramatic development, try Canyon Passage (1946), Whispering Smith (1948 -- see my review), or The Sea Of Grass (1947 -- see my review). Below is a partial list of others embodying more or less the same "mature", "adult" approaches to the Western genre.
Yellow Sky (1948), Abilene Town (1947), Station West (1948), Honky Tonk (1941), Silver River (1948), Barbary Coast (1935), Cimarron (1931), Dakota (1945 -- see my review), San Antonio (1945 -- see my review), California (1946 -- see my review), My Darling Clementine (1946), Flame Of Barbary Coast (1945), Blood On The Moon (1948), Colorado Territory (1948), and of course Stagecoach (1939). And many others.
The Gunfighter was following an established tradition, not setting a new one. But it is a fine example. A true classic from the waning days of Old Hollywood's Golden Era! In a few years, they wouldn't be able to make 'em like this one any more.
I understand that this movie did not do too well at the box office but great films are not necessarily big money-earners, and vice-versa. This is one Western which is, like the roles Gregory Peck plays in films of such genre, is atypical in that the emphasis is more on the study of central character and his inner self rather than his deeds. The only flaw I found was the lack of a proper movie score especially for some of the more tense scenes like the confrontation with the 3 cowboys, which would have highlighted the moments. Otherwise, a great film in my opinion.
A legend of the west, Jimmy Ringo is said to be better than them all, the fastest hand there ever was. Approached in just about every little town he arrives in by some kid out to make a name for himself, Ringo is tired of the heroism of the gunfighter. Pursued by the brothers of one such kid whom he was forced to kill, he decides to return to the family who would much rather forget him.
It is almost a rite of passage for kids in the modern age to grow up regarding westerns as boring old films meant only for grandparents. Indeed, this was a view I more or less maintained up to six months or so ago, Unforgiven the only western I had ever sat through. It was not until an academic approach to the genre began to peel away the predisposition that I began to appreciate the potential intricacies of the western film and the ways in which the conventions could be played with and subverted in order to create something truly great. Considering that, The Gunfighter is just what the doctor ordered. The traditional image of the western gives us a sweeping epic with horses galloping across plains, or the classic showdown on the main street with eyes appearing above the saloon door. This is none of those, the very vast majority of the film spent in a single location, Ringo biding his time at the bar while he waits to hear from his wife, if she will acquiesce to his request to see her. There is no grandiosity to Ringo the gunfighter; he is a tired old man, world-weary and deeply regretful of how he has spent his life. As the town's children pile against the window to catch a glimpse at him, he recedes further into a state of depressed resignation that this is his legacy, that this is the legend he will leave behind. The interactions between Ringo and Mark, his old friend and the now sheriff of Cayenne, are a strong part of the film's comment upon western lore. Mark is in many ways the antithesis to Ringo: he has evaded the appellation of gunfighter, escaped the same doomed fate as Ringo, and made a new life for himself of use to society and, crucially, to Ringo's family. He has all that Ringo desires and yet can never achieve. Like the greatest of westerns, The Gunfighter deconstructs the genre, reducing it to its fundamentals and criticising them for their flaws. Ringo is no role model, no heroic figure to be admired, no future for a young man to aspire to. Violence and bloodshed are not things to be admired, and the distinctly anticlimactic and entirely unromantic ending to the film confirms this.
Saying a lot about the myth of romanticism and heroism in the figure of the titular character, The Gunfighter continues the tradition of the revisionist western by reevaluating the genre's key aspects and displaying their disharmony with reality. Boasting a fantastically muted performance from Peck, and a sadly inevitable fate for his character, this is further proof of just how wrong I was about westerns.
For eighty-five minutes or so, the viewer is treated to some of the best dialog, cinematography and editing of that era, together with a truly suspenseful story as Ringo reputedly the fastest gun in the west -- stops at a small town called Cayenne to find his estranged wife and to see his young son. Hot on his trail are three determined brothers of young Eddie (Richard Jaeckel) whom Ringo had been forced to shoot the day before in another town.
Ringo thinks he's got a good lead on those brothers because he'd left them in the desert with no horses. They, however, got some fresh horses and guns from a helpful rancher and were closing in on Ringo a lot quicker than he thought...
Complicating the situation for Ringo even more is the presence of an old man who wants to revenge the murder of his son killed by Ringo or so the old man thinks. Unknown to Ringo, the old man waits across from the saloon, hiding, his rifle ready for when Ringo steps through the saloon door onto the dusty street.
