Man With the Gun (1955)
Considering this western casts “A” list” star, Robert Mitchum in the title role, it has the feel of a low budget entry worthy of a Rory Calhoun or an Audie Murphy. Then again, despite it’s black and white budget, Mitchum is surrounded with a top notch cast of western regulars and upon repeated viewings over the course of many years, this somber tale of a town tamer kind of grows on you.
None other than the perfect persona of a fifties western bad guy, Leo Gordon rides into a small frontier town and promptly shoots a young boys barking dog in the middle of the street. Now that’s an entrance! No one pays him no mind, least of all the aging town sheriff and just happy to be alive, Henry Hull. This opening directed by Richard Wilson sets the tone for the ensuing hour and a half running time. A town that is besieged by an outlaw force who work for a local landowner intent on running the town and everyone in it. Places like the local saloon fronted by Ted De Corsia sporting a French accent but owned behind the scenes by our mysterious Mr. Holland that the town trembles about.
Local business owner Emile Meyer has sent for a professional town tamer played by “The Mitch.” His past will come back to haunt him when he sees his old flame Jan Sterling working the saloon girls as their Mother Hen. A group of women that I’d like to point out includes the young and stunningly beautiful Angie Dickinson in an early unbilled role. While we all know these women are ladies of the night, the script whitewashes the whole world’s oldest profession routine. Bonus shot of Angie…….
Once secured in the role as the enforcer in town with no rules to bind him, Mitchum goes about killing two men in one of the local watering holes. Interestingly, the killings are done off screen, focusing on the sounds of the gunshots heard by townsfolk within hearing distance. The town’s youngest hothead is played by John Lupton who wants to handle the outlaws himself while developing a chip on his shoulder where Mitchum is concerned. His young fiancé, Karen Sharpe finds herself falling for Mitch and wishing her betrothed was as wise and manly as our star gunfighter.
Another western baddie is next up when Claude Akins rides into town in an attempt to goad Mitchum into a fight and if necessary pull a derringer from his hat to take out the lethal hand that’s been handing out it’s own brand of justice within the town’s confines.
So much so that the business owners are starting to think Mitchum’s effectiveness is causing the flow of cowboys spending money to dry up. It should also be pointed out that Mitchum’s past plays upon his psyche and when pushed, he isn’t exactly playing by the rules which becomes all too evident for De Corsia. He may be the man with the gun but that doesn’t always make him heroic when dealing out his own brand of justice brought on by his inner demons.
There are really no surprises to be found here in this western that was actually produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., who was making his first attempt here at following in his famous father’s footsteps though he did score an associate producers credit on 1948’s Good-Time Girl. It’s a straight forward tale of the west that had been done before and since. Hire the town tamer and worry that he’s driving business off or worse, become too powerful that he takes the place of the outlaws he’s buried on Boot Hill.
Also turning up in the cast is Burt Mustin who always seemed to be about 70 years old no matter what year the film or TV show he was in had been filmed. For me he’s always old Jud from the early episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Then there’s James Westerfield making an appearance as well and not uncommonly, he isn’t to be trusted.
While mainly moving to television post 1956, Jan Sterling must have been a popular choice for a leading lady among producers, casting directors and “A” list actors. Between 1950 and 1956 she played opposite some of the biggest stars in the business. Cinema icons including John Wayne, Alan Ladd, Kirk Douglas, Mitchum, Heston, Holden, Ford and Bogie. Now that’s a pretty strong resume.
Once again if you’ve been a regular visitor to Mike’s Take, then you know Mitchum (the true King of Cool) ranks right near the top of my cinema heroes so it should come as no surprise that I have found this film to get better with every viewing though my initial reaction years ago was that it wasn’t up to the usual Mitchum standards I had become accustomed to as a kid discovering his many films on late night TV. With it’s recent reissue on blu ray via Kino Lorber, I found myself revisitng it once again and liking it just a little bit more than the previous time. With a wonderful cast surrounding our laconic hero, there’s plenty to watch for and enjoy.
Give it a go.