A hardened Glenn Ford begrudgingly teams up with an unsavory Arthur Kennedy in this variation on the The Searchers theme by way of MGM and director Jerry Thorpe. Along the way the duo will cross paths with a cast of well known character players who populated countless westerns and television programs throughout the years. You might even consider it the closest Glenn Ford ever came to making a spaghetti western thanks to the overall flavour of the film and at times, it’s sparse backdrops.
A somber looking Glenn Ford returns to a frontier town and to a wife and kids he seemingly left years ago due to his relationship with the gun and his known reputation as a gunfighter. Moving on after dodging an opening gunfight, Ford goes out to his former homestead to find it abandoned with only Arthur Kennedy awaiting him. Kennedy lets him know that his long suffering wife and two little girls were kidnapped by Apache warriors. Lastly, he tells Ford that his wife had assumed him dead and was set to marry Kennedy himself firmly putting the characters at odds. Sheriff Paul Fix makes a quick entrance and lays out a warning to Ford that he and his gun are not welcome in these parts. “So move along.”
And so the plot is set for the two combatants who will begrudgingly team up to go into Searchers territory after Ford first uses low key threats to get some information out of a loony looking Dean Jagger. Former Oscar winner, Jagger, tells Ford the women were taken to, “something hellish towards the north.” Kennedy’s character is that of a homesteader who isn’t the violent man he sees Ford as but refuses to back down to let Glenn go it alone. The insults between the two escalate to the point of the fist fight and it’s a well staged job of choreography. The two actors do most of the stunt work in close up and out of it comes a deeper respect for each other though there remains a strong tension as to what happens when they reach the end of their journey.
The trail ahead of them isn’t an easy one and becomes a bit of an odyssey. The pair will tangle with a Mexican bandit who holds their lives in his palm when the pair are captured by his Apache raiders. This proved to be another well staged scene when Ford and Kennedy and hunted down by the warriors on horseback. From here the pair will tangle with Union soldiers in an abandoned town that includes John Anderson and Harry Dean Stanton billed here simply as Dean Stanton. These soldiers are not what they seem and prove to be another obstacle that must be overcome on the journey.
Best line in the movie? While Nico Minardos’ Mexican bandit is holding a gun on Kennedy, he attempts to disarm Ford. Ford holding a gun of his own aimed at Nico tells him soberly, “You value your life. I don’t value his.” in reference to Kennedy’s.
Coming near the end of Ford’s great run of westerns, this one offers him a less likable role in a film that has a very disjointed feeling to it. This is probably due to the various stops they make along the path to finding Ford’s family. Aside from the Cavalry, Apaches and Mexican bandits, they’ll also come across a town in the midst of a cholera epidemic where town doctor Royal Dano has resigned himself to his failures by making the victims comfortable till death arrives at their door.
The title of the film represents the gun in Kennedy’s hand and his transformation on screen which to be honest, isn’t that surprising. After all it is Arthur Kennedy who has played a number of off color characters during his long tenure as a featured player in movies and I found him a bit long in the tooth this time out. As Ford points out to him, “Get’s easier all the time doesn’t it?” in relation to the killings that the pair are forced to deal with.
Flaws there may be in this oater, most notably the locating of the women and how they are conveniently tied to stakes after more than a month as kidnapped victims, this may be lesser Ford but it’s still very watchable thanks to the cast of regulars assembled here under Thorpe’s direction who was mainly a producer and director of television fare.
On the plus side is Charles Marquis Warren as the credited screenwriter, Warren worked primarily in westerns for both theatrical release and the era of the television western craze. Movies like Arrowhead, Trooper Hook and Charro which he directed as well as wrote. He also did double duty on TV westerns like Gunsmoke and Rawhide.
To catch this latter day Ford-Kennedy outing, it pops up on TCM occasionally and is also available via the Warner Archive Collection which is where I located my copy.
I think you’ve been fair in your assessment of this film, Mike. It’s been a while since I last saw it and I too thought it was a disjointed affair, too episodic and, frankly, the characterizations didn’t really convince me. The tone is downbeat as well, which is something that’s quite noticeable in westerns of this vintage, and you don’t come away with the kind of uplifting sense that you often got from material made even half a dozen years earlier. OK, I suppose, watchable for the cast mainly but ultimately disappointing when you look at it in relation to the great work almost everyone involved did in the past.
episodic a good word. As with most of Hollywood’s great western stars, the sixties was a downward turn in product in part because of their age and due to the genre having run it’s course and lastly the rise of the spaghetti westerns.
Agree with all that. The genre had lost its direction at this point and thrashed around a bit before rediscovering itself again for a time in the early to mid-70s.
There were some interesting genre pieces around in the late 1960s but, and I’m afraid I’d have to include this title in the group, many were a let down and, mainly due to the disarray brought on by the rise of the Euro western, seemed as though they were suffering something of an identity crisis. I guess “patchy” is the word one could use to describe many of them.
Yep! Glenn’s later Westerns were a far cry from his Fifties glory days.
HEAVEN WITH A GUN,I think is the best of a bad bunch.
Such a shame Ford and Kennedy never went head to head a decade or so earlier.
I would have loved to have seen Glenn forced to shoot it out with Dan Duryea.
Ford vs. Duryea would have been a gem. Ford seemed to fit his role here but Kennedy was too old to be believable as a neighboring peaceful rancher turned evil. By this time the actor was just too well known as a possible loose cannon.