Directed by Richard Wilson
Written by N.B. Stone Jr. and Richard Wilson
We’ve uncovered a few of these type of films throughout the marathon already to this point, but Man with the Gun is another solid reminder that not every movie needs to be some crowning achievement that stands the test of time as one of cinema’s greatest. Certainly that is the goal, but making small, B-movie type productions is honestly just as valuable to the history of cinema as Casablanca and Citizen Kane, especially if they still maintain a high level of execution and entertainment. That is the joy of movies, and seeing a lot of them. Through time, you’ll see great films of all sorts of shapes and sizes, that are great for all very different reasons. And as we all know, variety is the spice of life. So I don’t need an iconic John Wayne performance, or a classic cowboys vs. Indians storyline to whet my appetite when it comes to the western genre. Sometimes all I need is a man with a gun, especially so when that man happens to be Robert Mitchum.
Clint Tollinger (Robert Mitchum) is a tough “town tamer”, a gun for hire who enters a rough and tumble city, imposes his will, and often gets the rowdy crowd to settle down or leave altogether. So when he comes to Sheridan City to see his old girl Nelly (Jan Sterling), he gets recognized and hired to help stop powerful rancher Dade Holman and his men from continuing to wreck havoc on the town, most notably the Harkness brothers. As Tollinger stands off against the gang, he learns that the town saloon owner, Frenchy (Ted de Corsia) is also on Holman’s side. In a controversial decision, Tollinger enforces a no guns law, leaving tensions running very high, which leads to multiple showdowns. But as tensions continue to rise, so too do those between Tollinger and Nelly, as we soon learn of their past, and the danger to their future, along with the fate of the town.
In reality, this is a very small western as far as the genre goes, but as I’ve already mentioned, it’s executed very well, led by a winning lead performance by the singular Robert Mitchum, who has charisma enough to carry just about any movie. In many ways, an easy comparison can be made to a film like Silver Lode, which tells a small story, with a largely anonymous cast, with a sparse run time, but does so extremely well, to the point that the film is a soaring success and a great way to spend 80 minutes of entertainment. Director Richard Wilson, a name I had not heard before this film, stages the set pieces well, full of tension and suspense, and even when we know what’s coming, it’s still a thrilling experience, made with a surprising amount of polish and surehandedness. It really is an impressive debut film, which makes me curious why Wilson’s career never panned out afterward.
With a marathon like this one, filled to the brim with nearly 350 films, it can become very easy to have genre fatigue, or just fatigue in general, especially if you keep getting similar stories, or sub-par ones. Films like Man with the Gun are a salve, even as I pace myself through this mammoth project. It may not seem like the classic of the genre that might beckon many, but when you undertake a project like this, even the small surprises, and maybe especially so, are often the most enjoyable discoveries of the marathon, above and beyond seeing The Searchers and realizing it’s one of cinema’s greatest achievements. Perhaps I’m jaded, perhaps I’ve lost my way down the trail of this westerns marathon, but while I will still enjoy revisiting The Searchers, and likely a great deal, the small discoveries are always going to be the most rewarding.