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Thursday, October 15, 2015

GUNMAN'S WALK (1958)

Unheralded, but excellent, this mid-sized Western from B-pic specialist Phil Karlson charts the sibling rivalry between wild Tab Hunter & mild James Darren. Van Heflin’s their rough, tough Dad who likes the reflection of his own reckless youth in Hunter, refusing to see signs of danger or even how much the kid resents the old man. Only when Hunter rides a Native American off a ridge in pursuit of a horse, and Darren proposes to the dead man’s ‘half-breed’ sister (Kathryn Grant) after a botched trial, do the changin’ times of advancing civilization force Heflin’s hand. Karlson stages this stuff awfully well, in town and out, though Columbia’s backlot Western street is visually none too inviting. And while some anti-racism & psychological markers are laid out too a little too plainly, Frank Nugent’s script (he was fresh off John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS/’56) is striking & effective. So too, Tab Hunter’s unexpectedly forceful perf. But just about everyone is good in here, and Van Heflin more than that. With a final flourish that may leave you in tears. Where has this one been hiding?

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Once out on a Pan-and-Scan VHS tape, the current DVD is Region 2 compatible. But the film, in its proper WideScreen ratio, has been showing up on both TCM and on the digital-antenna GET TV movie channel.

DOUBLE-BILL: Trying to move past his Teen Idol days, Tab Hunter was even better playing another heel in next year’s THEY CAME TO CORDURA/’59, but his star was in fast decline.

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