Gunsmoke (1953)

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Aka Roughshod. I’ve seen a man take two drinks of that stuff and go out and hunt bear with a willow switch.Wandering hired gun Reb Kittridge (Audie Murphy) is hired to get the deed of the last remaining ranch not owned by local boss Matt Telford (Donald Randolph) that is owned by former outlaw Dan Saxon (Paul Kelly). Though Reb has not yet accepted the job he is ambushed by Saxon’s ranch foreman Curly Mather (Jack Kelly) and challenged to a gun fight by Saxon, both attempts to kill him being unsuccessful. Saxon senses Reb has good in him and when he hears Reb’s goal in life is to own his own ranch he loses the deed of the ranch to Reb in a card draw. Reb takes over the ranch and moving its cattle herd to a railhead for sale to the workers. Telford hires Reb’s fellow gunslinger Johnny Lake to stop the herd and Reb. Reb has also fallen in love with the rancher’s daughter (Susan Cabot) who currently is in love with Mather … You had twelve reasons… each one of ’em had a gun in his hand. I understand you got run out of Wyoming, too. With Cora Dufrayne (Mary Castle) pulling a Marlene and singing The Boys in the Back Room with a troupe of showgirls in the saloon; and cult fave Cabot as the other woman, this has a lot going on besides the quickfire banter and genre action antics. It has no connection with the legendary TV show of the same name but it does have Audie, and that’s a lot.  Fun and fast-moving. I never did like to shoot my friends

6 Black Horses (1962)

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A man needs a purpose to ride this country. Ben Lane (Audie Murphy) is breaking a horse in the desert that he believes to be stray. He is caught by farmers who believe he is a horse thief when he is saved from hanging by Frank Jesse (Dan Duryea). Lane and Jesse are hired by Kelly (Joan O’Brien) who pays them to take her to a town to be with her husband. Ben is dreaming of buying a ranch and the $1,000 Kelly promises would help him achieve his goal. In reality, Kelly has an ulterior motive:  she is setting up Jesse because he killed her husband in a shootout. En route to their destination they have to deal with the Apaches and Frank is thinking of a different conclusion to proceedings … I’ve been waiting for someone like you for a long time. Burt Kennedy’s original script is typically lean, angular, witty and expressive and Murphy proves his usual scrupulous right-doing protagonist. It’s a straightforward revenge narrative with nice shooting (in Utah’s Snow Canyon, St George and Leeds), good performances, a neat backstory and a great collie who gets to ride with Murphy on a pack horse of his own. Directed by Harry Keller. There are some things a man can’t ride around

The Wild and the Innocent (1959)

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Aka The Buckskin Kid and the Calico Gal/The Wild Innocents. The Lord sure made a mistake letting people like you have children. Naive young fur trapper Yancy Hawks (Audie Murphy) heads to Casper, Wyoming for the first time when his injured uncle asks him to trade some pelts for essential provisions. He encounters the Stockers, a family of vagabonds headed by lazy sneak thief Ben (Strother Martin) who try to cheat him into parting with his furs in exchange for their daughter Rosalie (Sandra Dee). Rosalie escapes her cruel family and she heads to Casper with Yancy who reluctantly agrees to take her with him but they go through many hardships in the corrupt and lawless big town especially when they fall foul of a crooked sheriff Paul Bartell (Gilbert Roland) who proposes that Rosalie work in a dance hall run by Marcy Howard (Joanne Dru).  When Yancy finds out it’s actually a brothel the scene is set for a showdown … Why don’t you go back to the hills and grow up. An offbeat comedy western written by producer Sy Gomberg and director Jack Sher, the chance to see Dee in a frightwig while Murphy attempts to play it straight is too much to pass up. Roland and Dru excel in their baddie roles, Jim Backus gets to play a decent father figure/shopkeeper and the Cinemascope Eastmancolor Universal experience of Big Bear and Snow Valley is enlivened by Hans Salter’s score and the song Touch of Pink because I Shot the Sheriff hadn’t been written yet. There’s just a chance that you might be what I need

The Unforgiven (1960)

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Death for death and blood for blood. The Zachary family live quietly on a border cattle ranch in post-Civil War Texas. A sabre-wielding stranger called Kelsey (Joseph Wiseman) appears and disturbs their bucolic existence by spreading a malicious rumor that their adopted daughter, Rachel (Audrey Hepburn), is a Kiowa Indian. Soon, the Zachary brothers Ben (Burt Lancaster), Cash (Audie Murphy) and Andy (Doug McClure) and their mother Matilda (Lillian Gish) must defend themselves from both racist whites and vengeful Kiowa as they prepare a cattle drive to Kansas while Rachel’s relationship with Charlie (Albert Salmi) the son of  neighbour Zeb Rawlins (Charles Bickford) triggers a murderous intervention and ruins the family’s partnership … Nothing could kill me except lightning out of the sky and then it would have to hit me twice. A positively strange and tantalising cast in one of John Huston’s more unusual outings, this adaptation by Ben Maddow of Alan Le May’s novel is an ‘issue’ movie and that issue is racial prejudice, specifically that of Native Americans.  What an odd but interesting role for Hepburn and she paid for it with a broken back while horse riding (she was assisted in her recovery by the real-life character she had played in The Nun’s Story!) and the clash of acting styles is really something:  Lancaster (who produced with his company) is the man of the family who thinks nothing can surprise him but it’s Gish who provides the spectacle as the matriarch and moral centre, anchoring a narrative oriented towards death in both a poetic and real sense. Bickford is her equal as the patriarch in mourning. Wiseman’s odd and fearsome character is an augury, with his Sword of God and Biblical portents.  The question of Rachel’s origins provides the engine for a story about stories and lies and what families do to survive. The final siege with Cash absenting himself from his ‘red-hide nigger’ sister as the Kiowa surround the Zachary family is brilliantly executed. Will Audie ride in to save the day? Will Audrey be loyal to her Kiowa brethren? So many of these performances hinge on what we know of the actors from their previous roles.  Maddow had written The Asphalt Jungle for Huston ten years previously and spent much of the interim on the HUAC blacklist fronted mostly by Philip Yordan (whom he castigated).  He and Huston would co-write an episode of Jungle‘s TV series the following year. A splendid almost visionary film about different ways of death that’s paradoxically full of life. The year of falling stars a baby strapped to a crib

