Saturday, July 25, 2020
Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, Forty Guns is the story of a rancher with 40 men as her posse as her rule of a county is Arizona is threatened by the arrival of a new marshal whom she falls for despite the fact that he’s hunting for one of her men. The film is a western that play into a conflict that might occur as a woman is torn for the man she’s battling against and protecting one of her own. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Gene Barry, Dean Jagger, and John Ericson. Forty Guns is a riveting and rich film from Samuel Fuller.
The arrival of three brothers at a small county in Arizona brings some order following a series of incidents by a posse of 40 men who all work for a woman rancher as she is someone with power but would fall for the eldest brother who becomes the town’s lead marshal. It’s a film that play into this era of the Wild West that comes to an end largely as there’s a man working for the Attorney General’s office in the state of Arizona who arrives to bring some needed order but also allow this rancher to maintain some control due to the unruly actions of her younger brother. Samuel Fuller’s screenplay is largely straightforward in its narrative while exploring two people who are both at major transitions in their life. For the rancher Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), she has all of the power to rule this small town and its county yet becomes uneased by the actions of some of the people in her 40-man posse including her brother Brockie (John Ericson) who has brought chaos and destruction to the small town of Tombstone.
The arrival of Griff Bonell (Barry Sullivan) would be a challenge to Brockie as their first confrontation would have Griff beat up Brockie but have him return home as a way to not escalate the conflict despite the fact that one of Drummond’s men in Howard Swain (Chuck Roberson) has been charged for mail robbery prompting Tombstone’s sheriff Ned Logan (Dean Jagger) to handle the situation and create more trouble. Yet, Bonell would get to know Drummond as an encounter with a tornado would bring them closer that only furthers the tension between Bonell and Drummond’s posse who sees him as a threat to their lifestyle.
Fuller’s direction is immense in its presentation as it is shot on location at various deserts in Arizona to play into the look of the Wild West that is dominated by this woman and her posse of 40 men as they can do whatever they want but haven’t made anyone’s life any easier including its leader. Fuller uses the wide and medium shots to get a scope of the locations as well as these long tracking-dolly shots that goes on for more than a minute in scenes where Bonell is talking to someone whether it’s his brother Wes (Gene Barry) or some of the people at the town. There are also some unique compositions that do play into the growing relationship between Drummond and Bonell as Fuller’s usage of close-ups and medium shots help add to the intimacy while taking great advantage of some of the interior locations to get a scope that includes an intense conversation involving Sheriff Logan, Drummond, and Bonell with Bonell being the subject of the discussion. It also play into some of the drama as it relates to Drummond’s conflict about her future as well as the fact that her own empire is crumbling.
Fuller also play into this air of disobedience as it relates to Sheriff Logan, Brockie, and a few others who feel threatened by Bonell yet some are aware of Bonell’s past as a gunslinger as his first confrontation with Brockie would be more of a battle of wits than skill. Fuller also displays some unique imagery as it relates to some stylish compositions such as the blurry vision of the previous marshal John Chisholm (Hank Worden) as well as other bits that help play into the chaos that is happening early in the film. Fuller also plays into the suspense as it relates to Bonell being a target as Fuller uses certain locations in the town as well as point-of-view shots of what might happen. The film’s climax is about a town trying to reclaim some order but also deal with the problem at hand with Bonell having to do what he feels is necessary for himself and for Drummond. Overall, Fuller crafts a majestic yet riveting film about a woman landowner/rancher falling for the new marshal as she copes the unruliness of her posse.
Cinematographer Joseph Biroc does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white photography in the Cinemascope film stock with its usage of natural light and shadows for scenes in the day as well as some unique lighting for some of the interior scenes set at night. Editor Gene Fowler Jr. does brilliant work with the editing in the way it allow shots to linger for more than a minute while using rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and drama. Art director John Mansbridge, with set decorators Walter M. Scott and Chester Bayhi, does amazing work with the look of the Drummond estate in its interior setting as well as the shack on her land and the town that Bonell watches out for.
Costume designers Charles LeMaire and Leah Rhodes do fantastic work with the clothes from the suits that Bonell and his brothers wear as marshals to the gowns and black clothing that Drummond wears. The special effects of Norman Breedlove does terrific work with some of the film’s minimal effects such as the point-of-view shots of Chisholm in his deteriorating eyesight to the tornado sequence in the film. Sound editor Bert Schoenfeld does superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the film including the sounds of gunfire and other objects that play into the suspense. The film’s music by Harry Sukman is excellent for its score that has elements of somber string orchestral pieces as well as some country-western inspired music with a song co-written by Sukman with lyricist Harold Adamson in High Ridin’ Woman and another Adamson composition with Victor Young in God Has His Arm Around Me as they’re both sung by Jidge Carroll.
The film’s wonderful ensemble cast features notable small roles and appearances from Sandra Wirth as a beautiful woman eyeing the youngest Bonell brother Chico, Gerald Milton as the arms seller Shotgun Spanger, Eve Brent as Spanger’s daughter Louvenia whom Wes falls for, Chuck Roberson as a member of Drummond’s posse in Swain, Chuck Hayward as a posse member in the skilled gunfighter Charlie Savage, Hank Worden as the visually-impaired marshal John Chisum, Ziva Rodann as Brockie’s girlfriend Rio, Paul Dubov as the local judge Macy, Neyle Morrow as Sheriff Logan’s lackey Wiley, and Jidge Carroll as the bathhouse owner Barney Cashman who is often friendly towards Bonell. Robert Dix is terrific as the youngest Bonell brother in Chico as a young man who is eager to help his brothers despite not being strong enough to drink yet finds a way to show his worth to his brothers.
Gene Barry is fantastic as the middle Bonell brother Wes as a man who is skilled with a rifle as he also thinks about wanting a decent life upon falling for Louvenia Spanger. John Ericson is excellent as Drummond’s younger brother Brockie as a bully and a drunk who thinks he can do whatever he wants yet finds himself being the source of all of the trouble as he is someone who doesn’t understand his limits or what he’s doing to his sister’s rule. Dean Jagger is brilliant as Sheriff Ned Logan as a man who is reluctant to work with Bonell as he’s more loyal to Drummond and her posse as he sees Bonell as a threat to Drummond’s power prompting him to try and help Brockie.
Barry Sullivan is amazing as Griff Bonell as the eldest of the three brothers and a former gunslinger who wants to maintain law and order in the small town of Tombstone as he also deals with his past and feelings for Drummond. Finally, there’s Barbara Stanwyck in a phenomenal performance as Jessica Drummond as a landowner/rancher with a 40-man posse as she deals with not just the unruliness among those in her posse as well as changing times while she starts to fall for Bonell as it is one of her most radiant performances of her illustrious career.
Forty Guns is a tremendous film from Samuel Fuller that features incredible performances from Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan. Along with its supporting ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, themes of authority and disorder, and a majestic music soundtrack. It’s a western that carries a lot of its tropes but also with some exploration of gender roles as well as a man and woman trying to maintain some order and balance in the Wild West. In the end, Forty Guns is a spectacular film from Samuel Fuller.
Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) – House of Bamboo - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Merrill's Marauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) – The Big Red One - White Dog - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)
© thevoid99 2020
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Thanks for your piece on Forty Guns, all those Fuller films are exciting and timeless. And Barbara Stanwyck rocks!
@Paula-You're welcome. Samuel Fuller has become a favorite of mine and this film is one of his best. Plus, how can anyone not love Barbara Stanwyck?
Thanks again, yes I read and appreciate all sixteen of your Samuel Fuller pieces, they were inspired and insightful. Keep up the good work.
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