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Gunslinger (1956)

*Transcript of the video is below*

Regular Ticklish Business readers know that I’m a shameless proponent of movies. Sure, watching the ‘Classics’ and the ‘Essentials’ is always a joy. However, there’s something to be said for the joy of watching fun movies. This is why I love posting ‘good/bad’ movie reviews. These films fight have a bit of a reputation. They might have certain preconceived notions from thanks to repeated runs on MST3K , Svengoolie or Elvira. Sure, they aren’t perfect. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as delightful! It is with this that I ventured into Gunslinger, an early Roger Corman western (yes, you read that right). I wasn’t sure what to expect, and boy, was I surprised.

Gunslinger follows a woman (Beverly Garland) who becomes the Marshall of a small, wild western town after the previous lawman… her husband (the adorable William Schallert) is killed. However, a local saloon keeper (Allison Hayes) has something to say about that. Will the hired gunslinger (John Ireland) she brings into town cause trouble for Marshall Rose Hood? Roger Corman directs the western from a script by Charles B. Griffih and Mark Hanna.

I ventured to watch this movie for my love of all things William Schallert. Now, it’s not a spoiler to say that he dies in the first scene (we’ve all been there, right?). However, this movie is surprisingly, ended up so much more than that.

Sure, Gunslinger is low-budget. Heck, it’s almost micro-budget. However, I don’t think that’s a detractor from this movie at all. This isn’t the biggest or brashest of westerns. In fact, we don’t think of Roger Corman as a western director. The youngster was still very much finding his footing in the industry.

What this film does have though, is a dynamite cast which throughly makes this fascinating feature. This is of course, led by Beverly Garland as Rose who deserves all the praise in the world for what she does on-screen.

I sat down to this one with a little bit of dread. I mean, Roger Corman is a distinctive director and the marketing of Gunslinger has a definite B-movie, drive-in flair to it. With that being said, there’s a clear and definite strength in Garland’s performance which elevates the western to new level. In the hands of another actress, this would have been a far different picture.

In fact, the protagonist/antagonist battle between Garland and Hayes ends up feeling fascinatingly ahead of it’s time. Both women are fierce and powerful on-screen and the film largely resists the urge to fall into the fetishization traps which could easily come with this storyline; rather, it ends up feeling almost ahead of its time in it’s progressive elements. This starts early as Erica looks at Jake (Jonathan Haze) after he declares he wants to be Marshall:

Shut up, Little Man.

Ultimately, the brunt of the movie’s struggles are seen in the execution, most notably in the script and the editing, which never manages to quite find the story’s pacing. While the character elements and chemistry are delightfully developed, the narrative is weighed down by maguffin elements which are never fleshed out enough to really make a difference to the story. The movie clocks in at a breezy 80 minutes and never particularly feels slow… It’s just a missed opportunity.

At the same time, the editing (credited to Charles Gross Jr.) does feel a bit fragmented, particularly in the early acts. As with the script woes mentioned above, its a slightly jarring choice in that it is noticable when the narrative jumps forward (things are loosely tied together with transitions marking the day). Is this compensating for an issue in the script? Perhaps it was a struggle with the direction or the budget. It is difficulty to truly peg it down, but it is ultimately a small problem in the scope of what is an interesting movie.

On the surface, Gunslinger looks like a textbook ‘good-bad movie’. In fact the Letterboxd score would even lean towards ‘bad/bad’. However, watching this micro-budget western through, it is a fascinating gem which deserves some more love, particularly for the saavy and fierce work from leads Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes. Corman and company were doing some real interesting work during this fast shoot and ultimately the movie comes out the better for it.

Gunslinger is currently streaming over on YouTube!

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Kimberly Pierce View All

Podcaster at Hollywood and Wine, historian and filmmaker studying contributions of women in Classic TV. Film critic for Geek Girl Authority. Classic film lover for Ticklish Business.

You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!

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