BR: Gun Fury (1953)

October 18, 2017 | By

Film: Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: September 19, 2017

Genre:  Western / 3D

Synopsis: Left for dead, a groom tracks down the stagecoach thieves to rescue his kidnapped love.

Special Features: Contains 3D and 2D versions of feature film / Partial Isolated Mono Music Track / Theatrical Trailer in 3D and 2D / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

Between 1953-1954, Columbia’s foray into 3D spanned 8 films, with some productions benefitting from a mix of strong direction, scripts, casts, and 3D cinematography, but Gun Fury demonstrates the pitfalls of working with variable elements, and a team unable to fully grasp the demands of 3D.

Based on the novel 10 Against Caesar by Kathleen B., George, and Robert A. Granger, the screenplay is pretty banal and almost unworthy of director Raoul Walsh, a veteran action master who could only extract so much from a plot that has characters going back & forth to pad out a simple tale of a beau determined to rescue his fiancée from a slick gunslinger and his band of miscreants.

Rock Hudson had worked his way up through assorted westerns, and Gun Fury represents the formulaic fodder he must have struggled to avoid in favour of meatier parts and challenging storylines. Ben Warren (Hudson) is a pacifist, reformed after 5 years of killing during the brutal Civil War, and he’s waiting to meet fiancée Jennifer (Donna Reed) and settle down on a huge ranch in California. While en route to their dream, the pair are separated when a gang led by Frank Slayton (Philip Carey) rob a stagecoach and leave Ben for dead, but after recovering from undetermined wounds, Ben partners with Ben’s now-disgraced right hand man Jess (always solid Leo Gordon) and a vengeful Native American to form their own posse, each wanting Slayton dead for distinct reasons.

After a kinetic opening that slaps a 3D camera rig onto the stagecoach, the film quickly settles into a long series of straightforward master shots, with B-movie and TV cinematographer Lester White adding pans whenever there’s a horseback chase. A few sequences offer objects tossed at the viewer, but the conventional visuals really leaden a script already suffering from stale dialogue. The most interesting figure remains villain Slayton: he’s a former southern gentleman refusing to acknowledge defeat, and funnels his hate to everyone in his miserable life.

Carey’s playing a standard archetype, but he brings a potent dignity to a scoundrel who admits he once entertained ladies at elaborate balls before robbing and double-crossing. He’s always wrestling with the past and knows what he’s doing his disgusting, but having post his morals in war, he maintains the façade of a refined gentleman to coerce and extract whatever he wants.

Ben could’ve been a fascinating nemesis, but in spite of Hudson getting top billing, he has less screen time than Slayton and Jess, and when Jess teams up with Ben, the only character worth watching is the former because Gordon is such a master at playing tough guys still retaining a few ounces of decency.

To the other end, Ben’s a child, and Hudson has little room to deepen the character. He’s a happy kid hugging Jennifer in their first scene together; ooo-so-angry & upset when she’s been taken away; and turns on a dime to smiling like a kid again in the final shot where he runs to a freed Jennifer. (You can literally imagine Hudson asking Walsh “Can do anything else besides shout ‘Jennifer!’ and run over for a hug?” and getting a firm “No! The script’s not worth the effort!” from Walsh.)

Lee Marvin and Neville Brand have small roles as Slayton’s dry and businesslike goons, and the two add some colourful snarls to scenes that are fairly straightforward. One can see why Walsh was assigned to the picture – an expert at action in any genre and a former actor, Walsh had a solid C.V. of films under his belt (Object, Burma! and White Heat being outright classics) – but it’s as though he was instructed to stick to safe framing and avoid camera movement to ensure the least amount of 3D challenges.

Things are tossed at the viewer – rocks, woods, and gun barrels pointed head-on – but no one seemed to understand the value of high contrast lighting in bringing out depth. Much of the film’s final third involves flatly shot day for night, and by timing down the footage to simulate dark evenings, there’s little depth to any of the visual elements. The trailer shows the original footage before it was dimmed, and a scene carefully composed for 3D depth – one that contains a disintegrating barn with rows of wooden pillars reaching to the end of a deep focus shot – come off as dim 2D.

