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'Gunslinger' (1958): A Review

Sir, do you have any idea how fast you were cooking that stew?
Sir, do you have any idea how fast you were cooking that stew?
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The name Roger Corman conjures up a number of interesting adjectives, though few are positive or charitable. Churning out films at a ridiculously irresponsible pace, Corman is more renowned for his speed and versatility than for his quality, his entire oeuvre consisting of manhy film genres, from Horror to Science Fiction to even the odd Western – and perhaps none of Corman’s Westerns are odder than his 1956 film, ‘Gunslinger’, staring one of his regular stars from the 1950’s, Beverly Garland.

After her husband Scott Hood (William Schallert), the sheriff of Oracle, is killed by two assailants, his widow Rose (Beverly Garland) is named temporary sheriff, and soon after earns the ire of Erica Page (Allison Hayes), the devious owner of Oracle’s most popular saloon. Erica, who is engaged in a shady property scheme of some sort, decides to hire the cold-blooded Cane Miro (John Ireland) to kill Rose, though she later waffles on the issue, a decision that comes back to haunt her when Cane begins to fall in love with his target. And in the midst of all this convoluted madness, there are gunfights, horse-chases, and all the other clichés that make Corman’s ‘Gunslinger’ a mixture of the timeworn and the atypical.

Although Corman is by no means a maestro of cinema, and his miserly production values often mar what could otherwise be interesting films, ‘Gunslinger’ is probably one of Corman’s “better” films (“better” in the sense that it is actually watchable). Going against type, Corman makes Beverly Garland, a woman, the star of his “western” picture, a concept that was absent from the Western genre at the time, and remains as proof that while Corman is not the best of filmmakers, at least he was willing to try new ideas and go against the grain.

Garland, an underrated actress who could’ve been bigger if she had gotten better work, does an amiable job as Rose Hood, her performance marred more by Corman’s slapdash direction and a mediocre script than by her own abilities. Though the film itself flounders and struggles through episodes of ridiculousness (including a “cat-fight” between Garland and Hayes), Garland takes her role seriously enough and does a commendable job with the less than adequate material she’s given. John Ireland, who would later go on to have a relatively successful film career, also does a presentable job, his portrayal of killer Cane believable enough with only a few forays into ham-acting blemishing an otherwise competent performance.

However, despite boasting a decent principal cast, the film’s supporting actors and production values collectively bring Corman’s B-grade picture down into Z-grade territory: Stretched out horse-riding scenes that do nothing save pad out the film; awkward or subpar dialogue that sounds like it was written on the spot; clapboard sets that do nothing to create atmosphere or immerse the viewer. There is no substance to Corman’s “west”, rather the town of Oracle looks more like a prop than a true town, and the viewer is constantly jarred out of the created world of Corman’s film so often that it becomes impossible watch ‘Gunslinger’ without being constantly aware of the fact that one is watching a movie.

Ultimately, Roger Corman’s ‘Gunslinger’ is a wasted opportunity and muddled production. Though it had the potential to be an interesting B-grade Western, Corman’s insistence on speed over quality results in a slapdash, hastily assembled and poorly executed picture that, though better than some of the other schlock he’s trotted out to the theatres over the years, is still a disaster and a wreck, and a film that will appeal to few movie-goers, if any, save perhaps to fans of terrible cinema who enjoy “riffing” on so-bad-their-good films.

Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.