Monday, April 02, 2007

Film Review: THE QUIET GUN (1957)





 "Why the Hell isn't THIS on DVD yet?" -- Volume 16




THE QUIET GUN (1957 20th Century Fox/Regalfilms) Starring Forrest Tucker, Lee Van Cleef, Jim Davis, Mara Corday, Kathleen Crowley and Hank Worden. Directed by William Claxton.

The film adaptation of Lauran Paine’s Open Range Men was a somewhat surprising box office success in 2003. However, OPEN RANGE wasn’t the first adaptation of a Paine novel for the big screen. To find that, you’ll have to track down this effective little “B” sleeper that predates the big budget Costner vehicle by some 46 years, adapted by Eric Norden (PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER(!)) from Paine’s Law Man.

Forrest Tucker is the Sheriff of Rock River, a small town full of moral-minded busybodys who are outraged that Tucker’s longtime friend, rancher Jim Davis, has underage half-Indian girl Mara Corday living on his ranch after separating from his wife. Tucker’s friendship with Davis is complicated and somewhat strained, as Tuck is also close to Davis’ estranged wife Kathleen Crowley and rumored to be in love with her himself. With the flames being fanned by numerous townspeople, Davis is eventually forced to shoot an attorney in self-defense. Davis flees, with Tucker in hot pursuit, but several of the “City Fathers” are concerned that he will let friendship stand in the way of duty. So a posse is formed in town to catch up with Davis first. It is up to Tucker to stand up to the vigilantes and uphold the law, even if it means bringing the entire town to justice--and it might. Tucker must also investigate what is behind the intense interest in Davis’ personal life: was there a sinister motive behind the harassment that resulted in tragedy?


As directed by TV vet William Claxton, THE QUIET GUN chugs along at a lean 79 minutes, like an edgier, extended late-era GUNSMOKE episode. While it isn’t surprising to see a 1950’s Western making statements on McCarthyesque witchhunts, racism, and powerful people manipulating morality for personal gain, there are a few wrinkles on the typical presentation here. There’s no redemption for the narrow-minded, intrusive townspeople who caused a murder, as a judge makes clear while passing sentence. But his speech is the only (brief) hint of sermonizing in this tight film.

There’s a lot going on in the the heads of Davis, Crowley and Tucker that they don’t verbalize: scenes between the Tucker and the other two are stiff and formal in tone, suggesting three different once-close relationships now in various degrees of estrangement. There’s also a neat twist in the method used by Tucker’s sheriff to hold off an angry mob until the arrival of the Circuit Judge.

The usually affable Tucker rarely cracks a smile here; he’s properly authoritative in one of his better starring roles. Van Cleef is his most physically imposing adversary and shows us a full head of hair in his first scene. Hank Worden’s comic relief is especially welcome here given the tense, grim tone of the story. Jim Davis, who worked with Tucker frequently at Republic (they were antagonists in CALIFORNIA PASSAGE), is also in top form, and there are few films that gorgeous Mara Corday didn’t help during her brief screen career. Matter of fact, Corday’s presence alone should make this a cult item.

While no classic, THE QUIET GUN is a very good film. It is short and sweet with a great cast and a few interesting variations on what is on the surface a standard plot.

So….why isn’t this on DVD?

 There’s literally hundreds of “B” westerns from the 1950’s that have been lost in the shuffle, and while this one is handsomely filmed in RegalScope, it is a low budget film, fifty years old, shot in black and white.


Why it should be on DVD:

This is one example of a “B” film of the era being better than many of the “A” features, and at 80 minutes it could easily fit on a double feature DVD with one of the other deserving B’s of the decade. Matter of fact the only formal release to date was on a Republic VHS, as a double feature with AMBUSH AT CIMARRON PASS, which co-starred a young Clint Eastwood with 1950’s stalwart Scott Brady.

What a great cast: You get to see Van Cleef with a full head of hair in the very first shot, Corday at her most gorgeous, Tucker in fine no frills form, and two other great western stalwarts in top form in Davis and Worden.

While it would likely be released without extras, any input from Crowley and/or Corday, both thankfully still with us, would certainly be welcome.

THE QUIET GUN has been a particular favorite on Encore’s Western channel in recent years, showing up around a dozen times per year. Unfortunately, it's in a pan and scan version. So why not a widescreen DVD? Apparently, someone out there is watching it besides me.