Forty Guns is a 1957 western film by Samuel Fuller. It stars Barry Sullivan as Griff Bonell, former gunfighter turned lawman. He and his two brothers come to the town of Tombstone, after Howard Swain for mail robbery.
They quickly come up against the local authority: landowner Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck). Backed by her forty hired guns, she controls everyone and everything around Tombstone. A strong woman, she has one weakness: her younger brother Brockie (John Ericson).
When Brockie shoots Griff’s old friend Marshall Chisholm (Hank Worden), the extent of Jessica’s power becomes clear. The local lawmakers are all in her pocket. Although Jessica is tough and strong, she also shows herself to be largely honourable. After all, she allows her employee to be brought to justice when she learns he has broken the law. Brockie, however, is selfish, mean and entitled but Jessica supports and defends him.
One of Jessica’s dragoons is shot during an ambush arranged by Sheriff Logan (Dean Jagger). The attack is designed to get rid of Griff, but youngest Bonell brother Chico (Robert Dix) kills gunman Savage first. Determined to even up the score, Brockie shoots at Griff on brother Wes’ wedding day, but misses. The bullet instead kills Wes (Gene Barry) as he leaves the church with his bride.
The film builds towards its climax as Griff must bring Brockie to justice. He must somehow overcome Jessica’s blind protection of her baby brother. When the film closes, the conclusion may not be what the viewer was expecting. However, after an eventful film, it leaves a feeling of satisfaction.
Filmed in black and white and Cinemascope, Forty Guns is an atmospheric western. There are some intense sequences which lend the finished film intrigue and nuance. Although, these scenes do not detract from the emotion of the story.
This is not a film which outstays its welcome, at a running time of just 80 minutes. Stanwyck, Sullivan, Ericson and Jagger are very effective in their respective roles, as one would expect. There are moments when there seem to be too many plot points for such a short film. However, the characters are well enough defined that the audience can easily follow both the plot and emotion of the story.
The extra features on this Blu-ray release are well worth a look. The original theatrical trailer is presented here; perhaps best viewed after the film as it does not really convey the mood or essence of the film. Also included are an interview with film critic Jean-Louis Leutrat and a 1969 audio interview with Writer-Producer-Director Samuel Fuller. This is the stand-out here, at an impressive running time of 80 minutes.
Although Eureka Entertainment have previously released Forty Guns as part of their Masters of Cinema series, this release is the new 4K restoration from Fox. It is stunning, bringing the viewer right into the middle of the story. The wide angles of Cinemascope convey both expanse and closeness with the same magnetism. Both the audio and picture quality are second to none. Whereas some low budget westerns of this era can feel foggy, Forty Guns can really pull you in.
It is not a typical mid-1950s western. The characters are more than just conventions. Barbara Stanwyck makes sure that Jessica Drummond has both tenderness and strength, exactly when required. The male cast are equally as strong and effectively economical with their performances. This is not so much a western for western fans: there are none of the typical bar fights and shoot-’em-ups in the conventional sense. This is a film for fans of a compelling story, for there is plenty of story here.
Fuller at Fox
Forty Guns is part of Eureka Entertainment’s Fuller at Fox Blu-ray box set. Fuller at Fox is a collection of 5 of Director Samuel Fuller’s finest films on Blu-ray. The set includes Fixed Bayonets (1951), Pickup on South Street (1953), Hell and High Water (1954), House of Bamboo (1955) and Forty Guns (1957). It is part of the Masters of Cinema series. Fuller at Fox is available from Eureka Entertainment or Amazon from 11th November 2019.