Not to far back this year I got touched for another five dollars thanks to a western collection from Universal on DVD. No big hurt on the pocket book but the fact that there were only 2 of the 8 westerns in the set I needed means I’ve been double dipped by the studio who had the other 6 on another set I’d picked up previously. The titles I needed for the movie room here both featured Fred MacMurray in the leading role. Gun For a Coward and this release that paired Fred with leading lady Dorothy Malone. It’s a title I wasn’t really familiar with.
It’s a fairly standard oater of men on the run from an angry posse who find themselves in an abandoned town with tempers running a might high over just which cowpoke’s brand is on Miss Malone and the threat of what’s out there on the outskirts of town as the darkness closes in on them. Leading the gang is the wanna be tough guy and quick tempered, John Larch who seemingly commands the group that includes the youngster, John Gavin, a “half breed” portrayed by Sydney Chaplin and the quiet, deadly Fred MacMurray who Larch is very careful not to push too far. Miss Malone has made the journey as the personal property of Larch though that is going to be put to the test as the film’s running length of eighty minutes plays itself out.
Larch rather crudely points out, “When I own a piece of land, I don’t aim to have a neighbor cultivate it for me.”
Evading the posse, the gang heads into desert lands to the point of losing a horse and barely stumbling into the abandoned town of Quantez in need of rest and water. It’s in the cooped up setting of the saloon that tempers and constant showdowns will begin to take a toll on MacMurray and company. Miss Malone who does little more than shriek for the first half hour of the film begins to see Larch for what he is, a cold blooded killer and begins to play off the other members of the gang with the promise of romance in exchange for freedom. Larch isn’t having any of it and finds the much more handsome Gavin as his main nemesis while MacMurray is always standing by, wisely talking down any showdown that may decrease their number.
Did you happen to notice Michael Ansara’s name in the credit sequence? Me too and that can only mean one thing, marauding Indians. Ansara was one of those actors like Michael Pate who more often than not, seemed to be cast as the leader or member of a warring tribe dead set on erasing any trace of whites from their lands. Here he’s biding his time for the battle that is sure to come and will leave Malone with just one suitor.
This western tale plays rather long as the script squeezes too many showdowns into the soap opera portion of our plot. On the plus side, there’s an old time wanderer played by James Barton who breaks things up and adds some depth to the MacMurray character. Fred plays it cool and comes off looking good in one of those roles that history kind of overlooks him playing thanks to his TV persona and Disney films of the later portion of his career. Dorothy Malone gives us the usual Dorothy Malone character which is to say I’m never too impressed with the blonde haired beauty. I just find to many of her roles as clichéd.
Baddie, John Larch gets a more meaty role here than he would sometimes play and plenty of screen time to boot and I find that a bonus as I have always liked his work in both film and the many television episodes he’d play in over the course of a near forty year career.
Quantez was released under the Universal-International banner, a logo that always seems to conjure up two images primarily for yours truly, welcome western adventures and sci-fi monsters of the fifties. Works for me.