Something you rarely see these days, even on the television, is a good solid old-fashioned Western and certainly not one with such an undercurrent of meaning. Gunman’s Walk was made around 1958 but tackle’s problems that are still relevant today, namely racial prejudice and America’s gun culture. A line from the film could have been written yesterday when one character opines “If you put a gun in a boy's hand, he will sooner or later use it."
Directed by Phil Karlson, who I remember from directing Elvis Presley in Kid Galahad in 1962. One of Presley’s better performances were he played along side Charles Bronson as the boxer Walter Gulick. The screenplay is by Frank Nugent, who wrote 21 film scripts, 11 for John Ford including The Searchers (1956) and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon in 1949. Nugent based his screenplay on a story by Ric Hardman.
Basically what we have is a tale of juvenile delinquency and mixed up kids which, as Phillip French pointed out recently, was a fashionable Hollywood subject in the 1950’s. The normal crime/thriller genre has been changed to the later days of what we refer to as the western genre. The Wild West is changing but pioneer and ranch owner Lee Hackett and his eldest son Ed seem unable to except what have become the beginnings a new way of life. Both father and son yearn for the trigger-happy days of the past when your manhood was judged by how fast you were and how many men you killed. The younger brother is a different kettle of fish; Davy Hackett never wears a gun much to the despondency of his father. When a herd of horses has to be taken to the ‘town’ for market, problems arise from which there is no going back after Ed is charged with the murder of a half breed Sioux Injun whose sister Clee Chouard Davy has fallen in love with, Lee Hackett is not at all happy with either situation!
Tab Hunter plays against type; he normally played romantic leads, as the hot headed Ed Hackett, his overacting giving believability to the character. In the later part of his career Hunter played opposite Devine in two movies the first in 1981 Polyester directed by John Waters and the second in 1985 a comedy western called Lust in the Dust. Character actor Van Heflin one of Hollywood best-known actors plays his father in a typical scenery-chewing role with teenage heartthrob James Darren as the younger of the two brothers. Clee Chouard was played by Kathryn Grant who played the Princess in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) the first of the series of films animated by the late great Ray Harryhausen. She was married to Bing Crosby from 1957 until his death in 1977 and bore him three children.
The themes mentioned previously, namely racial prejudice and America’s gun culture, are still problems encountered by modern America despite this and many other films that have tried to point out the faults hidden deep in the psyche of the ‘land of the free’ we only have to pick up a newspaper or turn on the news to see that the warnings given have been ignored over many years. Also recommended Johnny Guitar (1954).