Dirty Harry (1971)

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You’ve got to ask yourself a question.  ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk? When a serial killer calling himself Scorpio menaces women in San Francisco cop ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is assigned to track him down. He’s involved in a cat and mouse chase that sees him racing all over the city in pursuit even dragging a school bus with children into the fray and bringing him into disrepute by questioning suspects’ Escobedo and Miranda rights. This starts by honouring the institution of policing and ends very firmly on a note of critique – with a move by Harry that is replicated by Keanu Reeves in Point Break twenty years later (albeit Harry gets his man). This starts in such an astonishing fashion, with the camera at the killer’s shoulder when he takes aim with a sniper rifle at a woman swimming in a rooftop pool:  it sutures you directly into his point of view and makes you question everything you see. There is an undertow of satire (and a string of murders) that secures your sympathy for Harry’s unorthodox approach. The story by Harry Julian Fink and R. M. Fink was vaguely based on the Zodiac killer terrorising young women at the time (and later the subject of another brilliant film) and was rewritten by John Milius and Dean Riesner (and Terrence Malick did an early draft), and the end result is tight as a bullet casing. Milius said it’s obvious which parts of the screenplay were his – because for him Harry is just like the killer but with a police badge. It’s directed in such a muscular way by Don Siegel (who had just made The Beguiled with Eastwood) and characterised so indelibly by Eastwood there is only one word to encapsulate it – iconic. Much imitated (even with four sequels of its own) but never equalled, with a moody empathetic score by Lalo Schifrin. What’s weird is that the killer was played by unknown actor and pacifist Andy Robinson – who replaced war hero Audie Murphy following the star’s death in a plane crash before he signed on the dotted line.

Posse From Hell (1961)

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Even if it’s not vintage Audie, it’s better than none, right? Four Death Row inmates escape and ride into a town called Paradise, shooting it up, and taking Helen (Zohra Lampert) hostage after she tries to take her alkie uncle home. But gunfighter Banner Cole (Audie) has already been deputised by the wounded sheriff and he leads a posse to rescue the hostages. Amongst the random inexperienced gathering is a bank teller Seymour (John Saxon) who makes the best coffee around and former Army captain Jeremiah (Robert Keith) who mistakes four cowhands for the gang and nearly kills them. Helen’s shame at being raped means she doesn’t want to return to the town. Then they track down the gang to a house and all hell breaks loose… Damned fine coffee!

Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963)

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Audie plays a lawman with the National Detective Agency who’s fond of the ladies. The first time we see him he’s in the arms of a showgirl whose jealous beau turns up and winds up head first out a window. Business must however, so he’s off to infiltrate a bad gang who have busted a convict out of jail to commit robberies on their behalf. And then his cover might be blown while in their lair. Can he trust the youngest of them with his secret and turn him back to righteousness? He has to watch his best friend get murdered and find out who’s really behind the crime spree. Colleen Miller provides the sweet stuff as the saloon proprietress, there’s a Voice of God narration but it all looks like a TV episode even with DeForest Kelley as the gang leader. Shame.

Drums Across the River (1954)

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Audie Murphy and pop Walter Brennan are living a pretty decent life until smiley-faced Lyle Bettger decides to make some money by fomenting a war with the local Ute tribe to open up their lands and mine some gold. Audie’s got an Unreasonable Hate as his pop tells him because a young Ute brave killed his mama. Now there are bigger things at stake so he sorts out a peace deal with the tribe only for Bettger to renege on his word – as villains always do. It’s the hanging block for Audie when he’s wrongly accused of a heinous crime, all to get his pop from the gang’s clutches. There’s some gorgeous scenery at Barton Flats in the San Bernardino Mountains with Mara Corday providing a little bit of romance. Directed by noted art director Nathan Juran.

The Duel at Silver Creek (1952)

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The first of two westerns Audie Murphy made with Don Siegel, here he’s a good guy, for once.  He’s the Silver Kid, a sharpshooter with a penchant for gambling who’s enlisted to deputise for injured marshal Lightning (Stephen McNally) when a gang of no-good claim jumpers start taking over Silver City. Audie falls for tomboy-ish Dusty (Susan Cabot) while Lightning gets mixed up with Opal (Faith Domergue) supposedly the sister of the head honcho (Gerald Mohr) in the Acme Mining Company – who is, of course, our culprit. The lookalike women get good roles, the men do what men do albeit with terrific tension between them in their uneasy alliance, and there’s some good photography to liven things up.

The Quick Gun (1964)

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Audie Murphy was not an ordinary man but sometimes he made quite ordinary westerns, usually with quite a strong moralistic message. Here he’s Clint the titular sharpshooter, exiled from his hometown after killing two brothers before they killed him. When he returns to reclaim his late father’s ranch and to protect his old friends from a marauding gang led by Spangler (Ted de Corsia), he’s not welcome. Sheriff Scotty (James Best) tells him there are easier ways to commit suicide, old sweetheart schoolteacher Merry Anders says it’s too late as she’s now engaged to the Sheriff. The invariable confrontations occur as the father of the dead boys has a bone to pick but you’ll probably not see the twist ending coming, and very satisfying it is too. Sidney Salkow is on directing duties.