"Gunman's Walk" is another obscure Western gem that has been given new life through a Blu-ray release by German-based Explosive Media. The 1958 production was filmed in CinemaScope, the widescreen process that studios relied on to combat the newly-evolved threat of television. Director Phil Karlson makes the most of the format and captures the grandeur of the open plains of Arizona and mountainous regions of California for a story of a dysfunctional family that manages to fracture even further despite the abundance of wealth it enjoys. Van Heflin plays Lee Hackett, a one-time pioneer who endured every kind of hardship and struggle to establish a ranch in hostile Indian territory. Over the years he became a state-wide legend by triumphing over adversity and by building a modest cattle ranch into an empire. Lee also helped establish the town which has now grown appreciably. Consequently he carries a lot of weight and political power with the locals. The story opens with Lee as a middle-aged widower who has two grown sons. Davy Hackett (James Darren) is the younger, a quiet, relatively shy young man with a thoughtful disposition. He is the polar opposite of his older brother Ed (Tab Hunter), an arrogant, mean-spirited person who is constantly getting into trouble. Lee prides himself on being a strict disciplinarian over his boys but in reality they realize that his bark is worse than his bite. (He even encourages them to call him by his first name.) Much to Davy's frustration, Lee constantly uses his influence to get Ed out of trouble. If he can't do it legally, he'll use bribery or intimidation.Even while Lee dotes over his eldest son, Ed has plenty of "daddy issues" with his father. He resents that he has been handed everything on a silver platter. He also is fed up with Lee's ego and constant self-aggrandizement for having endured Indian battles, gun fights and the extremities of nature in order to build and protect his business. Ed also accuses his father of wanting him under his control so that he'll never have the opportunity to become his own man and possibly exceed his Lee's achievements. Despite this tense relationship, Lee continues to spoil his eldest son even as he hopes he can exert a positive influence on him.
When Lee and his sons lead a major cattle drive into town the family relaxes afterward by living it up a bit. Lee and Ed don't adhere to the local sheriff's (Robert F. Simon) edict that no one can carry a gun in town and the sheriff is too intimidated to challenge them. Almost immediately Ed gets into trouble by getting drunk, frequenting prostitutes and insulting people- but things are about to get worse. On the prairie Ed and a local ranch hand who is a Sioux engage in what starts as a good-natured race to see who can rope a much-desired white stallion. When the other man threatens to win the prize, Ed shoves him and his horse over the side of a cliff, resulting in the man's death. Ed claims it was an accident but two other Sioux secretly witnessed the incident and report it to the sheriff, who finds his backbone and arrests Ed for murder. However Lee rides to the rescue again and gets his son off the hook by bribing a stranger to say he witnessed the incident and it was indeed an accident. But Ed doesn't learn his lesson and continues to cause trouble- this time with deadly consequences.
Despite being saddled with a "B" movie title, "Gunman's Walk" is a highly compelling, intelligently written drama that is packed with tension thanks to the able direction of Phil Karlson. The script addresses a number of hot-button issues such as abuse of wealth and the ugliness of racism, which were topics not usually covered in Westerns of the period. The film also affords Tab Hunter a role that has far more depth than the one dimensional hunks he was often saddled with playing. As Ed, he is a tragic figure- a man to be despised, yet pitied. Hunter gives a fine performance, at times managing to be charismatic and almost likable before spiraling back into villainy. He's more than matched by old pro Van Heflin, who gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as a man who created his own living hell by over-indulging the son he loves so much. James Darren is capable but rather unexciting as the younger brother, but the part doesn't have much meat to it to begin with. Katherine Grant is fine as a young woman who Darren is trying to romance despite the fact that she is half-Sioux and is looked upon as inferior by his brother and father. As with most Westerns of this era, the cast is peppered with fine character actors. Among them: Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert F. Simon, Ray Teal and Edward Platt. In all, "Gunman's Walk" is a truly fine Western that has been unjustly overlooked for decades.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray is top-notch, as is generally the case with this company's releases. It includes both English and German dubbed versions of the movie along with an interesting stills gallery accompanied by Tab Hunter crooning the Western song "Runaway", which he sings in a pivotal sequence in the film.
(Explosive Media titles are primarily available through Amazon Germany. However, you can often find imports available on eBay and other Amazon sites around the globe. Explosive Media Blu-rays are region free.)