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Friday, August 23, 2013

THE GUN RUNNERS (1958)

Don Siegel, everyone’s favorite no-nonsense helmer, couldn’t figure out why anyone wanted to make a third version of Hemingway’s TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, and a cut-rate one at that. First up was Howard Hawks’ 1944 curveball classic with Bogie & Bacall falling hard for each other on the wharf; then, in 1950 Michael Curtiz played Hemingway more-or-less straight with John Garfield & Patricia Neal. Now, Siegel was getting Audie Murphy, in a rare turn out of uniform & out of the West, to run the fishing boat-for-hire and get into trouble, along with the pretty, but pizzazz-less Patricia Owens. Add in a dud script, a small budget and plenty of tough-to-shoot/tough-to-fake action at sea and you’ve got a nasty assignment. But never underestimate the blunt efficiency of this undersung master. A smart rewrite from Daniel Mainwaring (OUT OF THE PAST/’47; THE TALL TARGET/’51' & Siegel’s own INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS/’56) and a great vet lenser in Hal Mohr can work wonders. The film’s no classic, Murphy’s awfully bland and Everett Sloane is no Walter Brennan as his lovable alcoholic sidekick. But Eddie Albert gives one of his best perfs as a scary, controlling ratfink gunrunner, in fact, all the male support is tip-top, though the gals lag behind the boys. There’s plenty of shore-town atmosphere and typically clean action set pieces & shocks, done with Siegel’s signature brutal edge. Pay special attention to his staging & camera placements during the final shootout out at sea; textbook stuff. NOTE: The film was made to be shown in an 1.85:1 ratio while the DVD comes from a full aperture print that holds a 1.37:1 image. Chances are the original prints would have been cropped down to 1.85:1 by the projectionist using a simple framing plate and, frankly, it looks fine that way. Just be sure to use your OverScan setting, not the anamorphic which will bloat all the images. (Bad on the tummies.) Or, just watch it in the squarish Academy Ratio it comes in.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT &/or THE BREAKING POINT. And there’s also John Huston’s KEY LARGO/’48 which nips the shipboard shootout for a finale.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: In his terse auto-bio, A SIEGEL FILM, Don Siegel doesn’t say much about how this one turned out, though the film is nothing to be ashamed of. He mostly talks about how painfully shy Murphy was, and reconstructs some amusing jousts with the film’s producer.

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