Just as gunfighter Kip Tanner (Buster Crabbe) is reaching the town of Abilene, Texas, he’s attacked by three men: ranchers Harker (Kenneth MacDonald), Rigley (Arthur Space) and Hendricks (Richard H. Cutting).
Kip’s brother, Gene (Boyd Morgan), was into some trouble with these ranchers, having allegedly stolen money from them after a cattle herd sale. After the sale, Gene and the money both disappeared, leaving his fiance Alice (Rachel Ames) behind.
Kip says he hasn’t seen his brother in years, and that he and Gene don’t get along because Gene has never agreed with Kip’s gun-slingin’ lifestyle.
But that doesn’t stop anyone in town from believing that he and Gene were in cahoots. Many of them, including Alice’s powerful father, Seth Hainline (Barton MacLane), want Kip to get out of town for good.
The local marshal, Wilkinson (Russell Thorson), helps Kip escape from the ranchers with his life but isn’t convinced when Kip declares Gene’s innocence. Kip vows to track Gene down and clear his name.
Edward L. Cahn (Invisible Invaders) directs 1960’s Gunfighters of Abilene. The film was written by Orville Hampton (The Gambler Wore a Gun).
Gunfighters of Abilene is a film with a decent script, full of characters who are all invested in the central conflict for different reasons. Family drama is mixed into the typical Western drama as we learn of Kip’s tensions with his brother, as well as Alice’s growing disdain for how her family is reacting to Gene’s disappearance.
The story is still quite predictable, but it isn’t your standard, clear-cut “good vs. bad” story, since there are these added elements of interpersonal drama. Even our protagonist Kip doesn’t seem all good, since we know how ardently his brother disagreed with his lifestyle.
The brotherly rivalry between Kip and Gene is an interesting element to the story that would have made a great film all on its own. Gene is a bit of a human MacGuffin for this film. He doesn’t take part in any of the action, barely appearing in the film at all. His only purpose is to provide motivation for the decisions of Kip and the other characters. The briefly-mentioned background story of Kip raising Gene and then their views/lifestyles diverging would have made for a really fascinating watch, though then the film would have been a straight drama rather than a Western.
The film also could have been better with improved performances. Rachel Ames (credited as Judith Ames) gives a strong performance and is the best of the bunch. Her character is the voice of logic amongst a bunch of hot-headed ranchers. Buster Crabbe gives a decent performance, but I don’t think he has quite enough charisma to lead this film. His scenes with Ames are quite good, but throughout most of the film it just seems like he’s going through the motions. The rest of the supports are a bit stiff, too.
Despite its flaws, Gunfighters of Abilene has a good story to tell. Improvements could have been made, but it isn’t a bad watch.
Did it boost my appreciation of the Western genre? SOMEWHAT. While I didn’t love this film, it had its gripping moments and didn’t hit on any of the pet peeves that used to steer me away from the genre.
The score: 2.5/5