In Raoul Walsh’s “Gun Fury,” a 1953 Columbia western,
Donna Reed plays genteel southern belle, Jennifer Ballard, who is traveling
west by stage to meet her fiancé, Rock Hudson, who plays a former confederate
soldier by the name of Ben Warren. Warren now owns a ranch in California and
all the two of them want to do is forget the war and settle down near the
ocean. Also on the stage is Phil Carey (you remember him as Asa Buchanan on
“One Life to Live;” and years earlier as Philip Marlowe on an ABC TV series).
Carey plays Frank Slayton, an “unreconstructed” Southerner who’s pretty ticked
off on the way the war turned out. He’s immediately attracted to Donna Reed, though.
She represents the kind of southern woman of good breeding he’d always hoped to
settle down with some day. He tries to ingratiate himself with her but she
gives him the cold shoulder.
Also on the coach is the lantern-jawed Leo Gordon, who has
played bad guys in more westerns than you can shake a stick at. He plays Jess
Burgess, Frank’s partner. The stage stop for the night at a relay station with
a hotel and Ben arrives to claim his bride-to-be, much to Slayton’s chagrin. At
dinner we have some character development in which we learn Ben had enough
social interaction during the war and now just wants to mind his own business
and settle down with Jennifer and ignore the rest of the world. After spending
the night in the hotel (in separate rooms, of course) they climb back on the
stage next morning, only to be attacked by an escort of Union troops, who shoot
the driver and shotgun. Turns out Frank and and Jess are stage coach robbers
and the soldiers are really members of Slate’s gang. They killed the real
soldiers and took their uniforms. There’s some gun fury action and Ben is shot
and left for dead. Slayton and his gang
run off with the gold and the girl.
So far, not a bad set up. The first cliché’d plot twist
comes right after that, however, when we see Old Ben isn’t as dead as Slayton thought
he was. It’s the old “merely a nick on the side of the head” routine. He’s
pretty upset, though, when he finds his fiancé has been kidnapped and he takes
out after them. Meantime Slayton and his gang reach a hideout and Slayton and
Jess get into a fight over the girl. Jess wants her left behind, otherwise she’ll
cause trouble. Slayton wins the argument and Jess ends up left behind and hog-tied
to a fence. Ben shows up a bit later and frees Jess and they make a deal to
ride together. Ben wants his girl and Jess wants revenge and his share of the
fortune he helped steal. It’s an unlikely alliance, but given that neither one
of them have any alternative but to work together, it’s more or less
They ride on and stop to the next town and ask the
sheriff there for help. The lawman says it’s none of his concern; the robbery
happened outside his jurisdiction. Rock’s isolationist philosophy of just
minding his own affairs comes back to bite him in the butt. But he’s determined
to get Jennifer back and Jess still wants his money. So they move on and there’s
a lot of riding and some nice views of the Red Rock country around Sedona,
Arizona, where the movie was filmed. Ben
and Jess are soon joined by an Apache who wants revenge on Slayton and his gang
for killing some of his people. The three of them eventually catch up with the
gang, who have also kidnapped a Mexican girl that gang member Blackie (Lee
Marvin) took a shine to. When Slayton realizes he’s being hunted not only by Ben
Warren, (who he thought he had killed), but also by his old buddy Jess (who
he’d left hog-tied to a fence), and an unknown Indian, well, it shakes him up.
Slayton and his gang are only a few miles from the
Mexican border, he’s got to decide what to do fast. He comes up with the idea
that they’ll trade Jennifer for Jess and everyone will go on his merry way.
Whaaaat?? Make a deal with the guy you left hog-tied to a fence, and then
suddenly give up your yen for the genteel southern belle you’ve always dreamed
you’d settle down with, and gone to so much trouble to get? Just like that? And
what about Jess? Does he really think he can get back in the gang and get his
share of the loot, after Phil was so ticked off at him that he left him for
dead, hog-tied to a fence? It’s obvious Slayton only wants to get Jess out in
the open so he can plug him. How stupid is Jess to think it’s possible to make
a deal like that? What kind of crazy deal is this anyway?
“Gun Fury” was not only directed by the legendary Raoul
Walsh, who made many great films, the screenplay was written by two well-known
pros—Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins. Are you telling me that these three
couldn’t have come up with a more believable finish to this sagebrush
potboiler? Couldn’t they see, when they got to shoot the final scenes, that the
story was going off the rails? Couldn’t one of them have come up a more
believable finish than the laughable prisoner exchange at the end? Hard to
believe. But they totally wrecked what could have been a good action western. Was
cocaine already that big a problem in Hollywood in 1953?
“Gun Fury” was one of those 3-D westerns they produced back in the fifties. The irony of this is that director Walsh only had one eye-and hence no depth perception. So he was never able personally to get much out of the three dimension gimmick. Twilight Time has transferred the film to Blu-Ray in both 3- and 2-D. What happens is, if you don’t have a 3-D player, it will automatically show it in 2-D. I viewed the 2-D version and was surprised at the depth that came through on the screen even without the extra D. Of course, there were the obligatory objects, including a potato, thrown at the camera, but there were also some nice shots taken from the stagecoach looking out over the galloping horses, that created the sensation that you were there. Unfortunately, the entire movie was extremely grainy, very rough-looking. I don’t know If it was due to the 3-D process or not. Also night scenes were extremely dark, making some adjustments to the TV necessary.
All in all, this is a pretty skippable movie, unless you’re a die-hard 3-D fan. But even then, if you’re expecting a knock-out video presentation you may be somewhat disappointed, which is unusual for Twilight Time. The only extras included on the Blu-ray disc are the original theatrical trailer and an isolated music track. It’s odd Twilight Time would bother with that since it’s all canned music that had been used in other Columbia westerns, recorded in mono. “Gun Fury” is a limited edition release, with only 3,000 copies made. The set includes an illustrated booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
John M. Whalen is the author of "This Ray Gun for Hire...and Other Tales." Click here to order from Amazon.