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GUNSLINGER (director: Giuliano Carmineo/Roger Corman; screenwriters: Charles B. Griffith/Mark Hanna; cinematographer: Frederick E. West; editor: Charles Gross; music: Ronald Stein; cast: John Ireland (Cane Miro), Beverly Garland (Marshal Rose Hood), Allison Hayes (Erica Page), Jonathan Haze (Jake Hayes), Martin Kingsley (Mayor Gideon Polk), Margaret Campbell (Felicity Polk), Chris Alcaide (Deputy Joshua Tate), William Schallert (Marshal Scott Hood), Aaron Saxon (Nate Signo), Dick Miller (Pony Express Rider), Chris Miller (Tessie, a dancer); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roger Corman; Goodtimes Home Video/American Releasing Corporation; 1956)
Not your typical B Western.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Roger Corman’s Gunslinger is not your typical B Western. It’s a quirky and bold and I must say unbelievable tale about a female marshal who is torn between doing her duty and love for an outlaw. Beverly Garland, at the time Corman’s girlfriend, who along with featured player Jonathan Haze were to become Corman regulars, bring a strange intensity to their roles.

When on May 22, 1880, in the town of Oracle, Marshal Scott Hood (Schallert) is gunned down in his office by killers hired by the evil land-grabbing owner of the Red Dog saloon, Erica Page (Allison Hayes), the marshal’s gutsy wifeRose (Beverly Garland) takes his badge until the new marshal arrives on Saturday, June 5th. She swears to get all the hired killers and the one who hired them. To show she means business in enforcing the law, Rose forces Erica to obey the town curfew and when Erica refuse to shut down the previous all-night saloon the two get into a vicious cat fight. Supposedly Allison Hayes broke her arm during the fight scene and was missing from large chunks of the film.

Erica has been secretly buying up homesteads in town with small down payments on the expectation the railroad will be coming through. On Saturday June 5th a letter telling if the railroad will be coming through will be delivered by “pony express,” her intention is to have the wormy Mayor Gideon Polk (Martin Kingsley) get the letter first to tell her the contents. If the railroad comes through she’ll be a rich woman and remain in town, but as an insurance if it doesn’t she sends her henchman and obsessed admirer Jake Hayes (Jonathan Haze) to nearby Tombstone to hire a gunslinger to kill the marshal. Erica, in that case, plans to flee with all the assets she collected from her business ventures. Later on, when she sees how Rose is a thorn in her side, she orders her dead no matter what.

Jake, who hates being called the Little Man and goes into a snit, brings back professional gunslinger Cane Miro (John Ireland), who is paid in advance $3,000 to kill Rose. But Cane has a secret from the past, that leads him here to kill the cowardly Gideon Polk in revenge for costing the lives of his 4 brothers at an important Civil War battle. At the ‘Battle of Lookout Mountain’ 15 years ago, Polk was a Confederate captain in charge of his outfit who deserted a strategic position when they had the upper hand and let Grant’s forces overrun the troops who stayed to fight. Cane believes this was a decisive battle and its loss signaled the end of the Confederacy.

When Cane runs into Rose who is on the trail of the hired killer of her husband, Nate Signo, he goes out of his way to help her capture him. There’s an instant chemistry between them despite the loss of her loving husband just a day or two ago and that she later on becomes aware of his bad reputation.

The tension builds to Saturday, as the day of reckoning where everything will come to a head. The good vs. evil story takes place over a period of two weeks. As a bizarre complication Erica and Cane were former lovers. So it not only becomes a matter of what Rose will do about the outlaw but what Cane will do about the woman he loves most, as they get into a gun duel. The film’s most telling line, is when Rose tells Cane: “You’re not bad, you’re just not good.” Interesting that she said that, because that’s how I felt about this bleak and unfulfilling picture.

REVIEWED ON 12/15/2003 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”