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Lenny von Dohlen
"Gunfighter," aka "Ballad of a gunfighter," (1999) stars Chris Lybbert as Hopalong Cassidy in a story more akin to creator Clarence E. Mulford's yarns than William Boyd's films, although it's really a marriage of both. The Bar 20 Ranch, where Hopalong's babe (Adrienne Stout) and her uncle (Clu Gulager) reside, is raided by an embittered enemy (Louis Schwiebert) and his rustlers. Cassidy aims to get his girl back and set things a'right.
The movie poster proclaims in huge letters "Francis Ford Coppola presents" but, actually, Francis had nothing to do with the making of this picture; he didn't even produce it. The film was written/directed by his nephew Christopher Coppola, who's the brother of Nicolas Cage. Francis' name (which was still revered in the industry in the late 90s) was attached to the movie simply to attract viewers, which worked with me because, otherwise, I would've never checked it out.
In any case, this is a very low-budget production, falling somewhere between the micro-budget of Glenn Ford's last film, the made-for-Turner "Border Shootout" (1990), and the quality TV production "Purgatory" (1999), but closer to the former. If you can't stomach the micro-budget vibe of Westerns like "Border Shootout," I suggest skipping this.
That said, the flick has several highlights if you can acclimate. For instance, unlike the town-bound "Purgatory," there are several scenes with a glorious Western backdrop. Also, Lybbert is stalwart as the noble gunfighter protagonist. It is stressed that he embraces limited pacifism, which only resorts to violence when absolutely necessary (as opposed to the idiotic total pacifism, which foolishly refuses to ever turn to violence, even when family members are threatened with murder or rape).
Meanwhile, Adrienne Stout is hot and formidable as Mary and Schwiebert is daunting as the resentful black hat antagonist, Tex. I also liked the story-within-a-story framework wherein Martin Sheen conveys the Hopalong tale to a dispirited minstrel played by Robert Carradine. Lastly, I appreciate how the tale mixes the mythical with the realistic and leaves you with a pleasant aftertaste, rather than sour.
The movie runs 1 hour, 34 minutes and looks like it was shot in either the desert areas of Southern Cal or Arizona (I can't find any info on where it was filmed). In any case, it was shot in the Southwest, USA. Johnny Rivers wrote the superb theme song "Ballad of a Gunfighter," which plays over the end credits.
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