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GUNMAN’S WALK (director: Phil Karlson; screenwriter: Frank Nugent/story by Ric Hardman; cinematographer: Charles Lawton Jr.; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: George Duning; cast: Van Heflin (Lee Hackett), Kathryn Grant (Clee Chouard), Tab Hunter (Ed Hackett), James Darren (Davy Hackett), Mickey Shaughnessy (Deputy Sheriff Will Motely), Ray Teal (Jensen Sieverts), Edward Platt (Avery), Bert Convy (Paul Chouard), Robert F. Simon (Sheriff Harry Brill), Will Wright (Judge); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fred Kohlmar; Columbia Pictures; 1958)
“Energetic western that centers on the conflict between a father and his two sons.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Phil Karlson directs this energetic western that centers on the conflict between a father and his two sons, one following in his gunslinger footsteps but turning evil and the other rejecting his macho ways for a more peaceful and law abiding approach to life. The morally certain father refuses to give his children room to grow on their own and offers a possessive love, as he constantly presses them to follow his ways–unable to listen to what they want, he thinks they should be grateful that he heaps money rewards on them and is raising them to be tough and independent. At one point, when the father finds the good son going out with a half-breed and his other son in jail, he says “I don’t know which one shames me more.”

It’s based on a story by Ric Hardman and the screenplay, which does a great job in its characterizations, is by Frank Nugent.

Lee Hackett (Van Heflin) is the revered town figure to the old-timers, an old Indian fighter and gunslinger who tamed the west and settled down in a big spread ranch before there was law and order in town. He’s a stern father, who wants his sons to follow in his footsteps. Lee behaves like one of the boys, showing them up as a better roper, rider and gunman than either one. The sensitive younger son, Davy (James Darren), feels uncomfortable with his father’s orders to always wear his guns to town and his belief that you have to live by the gun, but has no need to prove himself to his father. On the other hand, Ed (Tab Hunter) is only too glad to be like his dad–but he’s bitter because he’s always in his father’s shadow and only wants to show his father that he’s a better man than him.

While taking some wild mustangs to nearby Jackson City Ed, in his competitiveness while roping the wild horses on the drive, forces Paul Chouard, a half-breed from a French father and Sioux mother, off a cliff and onto his death. Lee calls it a regrettable accident and gives Davy a $100 in coin to give to Paul’s sister Clee (Kathryn Grant, the future bride of Bing Crosby). But the Indian agent in town, Avery, brings it to the law’s attention after he hears from two Indians, Black Horse and Blue Eagle, on the drive, who claim is was murder because Ed forced Paul off the cliff. At a court hearing, a slimy stranger just arriving in town, Jensen Sieverts, bears false witness and the court takes his word over the Indians — dismissing the murder charges for insufficient evidence. But Ed is not through with acting like a tough-guy and pushes his father’s belief in guns to the ultimate, as his father has to face down Ed in a gun duel. This comes after Ed unnecessarily shoots Jensen and then escapes from jail by killing an unarmed deputy sheriff (Mickey Shaughnessy). The sheriff (Robert F. Simon) leads a posse after Ed, but the father still thinks he can reach his son and help him, and gets to his son before the posse does. But the father soon learns that his son has become twisted and cannot be reached anymore, as the father realizes that the old frontier code he brought him up with is passe and even can be dangerously misused if the son doesn’t feel loved.

Karlson shows how bigotry and violence is a poison in society, and will continue if it is passed down unchecked by fathers to their sons. The film also leaves a clear anti-gun message, as one of the townspeople says “If you put a gun in a boy’s hand, he will sooner or later use it.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”