Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Forty Guns (Sam Fuller, 1957)

Have you ever had a situation where you heard about a movie, and it sounded great, but it was years before you had the opportunity to see it, and by the time you saw it you had built up in your mind what the movie was like, and you were totally disappointed when it was a completely different movie?

It was probably about 5 years ago that FX Feeney wrote a little blurb about 40 Guns, which was playing at some revival house in L.A., in the LA Weekly. It was enough to get me interested, based on his description of Barbara Stanwyck's character: an untamable cattle baroness who is followed by a posse of 40 cowboys everywhere she goes. Stanwyck is my favorite actress, and this just seemed like a perfect role for her. It is a great role, in fact, and it's a shame that Sam Fuller relegated this awesome character to being little more than a love interest, while placing two thoroughly boring gunfighter brothers at the center of the story. I suppose it's a testament to Fuller's imagination that he was able to conceive this character, but an indictment of that same imagination that he wasn't able to imagine a story for her. Then again, maybe I'm imposing my 21st century views unfairly on a 1957 movie.

It starts out promisingly. The first scene is the two gunmen riding into town on a wagon when they are passed by Stanwyck's character, Jessica Drummond, and her 40 men galloping at full speed, kicking up dust and thunder as they pass. The Bonnell Brothers, sitting in their wagon watching the spectacle, seem so dull in comparison with Drummond's larger-than-life figure that you would expect this to be a theme. A movie about Stanwyck's bitch-goddess dominating the impotent men that surround her would have been great, a precursor to Russ Meyer's films. In the next scene, someone sings a ballad written about Drummond that would have been an equally worthy theme song for Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat: "She's a high...ridin' woman...with a whip."

Instead, we spend most of our time with the Bonnell Brothers, two guns-for-hire realizing that their way of life is going out of style, wooing the local women (Jessica and a cute female gunsmith), and reciting the played-out philosophy of the western genre. I guess at this point I should make the disclaimer that westerns have never really done much for me, so perhaps the conventions of the genre as acted out in this film would be more appealing to fans of the genre. I've always found them to be overly dry and serious, with the most uninteresting stock characters, but I suppose there are those who would say similar things about most of my favorite genres.

The most interesting thing about the movie, aside from Stanwyck, is the ending. Fuller had finished the film, but was ordered by the studio to tack on a happy ending. He has said that he intentionally filmed the worst, corniest ending possible in protest to this meddling. Even when Fuller made mediocre films, it's always A-Grade entertainment to hear him talk about them. Don't expect to get any of that out of this bare-bones DVD, though.


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