Why do that? The contrast between weak and excellent 3D is frequent whenever scenes transition to desert scenes shot under bright sunlight – there’s colour, genuine crisp depth, and Walsh and White’s compositions are marvelous. You can argue Walsh held back on close-ups and tracking shots for potent dramatic moments – there’s a build-up to an implied rape before the screen fades out – but they’re so few & far between that Gun Fury could’ve been directed by workmanlike filmmaker. One need only see Roy Ward Baker’s underrated Inferno (1953) for effective 3D night shots.

As flawed as the film may be, it does feature plenty of horseback chases, and Walsh clearly had fun with the shootout and chase finale, building momentum through fast cuts and performance nuances. The score by uncredited Mischa Bakaleinikoff and Arthur Morton (soon to become Jerry Goldsmith’s main orchestrator) is solid if not fairly standard, and Twilight Time’s Blu features a partial isolated score of the surviving mono stems – nice touch.

The disc includes flat and 3D versions of the film, and the flat version arguably verifies the overall film elements were in fragile shape – grain and less vibrant colours suggest less than ideal prints. Given many of these early 3D productions have been mothballed for decades, it’s a wonder the surviving elements can be restored for effective 3D presentation. The team behind the film’s restoration did a fine job in rescuing a B-western from oblivion, if not forcing fans to settle for 2D presentations.

TT’s release makes use of vintage promo art, with a cover sleeve painting that bears zero resemblance to the actors; although Reed gets a makeover in a bizarre bath & dressing scene, she’s never transformed into a sandy, curly-haired blonde. The booklet is more realistic, but it’s not Hudson tied to a fence post, but Gordon!  The film proper also has its share of continuity gaffes: when Reed is seen again in the finale for a prisoner swap, she’s wearing the same wardrobe removed in the weird bath-makeover scene; and when Ben and Slayton’s Mexican moll Estella (Roberta Haynes) are shot in separate sequences, neither bears any wounds from impacts that clearly knocked them out cold.

Julie Kirgo’s liner notes are fun for championing underrated Walsh and the film itself. There’s a sense had Walsh died after White Heat, he might have been better remembered, but like many veterans from the silent era, he took what he could, and not every film featured muscular action and strong characters; perhaps his forte lay in crime and war instead of westerns, with Battle Cry (1955) and The Naked and the Dead (1958) exploiting his knack for tension and melodrama.

The vintage trailers – flat and 3D – are pure promotional cheese, branding Carey as “The New Thrill Man!”  and actress Haynes as “The Girl You’ve Read About and Hollywood is Raving About!” Neither of the lead actresses play women of strength – they’re rigid genre archetypes who get smacked and dragged around – and it’s a little sad when Reed is hailed for a role that ‘transcends her Oscar-winning triumph in From Here to Eternity.’ Call it a case of the infamous Oscar curse: whatever film follows a winning performance has a high chance of being mediocre.

Screenwriters Irving Wallace (The Chapman Report, The Prize) and Roy Huggins (The Fugitive, The Rockford Files) would have greater success in novels and TV, respectively, and both Haynes and Carey would reteam that same year for Columbia other 3D western, Fred Sears’ The Nebraskan. Gordon would co-star in John Wayne’s only 3D film Hondo (1953) and enjoy a massively prolific career in TV.

Columbia 8 films shot in its proprietary 3D system include Gun Fury, Man in the Dark, Miss Sadie Thompson, The Nebraskan, and The Stranger Wore a Gun (all 1953), and Drums of Tahiti, Jesse James vs. the Daltons, and The Mad Magician (all 1954).

 

 

© 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmographies: Mischa BakaleinikoffArthur Morton

 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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