But the real wild card is Hunt Bromley (Skip Homeier), a young tough who thinks he's fast on the draw and wants to prove it to all the townsfolk. And, he'll go to any lengths to do it.
Which all means that the local Marshall, Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell), has his work cut out to make sure that Ringo gets out of town as soon as possible and alive. Why? Well, he and Ringo are old buddies long ago, they both rode together until Strett decided to go straight while Ringo carried on as the gunfighter. Strett doesn't want to see his old buddy die, so for old times sake, Strett will help Ringo see his wife and son and get him out of town also. Strett makes all the necessary arrangements with his deputies and thinks all is going okay...
Then those three brothers arrive, ready for a killing...
This is a superb narrative, the action moves quickly, and the suspense builds as Ringo paces around, waiting to see his wife and boy, and as a succession of people come to the saloon for various reasons. Amongst all this tension there is an astounding piece of comedy between Ringo, Strett and some of the town's womenfolk that has to be seen and heard to be appreciated fully.
The casting for this film is generally excellent, although Helen Westcott as Ringo's wife wasn't the best choice, in my opinion. Peck is as good as he usually is solid, dour, tough as nails. But the best actor in this one, for me, is Millard Mitchell as 'the toughest man' of them all, to use Ringo's own words from the story. Kudos also go to Henry King again, who always seemed to direct Peck so well in quite a number of movies, including The Bravados (1958), Beloved Infidel (1959), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) and others.
Like Shane (1953), a few years later, The Gunfighter ranks as one of the great westerns that traces the tragedy of the lone gunfighter who's trying to change with the changing times but, for them, time is always running out too quickly...
However, and this is a big however........I have now seen both "The Gunfighter" and "Twelve-O-Clock High" (he made them in succession) and realize that he can be sensational in the right part.
His portrayal of Jimmy Ringo was so wonderful, especially at the end, I have completely changed my opinion regarding his acting ability. I also thought that Millard Mitchell (the Marshal) was excellent. The final scenes of this movie were absolutely riveting........which is not always the case with westerns. I was also not surprised to find out later that this script was nominated for an Academy Award. I would watch this movie again just for the dialogue.
No ordinary genre film, "The Gunfighter" (1950) is both a hugely satisfying entertainment and a conventional studio film with surprising depths. The surprise comes from the nature of the western in the mid-century where, with few exceptions, the black-and-white morality plays are as plain as the gunfire. Not so here, where we get the treat of seeing Gregory Peck play an antihero who has stepped far outside of conventional morality and now wants readmission, even though the bloodstains won't wash out. Welcome to Ambiguiety Gulch.
It's tempting to say that "Gunfighter" looks forward to the spaghetti western, especially in its themes of alienation and social revulsion. Frankly, though, it feels less like a western and more like a film noir. The feeling of claustrophobia is always near, whether in Peck's fear of another violent summons or in subplots involving the closeted desires of various townspeople to kill him (one gritty sequence in a boarding room is more unsettling than anything in Hawks or Ford). Surfaces are untrustworthy, motivations questionable, psychological derangement hovers in the wings, the "law" is both more and less than it appears, and as characters make startling pacts with their bloody pasts you can almost sense the triumphalism of the post-war years turning to anxiety and dread.
Downbeat and downright grim in texture, The Gunfighter is a very polished piece boasting a wonderful turn from its leading man. There are a number of highly thought of psychological westerns that focus on the tough nature of the west, rather than the fanciful guns a blazing actioners that one time dominated the genre, but few look and impact as hard as this one does. Gregory Peck is excellent as Ringo, perfectly grizzled and worn, but gigantic enough in stature to make him still a fearsome figure. That Peck is able to smoothly shift gears for a number of scenes is often taken for granted, be it showing tenderness with his boy in one scene or exuding stoic machismo when facing down bad guys in another, there's smart acting layers being revealed by the big man.
