A note from Lindsey: I watched bits and pieces of this film for a tribute post I made for Skip Homeier, but this is the first time I’ve viewed the film in its entirety, so I’m counting it as “new to me.”
Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) was once a notorious gunfighter, but he’s changed his ways. He’s traveling to a small town to rekindle a romance with his long-lost ladyfriend (Helen Westcott) and build a relationship with their son, who he has never met.
Though Jimmy is reformed, not everyone in town has forgotten about his past. The legend of Jimmy Ringo casts a large shadow over the man he has become, and there’s no way he’ll be able to stay out of trouble with a handful of angry cowboys and gunslingers on his tail.
Henry King directs 1950’s The Gunfighter, a classic tale of an unlawful man trying his best to go straight, but not without struggle.
Two words: Gregory Peck. Twelve words: Gregory Peck with a classic, late-19th century mustache and western gear. If nothing else, I knew this film would be worthwhile for the eye candy. (As creepy as it may make me seem, I refuse to stifle my admiration for Gregory Peck’s beauty. Have you seen that face? Have you heard that voice? ‘nough said. Insert catcall here.)
But as it turns out, approximately 85 minutes of staring at Gregory Peck isn’t all this film is good for. This is exactly the type of Western I can easily appreciate: an atmospheric film that tells a simple but gripping story of the lawless versus the lawful.
Though the foundational story here isn’t remarkably different from dozens of other films of this type, The Gunfighter has a solid script and a fair amount more suspense than many of the Westerns I’ve watched. There’s a bit of an added psychological element to it as it digs into Jimmy’s mindset and his relationships rather than only providing pretty, rustic cinematography and flying bullets.
In fact, despite the title The Gunfighter, the film contains remarkably few gunfights. As such, this isn’t a film that moves at a break-neck pace, but it moves along steadily and never loses the viewer’s attention. It’s a scaled-back, humanized version of the cowboy legends we’re used to seeing play out on screen.
On top of that, it’s brought to life by a truly great cast. Peck, Homeier and Karl Malden are my favorites of the cast, though believable performances are given across the board.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre? YES – I truly enjoyed watching this film, and it encouraged me to continue on with this series, giving me hope that I’ll find more than a handful of Westerns to add to my list of favorites.
The score: 5/5