Noose for a Gunman opens with a few dialogue-free minutes. A man rides on horseback, and stumbles upon a noose hanging from a tree: “Reserved for Case Britton.” He then moves on into the nearby town, Rock Valley, where he attracts stares from everyone.
We soon learn that this man has a history with Rock Valley. His name is Case Britton (Jim Davis), the very man that noose is reserved for. He’s a skilled sharp-shooter who was almost hanged five years ago for the deaths of two men in town.
But he hasn’t returned to the town to accept that punishment of death. He’s brought news of trouble: a local gang of outlaws is headed to the Rock Valley and planning to steal money.
Britton has a personal interest in this heist, since his fiance (Lyn Thomas) is traveling on the same stagecoach that is carrying the soon-to-be-stolen money. Can he and the town’s lawmen overcome their differences to stop this crime?
Case Britton: “I didn’t come here for trouble, Tom.”
Tom Evans: “What else did you expect to find in Rock Valley?”
Edward L. Cahn, prolific director of many a B-movie (from Westerns to sci-fi creature features), takes the helm for 1960’s Noose for a Gunman. The screenplay was written by James B. Gordon from a story by Steve Fisher.
Noose for a Gunman is not the most action-packed Western. It has a pretty slow pace, where 15 minutes feel more like 30. This is a problem, since the total run-time of the film is just over an hour. Too much time early on is spent with townspeople arguing over whether Britton should be allowed to stay in the town.
While it’s important for the viewer to understand just how thoroughly disliked Britton is in Rock Valley, this time would have been better-spent on making the thievery-and-outlaws side of the plot more exciting. The upcoming heist is mentioned very early on in the film, but it doesn’t truly come into play until Noose for a Gunman is almost half over.
Even when the outlaws finally do arrive in town, there is very little action. The gunfighting is restricted to the final five minutes — not what you’d expect from a film with “gunman” in the title! This would not be a problem if there was a stronger script to keep the viewer’s interest in calmer scenes, but it feels like not much is happening in Rock Valley at all until those final five minutes.
The film does succeed in briefly holding the viewer’s interest with a subplot related to the outlaws, which involves corruption in the town. But this storyline — like all of the others that are woven together here — is not fleshed out enough to make the film great.
Noose for a Gunman has decent performances, which are suited for this type of brief, minor Western flick. They’re nothing flashy, but all of the actors are at least believable in their roles. The chemistry between Lyn Thomas and Jim Davis is well-established, though again, the viewer finds fault in the too-shallow, surface-level exploration of their relationship.
I wanted to like this film, and it has the potential to be something much greater than it is. The silent opening is stellar, and there are a few positive elements to the production (solid performances, nice black and white photography). Unfortunately, despite these few bright spots, I can’t recommend this film very highly. The score: 1/5