Elsewhere Millard Mitchell is terrific as Marshal Mark Strett and Karl Malden adds some lively characterisation as bartender Mac. Henry King does a great job of directing, as he keeps it tight and never lets the pace veer to a place the story doesn't call for. Arthur Miller's cinematography is tonally perfect in its high contrast starkness, framing the sadness of the main character to great effect, while William Bowers' story doesn't cop out at the end by painting the outcome with a sugar coated brush. Sombre and one of the forerunners of the psychological western genre splinter, this is one of the better films of its type on the market. 9/10
What really makes this movie shine is Henry King's direction. When the movie opens, we see the gunfighter riding across the prairie as if pursued by the devil. One is reminded of the blues classic by Robert Johnson, "Hellhounds On My Trail." It is obvious that the gunfighter is running away from something hellish but it is soon revealed that he is also riding toward something, a lost dream, a life that could have been had he followed a different trail. The gunfighter thinks he can still grasp this life, that it is not too late. But deep in his psyche he knows it will never be. He holds on to the dream but is satisfied just to see his wife and little boy one last time, for the hounds of Hell are about to catch up with him.
It's well crafted with superior performances, cinematography, and direction. The script is an intelligent, dramatic masterpiece that says a lot about man's capacity to change.
Probably one of the saddest moments was when Jimmy Ringo shares a drink at the bar next to the young upstart farmer with a wife and son, a look into what might have been for Ringo if weren't so arrogant in his youth. It sort of drove the point home that Ringo was really a nobody who everyone mistook for being an important man and the anonymous farmer was the one with real dignity and class.
The writers attempt to demystify the cult of the gunfighter in part by showing the toll it takes on him and also by showing the foolish behavior of the townsfolk who like to gawk. Then again, if the movie weren't for our curiosity about bad men like the gunfighter, would we bother to watch?
Very good and pleasant classic Western with magnificent direction and flawlessly acted by Gregory Peck who steals the show as a peaceful gunfighter who learns that he has become no better than those he hunted . A Hollywood production full of interesting characters , shootouts and intense drama . It gives a profound observance of the unities , as clock-watching as obsessively as ¨High Noon¨, it is an altogether tougher , bleaker film and a groundbreaker in its day . Peck is nice as a man just about over the hill, haunted by the dead weight of his reputation , holding a fear of loneliness , the certainly of dying at the hands of some fast-draw punks . Studio executives at 20th Century Fox are said to have blamed the film's indifference box-office on the fact that Peck wore moustache . It's an exciting western with breathtaking showdown between the protagonist Gregory Peck against proud contenders , as two gun-happy cutthroats : Richard Jaeckel and Skip Homeier . It carries an enjoyable feeling of authenticity for a Western of this period and there are nice supporting characters from Millard Mitchell , Jean Parker , Karl Malden , Skip Homeier , Ellen Corby , Richard Jaeckel , among others . In the film premiere didn't attain success , nowadays is well valued and I think it turns out to be a good classic Western. The picture is fleshed out with a marvelous cast as Gregory Peck who is excellent as a good father turned gunfighter . Helen Wescott gives a good performance as Ringo's former wife , she does a well measured portrayal of a woman who still loves her previous sweetheart and who promises to leave with him which ultimately can never be . Nice too is Skip Homeier as the brash young gun , and Millard Mitchell as the amiable Sheriff . Richard Jaeckel , at a brief acting , as a cruelly baddie role , an angry young is also terrific . Stylishly written by prestigious by André De Toth , William Sellers and uncredited : Roger Corman , Nunnally Johnson , the screenplay was based on an original story by William Bowers . The movie was directed with a positive flair by Henry King . There are many fine technicians and nice assistants as Lyle Wheeler , Thomas Little and Walter Scott in charge of Art Direction and Set Direction respectively . Good production design creating an excellent scenario with luminous outdoors, adequate interiors , saloon and fine sets . The musician Alfred Newman composes a nice soundtrack and well conducted ; it's full of agreeable sounds, and a haunting musical leitmotif . Sharply photographed with striking cinematography by Arthur Miller in black and white with negative well processed .
This one is a dark downbeat story of a gunfighter perfectly performed by Gregory Peck told with genuine realism and honesty , being one of Henry King's best films . Henry King 's direction is well crafted , here he's more thought-provoking and broody and more inclined toward a deep seriousness , and a fateful sense of fate , it is a movie that has the genuine dimension of a Greek tragedy . Henry King was an expert on compelling Adventure/Western genre . Henry King directed other classic Western as ¨ Jesse James(1939)¨and ¨The Bravados (1958)¨ with Peck again . Koster was specialist on Adventure genre as proved in ¨Untamed , Captain King , Captain of Castilla , Black Swan , Stanley and Livingstone ¨and many others . Rating : Better than average . Worthwhile watching .