Genre Pictures III

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Forty Guns

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 29, 2015

What an opening! The notion is nervy enough, in-the-story, & stylistically. More impressive is that Fuller et al. have the courage of their convictions, and the craft as well, to see it through all the way to its logical end. Has to be seen to be believed.

I was going to say that nothing in this fine film quite measures up to that first salvo. Then I remember the character dynamics, the post-Earp brothers (as in Ford, 1946, q.v.) fraternity amongst the more-or-less lawmen, so superbly counted by the the crazier than Widmark perfidy of Ms. Stanwyck’s younger brother, and by the formidable Babs herself. I remember how in addition to good guy/bad guy oppositions we also have characters that demonstrate such surprising, pleasing and plausible psychological depth. Forty Guns is an out-and-out Western melodrama. And then again, it’s not. I remember too the refreshing courage of an avowedly, unashamedly middle aged romance—compare, if you will, the distribution of the John Wayne, Angie Dickinson and Rickie Nelson characters in the otherwise astonishing Rio Bravo (q.v.)—not to mention the problematical, wouldn’t-put-it-past-him-to-have-done-it-on-purpose, almost Taming of the Shrew-echoing conclusion. And how can I forget that gunplay, its staging, the shocking, appalling, cathartic way in which violence breaks out. Cinemescope!

Do you know Sam Fuller? He’s not really for the faint-hearted. His films refuse to behave the way you expect them, and really half want them to. They can be untidy, unseemly, intractable. Then again, have I heard you complaining about how cautious and unsurprising most movies can be? Be careful what you ask for. Or, if you really have been careful, here’s the answer to a big portion of your problems.