Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Gunfighter: Man or Myth?

Written by Joseph G. Rosa and published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1969, this book (ISBN 0-8061-1561-0) offers a comprehensive examination of gunfighters in the Old West. It is a scholarly work, with numerous footnotes and a nine-and-a-half page bibliography, so at times the tone is rather dry, but the amount of information presented is huge and it is well worth the effort to read it.

There are two sections to the book; the first is called The Myth and the Man, which explains the origin of the gunfighter and situates him in the period of the Old West. This section also offers a detailed look at many men who were known as gunfighters--both lawmen and outlaws. Much of the text consists of stories and anecdotes of the exploits of these men and one gains an appreciation, if not exactly admiration, for what they did. Using primary sources of newspaper articles and first-hand accounts, the descriptions of life in cowtowns and frontier towns is compelling. Analysis by the author provides perspective to the period accounts.

The second section, called The Pistoleer, describes the weapons used by gunfighters and the companies that produced them. The features of six-guns manufactured by Colt, Smith and Wesson, and Remington are described in great detail, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Again, there is a reliance on primary sources for information. The accoutrements of the gunfighter, bullets and holsters, are also discussed. This section includes a chapter on "The Cult of the Six-Shooter," which takes a look at the concept of a fast draw. The reason for tying a gun down is explained but, according to the author, the fast draw was not practiced by gunfighters in the Old West! And on page 206, the author states, "In the frontier days, when a man without a revolver was only half-dressed..." So Kid's comments in the Pilot and The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone actually have some basis in historical fact and were not just lines included in the script for a laugh. The book ends with a short explanation of how the gunfighter has lived on in books, movies, and television.

Anyone interested in the Old West who wants to know the facts behind the legends should read The Gunfighter: Man or Myth? It is a fascinating book.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Red River

Red River is the fictional story of the first cattle drive from Texas along the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas. This 1948 black-and-white film stars John Wayne and Montgomery Clift.

Walter Brennan has a prominent role as a chuck wagon cook. He is irascible, eggs on Wayne and Clift when they are fighting each other (at the end of the movie), and even has a name--Groot--all of which reminds me of his work in 21 Days to Tenstrike. In fact, his work in that episode seemed like a reprise of his role in Red River and I wonder if he consciously drew on how he played Groot in the movie for how he played Gant on ASJ.

Noah Beery, Jr. (Something to Get Hung About) and Paul Fix (The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, Night of the Red Dog, Only Three to a Bed) co-star but if one didn't know they were in the movie, it might be hard to recognize them since Red River was made more than twenty years before ASJ.

About forty-seven minutes into the movie, there's a scene with the chuck wagon in the right background with men sitting around a campfire in the foreground, and a man carrying a saddle walks into the frame from stage right--it was so similar to the scene in 21 Days to Tenstrike that I went and watched the ASJ episode again to compare.

Although I liked the movie, it did seem to drag on; perhaps that was intentional and was designed to mimic the tedium of a three-month long cattle drive! I also didn't care for love-interest Joanne Dru's character; she was too melodramatic for my taste. And I found the music score, by Dmitri Tiomkin, who composed the music for so many great Westerns, to be intrusive here, as it frequently telegraphed how viewers were supposed to feel about what they were watching.

The scenes of all the cattle as they were driven across the land and through rivers was very impressive and made me wonder how the director managed to film them. Not far into the movie, one of the other characters makes a remark that I found very amusing, but I can't decide if Kid Curry or Hannibal Heyes would be more likely to say it: "You know... There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere." Watch the movie and let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hangman's Knot

One of the pleasures of watching these old Westerns is the unexpected discovery of familiar names from ASJ in the credits. Hangman's Knot, from 1952, is such a movie. It was written and directed by Roy Huggins and co-stars Jeanette Nolan.

It's about a group of Confederate soldiers, led by Randolph Scott, who, not knowing the War is over, steal gold from a Union wagon and shoot the soldiers guarding it. They find themselves trapped in a stagecoach way station with the father and daughter who run it and two passengers from the stage they commandeered to escape what appears to be a posse.

From then on, the plot bears a superficial resemblance to Stagecoach Seven as Scott tries to figure out how he and his men can avoid getting killed by the erstwhile posse, which is really just a group of drifters posing as deputies, who have surrounded the building they are in. Nolan plays a woman whose son was one of the soldiers guarding the gold; her character is completely different from Miss Birdie Pickett in the Pilot and I wasn't even sure it was her until I looked up her character at

Two other features reminded me of ASJ: There is a travelling medicine wagon in early scenes of Hangman's Knot, similar to that in Witness to a Lynching (although the man who owned it was not a quack like Doc Snively), and oil is poured on water and fire to provide more light to see what people are doing, just as was done in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry when the boys try to escape from the cave in which they were hiding.

There is lots of action in this movie along with personality conflicts among the soldiers and their hostages in the stagecoach station, which makes this 80-minute movie very entertaining to watch.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Stranger Wore a Gun

Now I know that even Randolph Scott can have an off day or, in this case, an off movie! The Stranger Wore a Gun is the kind of movie that has everything but quality in it.

It's also in 3-D; I never knew Westerns were made in that format. The 3-D effects are very obvious: guns pointing and shooting directly into the camera, other objects thrown toward the camera, rocks in the foreground and a fire that are clearly meant to be seen through 3-D glasses.

The first scenes in this 1953 movie show yet another version of Quantrill's raid on Lawrence. I suppose ninety years is not really that long a time after the event, which is why a number of movies from the mid-twentieth century depicted it.

Then the plot, such as it is, shifts to a riverboat and finally to Prescott, Arizona, where Scott's character, a former spy for Quantrill's Raiders, gets mixed up with a former Confederate soldier and the men who work for him, a gang of outlaws, and a stagecoach business, along with a mysterious woman from his past who's followed him to Prescott; there's lots of action but somehow the movie seems to drag.

There are numerous, though tenuous, connections to ASJ: The outlaw gang leader wears the strap to his hat in the same fashion as Clint Weaver in Stagecoach Seven; Scott's character wears a shirt that is similar to Kid's red lace-up shirt, except that in the movie here, Scott's shirt stays laced up; and the outlaw gang leader wears a blue polka-dot bandana like Pete did in some episodes.

But the most interesting connection for me was when some of the characters were shown playing faro. The sign on the outside of the saloon in The McCreedy Bust advertised faro but I'd never before seen people playing it, though I have played an online version of the game. Perhaps I would have liked The Stranger Wore a Gun more if I'd watched the whole movie in 3-D but since I didn't, I think only avid Randolph Scott fans will enjoy it.

Link to online faro (click on the link at the bottom of the main text page to play):