Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Forty Guns 1957

I’m not a big fan of westerns, but occasionally one will come along that will knock me for a loop, and send me out into the night howling at the moon. Forty Guns directed by Sam Fuller is one of those westerns (it’s actually more than just a “western”, it transcends the genre) that makes me holler and scream. Fuller starts this film quietly with an open rig holding three dusty men moving slowing across the cinemascope black and white western panorama, the horses suddenly react to hearing something in the distance, and then a woman all in black on a beautiful white horse comes stampeding down the road followed by 40 men on horses. They ride loud and visually around the open rig, and then they are gone, it gets quiet again, the title forty guns flashes across the screen like a newspaper headline, and this great film begins. The woman on the white horse is Barbara Stanwyck (who by the way did her own dangerous stunts) and plays Jessica  Drummond “a high riding woman with a whip” who pretty much runs and owns everything in and around the small dusty town including the men in power, and she is one tough lady. The men in the open rig covered with dust are the three Bonnell brothers played well by Barry Sullivan, Gene Barry and Robert Dix as the youngest brother. Sullivan and Barry are lawmen and occasional hired gunfighters who are on their way to the town to arrest one of Barbara’s 40 guns for a crime which doesn’t sit too well with her. This film is memorable and startling, full of erotic innuendos, double entendres and phallic metaphors and imagery some of which are very much in our faces, and is full of rich visual sentences helped by the wonderful cinematography by Joseph Biroc whose palette is made up of noirish blacks and greys. The film is basically a battle of wills between Stanwyck and Sullivan who are constantly at each other’s throats until one afternoon  when riding in the noonday sun an unexpected tornado literally brings them together as they crawl to a small cabin and well the next thing you know they’ve made love the 1957 way, with all their clothes on. Besides the imaginative and beautifully done tornado the film has many memorable scenes including a dinner scene with Stanwyck  at a huge table surrounded by all her 40 men, a wedding that becomes a funeral in a matter of minutes (Truffaut pays homage to this scene in The Bride Wore Black), a sudden suicide by hanging and one of the most poetic death scenes in the history of cinema, “I’m Killed” the villain of the movie cries as he is taken out by one of the brothers in a heated state of revenge. This is of course not a film for everyone, feminists will no doubt take take offense at the melt down of Stanwyck’s strong willed persona which she happily gives up for the love of a man, and lovers of the severe, romantic and traditional westerns of John Ford and company will probably throw up their hands in disgust and walk away from this very personal and twisted take on how the west was won. Also in the cast is the handsome John Ericson and  Dean Jagger. One of the ten best films of 1957.   


Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter