(director: Russell Rouse; screenwriter: Frank D. Gilroy/story “The Last Notch” by Mr. Gilroy; cinematographer: George Folsey; editors: Harry V. Knapp/Ferris Webster; music: André Previn; cast: Glenn Ford (George Temple), Jeanne Crain (Dora Temple), Broderick Crawford (Vinnie Harold), Russ Tamblyn (Eric), Allyn Joslyn (Harvey Maxwell), Leif Erickson (Lou Glover), John Dehner (Taylor Swope), Noah Beery Jr (Dink Wells), J.M. Kerrigan (Kevin McGovern), Rhys Williams (Brian Tibbs), Virginia Gregg (Rose Tibbs), Chris Olsen (Bobby Tibbs), Chubby Johnson (Frank Stringer, banjo player), John Doucette (Ben Buddy), Walter Baldwin (Blind man), Walter Coy (Fallon); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Clarence Greene; MGM; 1956)
“A superb psychological Western directed by Russell Rouse.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superb psychological Western directed by Russell Rouse (“The Thief”-1952) from a story “The Last Notch” by Frank D. Gilroy, who also provides the screenplay. It reminded me of the same themed The Gunfighter of 1950 starring Gregory Peck.

The impressive opening scene has ruthless gunslinger Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford) ride into town with his two-man gang of Taylor Swope (John Dehner) and Dink Wells (Noah Beery Jr), and call out to a complete stranger named Fallon to draw on him to see who is faster. After Vinnie kills him, he tells the locals to buy him a headstone that says he was killed by the fastest gun alive–Vinnie Harold. Before Vinnie’s ordered out of town by the sheriff and his rifle-pointing deputies, a blind man offers these prophetic words “No matter how fast you are, there’s always someone faster.”

The story then picks up about a gentle storekeeper in the nearby peaceful small town of Cross Creek named George Temple (Glenn Ford), wrestling with his promise to his pregnant wife Dora (Jeanne Crain) to lay down his gun for good and ignore his proficient skills with a gun. We then learn that George has lived here for four years and hasn’t touched a drop of liquor since arriving, but has grown frustrated selling dresses and candy–not a man’s kind of work. George’s dark secret is slowly revealed about his fear of drawing on someone despite being so quick on the draw. That his famous quick-draw father was sheriff of Laramie and taught his son how to be an even faster draw than he was, but when his father got killed George didn’t have the nerve to avenge his father’s death and fled with his father’s notched gun.

In a drunken rage over running away from his past in shame George puts on a marksmanship show for the startled townies, as he grows tired of them listening to a hero-worshiping eyewitness named McGovern report on Vinnie’s gun duel. This showoff exhibition results in his wife threatening to leave him unless he throws away his guns for real this time. While the whole town is at the Methodist church George is talked out of leaving town by his friend Lou Glover, as he convinces everyone in the church to swear themselves to secrecy about George’s gun prowess so no one comes looking for him. But at the same time Vinnie’s gang holds up a bank at Yellow Fork and kills the sheriff’s brother, who forms a posse to come looking for the killer. At last, the film gets back on track and builds to the inevitable gun duel between Ford, who has to prove he’s a man, and Crawford as the sicko baddie, who has to be the most macho man on the planet (it’s revealed he has the urge to constantly prove himself because his wife ditched him for another).

Though the story gets lost for too long in too much psychological explaining, it redeems itself with a fine action-packed tense ending. Rouse does a nice job keying in on the reactions of the townsmen, stages some fine action sequences and the performances are solid (especially by Ford and Crawford).