Talkie of the Week: Forty Guns
USA 1957, 77 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox. Director: Samuel Fuller, Written by Samuel Fuller. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Gene Barry, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Robert Dix, Eve Brent
Plot summary: Jessica Drummond rules her ranch, her brother and her forty hired guns in Arizona, intimidating the townspeople of nearby Tombstone. When Marshall Griff Bonnell and his two younger brothers come to arrest one of her men, they set off an avalanche that claims casualties on both sides.
Review: Forty Guns is a Western shot in best cinemascope quality. Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, the film features a hardboiled Barbara Stanwyck whose matriarch character is much more than our first encounter with her may suggest. Dramatically introduced on horseback, Jessica Drummond is a myth who surrounds herself with forty men to run her ranch, her Forty Guns. The myth is supported in a song, High Ridin’ Woman, which adds to the vigor of Ms. Drummond, foreshadowing her destiny.
Barbara Stanwyck is supported by Barry Sullivan as Marshall Griff Bonnell, a former gunslinger whose courage and genuine approach to arrest felons deeply impresses her. Together, they carry a plot that’s far from jolly and move along a story that’s gripping and violent at times. Neither Jessica Drummond, nor Griff Bonnell are easy characters to understand and like, but the writing and the excellent performances add to their rough charm.
They are surrounded by a convincing cast of supporting characters and actors, Gene Barry, Dean Jagger and Eve Brent to only name a few. The landscape and setting adds to the sparse beauty of the film, accompanied by a neat score and convincing special effects.
All in all, Forty Guns is a film for a Western audience who appreciates the talents of Barbara Stanwyck and a stylish way of presenting a classic tale. It is a film that’s poignant and entertaining, a decent western that may surprise you in the end.
Available on DVD.