Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Fastest Gun Alive

"No matter how fast you are, there's always someone faster." Words for Kid Curry to live--or die--by! This 1956 black-and-white film, with music by Andre Previn, is about a gunfighter, played by Broderick Crawford (Chester E. Powers in The Man Who Broke the Bank at Red Gap), his two followers, one of whom is Noah Beery (the Sheriff in Something to Get Hung About), and a mild-mannered but obviously conflicted owner of a mercantile, played by Glenn Ford.

The Fastest Gun Alive starts out with a quintessential Old West gunfight. Crawford tracks down men with reputations as fast draws and calls them out to see who is faster. He looks the same, perhaps a little thinner, and is definitely a lot meaner. Even his two followers think he's a bit crazy. When they rob a bank, one of the gang members reminds the other not to take the pennies like he did the last time, presumably because they are too heavy to carry. Wonder if the Devil's Hole Gang ever thought about that!

The movie then shifts and we see Glenn Ford out in the desert, shooting his gun. He rides a wagon home to his wife, who suspects something is wrong but is unable to get him to confide in her. It's clear he has a secret but the audience doesn't find out until much later what it is. The scenes depicting the torment of Ford's character are very well acted. He is pushed to the breaking point, breaks, and then The Fastest Gun Alive spends the rest of its time dealing with the consequences.

Early on in The Fastest Gun Alive is a scene straight out of a Gene Kelly musical: There's a barn dance, and a character named Eric is cajoled into doing a jig--yep, that's the word that was used! Not only does he jig, he tap dances, does acrobatics, and uses two shovels to perform very creative, fancy moves. Eric was played by Russ Tamblyn, who played Riff in the film version of West Side Story, which explains a lot.

Tamblyn is also connected to ASJ in that he appeared with Ben and Roger at the 2006 Western Film Fair in Charlotte, NC! Having now seen barn dances in several Westerns, I wondered if they really were as popular and common as the movies make them out to be, so I did a little research and learned that barn dances were "the poor man's ball."

I liked The Fastest Gun Alive a lot. It was suspenseful in the traditional sense and also psychologically thrilling. It gave me a vision of what life might be like for Kid Curry if he were to marry and try to settle down. From the way things went in this movie, it would probably be very difficult for him to have a normal life after getting the amnesty.

Short article about the history of barn dances:
http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3barn1.htm