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FIVE GUNS WEST (director: Roger Corman; screenwriter: Robert Wright Campbell; cinematographer: Floyd D.Crosby; editor: Ronald Sinclair; music: Buddy Bregman; cast: John Lund (Govem Sturgess), Dorothy Malone (Shalee), Bob Campbell (John Morgan Candy), Jonathan Haze (William Parcel Candy), Paul Birch (J.C. Haggard), James F. Stone (Uncle Mime), Jack Ingram (Stephen Jethro), Touch (Mike) Connors (Hale Clinton), Larry Thor (Southern Captain); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roger Corman; MGM/American International Pictures/American Releasing Corporation; 1955)
“Provocative Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This provocative Western, much the same in theme as The Dirty Dozen (which was written years later), was Roger Corman’s first directorial effort and the second to be partly funded by the American Releasing Corporation which shortly became AIP. It suffers from being unevenly directed, but is nevertheless entertaining.

Towards the closing days of the Civil War the Confederate Army was short on men and decided to pardon five outlaws, all sentenced to hang for their murders, to perform a dangerous but important mission in a remote way station in Dawn Springs, Kansas. To reach their target on time they must make a 4-day horse ride in 3-days and pass through hostile Indian territory. Once there they must overtake a stage coming in from California with a Union Army escort and take back for trial, if possible, a Southern traitor named Stephen Jethro. He’s a Southern Intelligence officer, who has a list of Southern agents he is offering to the Union. The men are also told there’s a huge sum of gold on the stage, which they are to bring back to the Confederacy. The five pardoned prisoners are ornery trailherder J.C. Haggard (Paul Birch), charming but dangerous cardshark Hale Clinton (Touch Connors, later a TV star who changed his name to Mike), the hothead Candy brothers – older and more stable John (Bob Campbell) and the slightly local William (Jonathan Haze), and the group’s self-appointed leader Govem Sturgess (John Lund).

The temptation of the gold weighs heavily on the criminals, as they make secret plots to betray their comrades. Govem seems different from the rest, as he tries to hold this unsavory group together to perform their mission. At the way station they overtake the stage agents, the beautiful Shalee (Dorothy Malone) and her elderly alcoholic Uncle Mime (James F. Stone), and hold them hostage as the men fight over conquering Shalee and impatiently wait for the stage. The finale has the Confederates fighting amongst themselves for the gold and the girl, and whether to return to the Confederacy as there is surprise revealed about one of the prisoners.

Corman was able to develop character and separate the criminals by the degree of their depravities, keeping their pot-boiling conflicts interesting. It’s a B-western made for around $60,000, but one that looks worth a million bucks as it is filmed gloriously in Pathecolor.

REVIEWED ON 10/10/2004 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”