The year 1958 proved to be the one that familiar character player Charles Bronson took his first shot at becoming a leading man. Moving from films like Run of the Arrow and Jubal, he starred in four “B” films released during the calendar year. Of the four, only one has really gained any cult status. That being the Roger Corman directed Machine Gun Kelly. This title however is the first release that allowed Bronson top billing during his long career.
For this Gene Fowler Jr. directed western, Bronson plays it very low key for the seventy minute running time. He’s playing a bounty hunter who rides into a small western town forcing a man with a $200 bounty on his head into a gunfight. When it’s over in a flash, the man lays dead on the hotel restaurant floor with Bronson standing over him. “He drew first. You saw it.” he says to no one in particular.
He’s about to find out the town doesn’t cotton to bounty hunters and no one is willing to identify the man as the wanted party. Until he can find someone willing to swear out on oath, he can’t collect his bounty.
It’s a rather simple plot that pretty much plays like an extended episode of any number of fifties TV westerns minus Matt Dillon or Bat Masterson. On the plus side is the fact that the film plays more to character development than one might expect for a short black and white lower bill B western.
It seems Bronson is a rather short man who hides behind a gun to make up the difference in height versus many of the men he must take down. I have no idea if Bronson was all that short in real life though I do no he was shorter than Telly Savalas. In the Dirty Dozen line up Bronson was number 9, Savalas number 8. Number 1 being the tallest. That position was held by Clint Walker which should come as no surprise.
Bronson’s bounty hunter may have found an ally in a lonely girl working as a waitress in the town’s hotel who he takes a shine to. A diamond in the rough who hides behind her own shame. They read each other well in seeing a mirror image of each other. Both searching for a place to call home and someone to share their life with.
“There’s a boot hill in every man’s soul.” or “Lost faith in you’re gun?”
Great lines delivered by a restrained yet effective John Carradine as the town everything. Meaning he’s the barber, the doctor, the undertaker and who knows what else. Carradine was no stranger to low budget fodder but usually they were of the monster variety where he usually goes over the top slicing the ham a little thick.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
But it is rather refreshing to see him as the wise older man who offers Bronson more than one kernel of knowledge throughout the young actor’s first go around in the lead role. It’s a good role for John who would turn up years later in Bronson’s The White Buffalo in 1977.
Another actor of the B film variety here is Robert Hutton. Hutton like Carradine appeared in more than his fair share of low budget monster titles including The Colossus of New York and opposite Carradine again in the utterly enjoyable Invisible Invaders.
Bronson would also turn up with this film’s director, Gene Fowler Jr. once again in 1958’s Gang War. A film that could easily be termed as a template for the future Bronson vehicle Death Wish.
On the trivia side of things, I could have sworn Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales walked into frame in an unbilled minor role. You may recall him as the hotel owner in Rio Bravo who sides with Duke and plays cupid to Wayne and Angie. Turns out he has a brother that is also an actor under the name Jose Gonzales-Gonzales. Just when I think I know it all.
Boot Hill was released on DVD and blu by Olive Films and if you wondering whether or not I have the original one sheet because it’s a Bronson film, yes sir I do.