Sunday, January 20, 2019
High Riding Woman with a Whip
This is my entry in the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
Barbara Stanwyck was, in my opinion, the quintessential strong woman of film. I never saw a movie where she was a simpering female (unless it was to get her way, proving the "strong woman" status in the first place). Forty Guns is no exception.
Forty Guns is a western, but I also feel it has many attributes that would rank it also as a film noir. Which is not entirely a stretch, since both Stanwyck and the director Samuel Fuller have more than their fair share of film noir films under their belts. Fuller, for his part, was also the director of such classic film noir pieces as The Crimson Kimono, The Naked Kiss, Pickup on South Street and Underworld U.S.A. Of course Stanwyck made femme fatale history with such tiles as Jeopardy, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The File on Thelma Jordan and Double Indemnity.
Forty Guns (1957):
Three brothers ride into Tombstone. Griff (Barry Sullivan), the older of the three is a former gunslinger, who has now taken on a job as sort of a bounty hunter, or more specifically as an agent for the federal government. He arrives with Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix), who are seconds in his quest. He has a reputation that has preceeded him as a gunslinger, but he is now on the side of law and order.
Just outside of town a woman, Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) storms past their wagon, followed by an army of men, the titular forty guns. Apparently Jessica never goes anywhere without her huge escort. It eventually becomes apparent she is some sort of big shot in the territory and there are hints given throughout the film that some of her dealings may be a bit shady. For the life of me I couldn't really figure out what it was, but maybe I'm dense.
Anyway, Jessica does have her own army of men and they include a man named Howard Swain (Chuck Roberson), a man whom Griff Bonnell has come to arrest for crimes committed elsewhere. But before he can initiate his arrest he has to contend with a bunch of rowdies in town, led by Jessica's little brother, Brockie (John Ericson). Brockie is a really bad egg. He first has threatened the town's marshal (Hank Worden) which he follows through by shooting the poor man in the leg, and then, with his gang, begins to tear up the town. Until that is, Griff walks up to him and conks him on the head with his gun.
Jessica rides into town angry that her brother has been arrested, but also a bit peeved at her brother for causing problems. Apparently his actions have threatened the security of whatever shady dealings she has been instigating. When Griff shows up on the farm to arrest Swain, she and Griff have some words, but he goes away with his captive. The Sheriff of the town, Logan (Dean Jagger) talks with Swain, trying to persuade him not to betray Jessica (for whatever it is she is doing), but Swain says he knows things and will tell. At which point someone shoots him in his jail cell, while the sheriff ignores it. (See, even the sheriff is in on it. Whatever it is.)
Meanwhile Brockie has it in for Griff. Which doesn't bode well for Griff's relationship with Jessica, which against all odds is developing into a love. But he still has to find out who killed Swain and all evidence seems to point to Brockie. Brockie is the quintessential bad seed of the family, apparently. And it turns out that Jessica raised him since her mother died giving birth to her brother.
The other two brothers do have some impact in the film, they aren't just window dressing. Wes is Griff's right hand man, essentially his backup to make sure that brother Griff isn't ambushed in his dealings, both as a former gunfighter and now as a lawman. And Chico wants to be included in on the goings on, despite the fact that Griff wants Chico to return home and become a farmer on the family homestead.
This film has a couple of flaws if you like things wrapped up tightly. For one thing, as I said before, I have no idea what Jessica is doing that needs to be covered up. Surely it can't be cattle rustling because at one point early in the film she berates her brother over a cow in her herd that has the wrong brand. (Or maybe she is berating him because he hasn't re-branded it yet... I just don't know)
The second part that I find a bit unbelievable is how a love relationship between Jessica and Griff can develop so quickly, since initially she has nothing but contempt for the man and his former occupation. Still, if you can get past those two details, the movie is pretty entertaining. Especially if you like Stanwyck. (or for that matter Samuel Fuller...I always was a director's fan).
Well folks time to saddle up and ride off. Drive home safely.
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Forty Guns doesn't have to make sense. The film speeds through its plot with a furious energy that leaves the audience what the heck just happened!ReplyDelete
I've seen more than my fair share of movies that made no sense. Most French New Wave movies do that to me... Thanks for reading.Delete
My fondest memories of Barbara Stanwyck was always a strong women in Wagon Train and Big Valley I'm not familiar with 40 Guns but I can say this if I saw she was in it I would watch it.ReplyDelete
My library has the Criterion copy of it which includes a couple of pretty decent special features. Thanks for reading.Delete
Memorable start to a film - the sight of the 40 horses galloping along. And that dramatic scene where Griff finally gets Brockie -through Jessica! Love that line, “She’ll live.”ReplyDelete
I lover the way the music doesn't even start until the horde passes by, and then Harry Sukman's theme comes on. BTW I have only seen his name once before, on the late 70's TV miniseries of "Salems's Lot" Thanks for reading.Delete
I love this movie. I agree with Patricia, this movie doesn't have to make sense. It's just loopily enjoyable.ReplyDelete
I think the ending is pretty fantastic. It goes against everything we expect from a 50s Western. I agree Barry Sullivan's laconic "She'll live" is in a class by itself.
Forgot something. Stanwyck was maybe never a whimpering female but in No Man of Her Own she plays a fairly weak character, at least by Stanwyck standards.Delete
Since I haven't seen No Man of Her Own, my statement that I haven't seen her play a weak female is still true. I was thinking yesterday that Forty Guns is almost like a spaghetti western (by that I mean most of those made no real sense to me either, at least not the low-budget ones that tried to cash in on the success of the Leone-Eastwood ones) Thanks for reading.Delete
I love Samuel Fuller, and I love this movie! The sad part is that in my old, oft-concussed ex-offensive lineman brain, I always get this confused with "100 Rifles."ReplyDelete
Sorry to butt in on the conversation, but 100 Rifles is a very fun movie.Delete
Haven't seen 100 Rifles yet. Thanks for reading.Delete
I love this film! It's just a lot of fun, in a Saturday afternoon sit back and enjoy approach. A big fan of Barry Sullivan as well! Thanks for a great review!ReplyDelete
It was pretty god. Thanks for reading.Delete