Fred MacMurray and Dorothy Malone in At Gunpoint (1955)



(director: Alfred L. Werker; screenwriter: Dan Ullman; cinematographer: Ellsworth Fredericks; editor: Edna Warren; music: Carmen Dragon; cast: Fred MacMurray (Jack Wright), Dorothy Malone (Martha Wright), Walter Brennan (Doc Lacy), Tommy Rettig (Billy Wright), John Qualen (Livingstone), Irving Bacon (Al Ferguson), Skip Homeier (Bob Dennis), Whit Bissell (Clem Clark), Harry Shannon (Marshal MacKay), Anabel Shaw (Mrs. Clark), Harry Lauter (Federal Marshal), Byron Foulger (Larry the teller), Frank Ferguson (Henderson), Jack Lambert (Kirk), John Pickard (Alvin Dennis); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Vincent M. Fennelly; Allied Artists; 1955)

“An almost total ripoff of the 1952 High Noon (only reversing that film’s ending as far as the town’s reaction).”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An almost total ripoff of the 1952 High Noon (only reversing that film’s ending as far as the town’s reaction), that is nevertheless satisfying due to the fine performances by Fred MacMurray and Dorothy Malone. Dan Ullman’s script is sprinkled with too much sermonizing about what it means to be an American, as he hits the viewer over the head too hard with a message that is already so obvious. But Alfred L. Werker handles the directing chores with aplomb, as he keeps the tension mounting until the concluding payoff.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

The sleepy small-town of Plainview, Texas, is the location where the 5-man Dennis gang of Kansas fame stage a bank holdup. They kill the teller and in their getaway kill the old-timer marshal. Mild-mannered storekeeper Jack Wright (Fred MacMurray), who never fired a gun before, picks up the dead marshal’s six-shooter and from 70 yards away gets lucky and severely wounds Alvin Dennis, the brother of leader Bob Dennis (Skip Homeier). This enables Henderson to finish the outlaw off with his rifle and recover the bank money. The townsfolk treat the two as heroes, as bank president Livingstone honors them with a celebration at the local bar and appoints Henderson as the new marshal. Back at their desert hideout, ruthless leader Bob Dennis promises revenge against the two men who killed his brother and the gang ambushes a drunken Henderson as he returns from the celebration to his out of town ranch. The townspeople now change their tune to Jack and his lovely wife Martha (Dorothy Malone) and their young son Billy, as they ostracize him in fear of the gang returning to carry out their threatened promise for revenge. They won’t let their kids play with Billy, boycott the general store and wormy banker Livingstone, who is unable to hire a professional marshal, holds a town meeting that resolves the problem by trying to buy Jack out and make him move. The only one who sticks by Jack is old-timer Doc Lacy (Walter Brennan), as Jack refuses to leave as a matter of principle and gives a wonderful speech about being a good neighbor and a decent law-abiding citizen. When the Dennis gang returns in broad daylight, the towns-folks have a change of heart because of the speech and successfully stand by the storekeeper with a show of force.