FORTY GUNS is an odd little western. Barbara Stanwyck gets top billing though she hasn’t that many lines and doesn’t speak a line until about twenty minutes into the film. Barry Sullivan is the star playing U. S. Marshal Griff Bonnell who’s come to town with his two brothers, Wes(Gene Barry) and Chico(Robert Dix) with a warrant for the arrest of the Chief Deputy Howard Swain(Chuck Robertson) of Sheriff Ned Logan(Dean Jagger).
Stanwyck is Jessica Drummond, the most powerful rancher in the county. She owns virtually everything, including Sheriff Logan and rides around with an army, forty of them, gunmen. She’s always out front and the whole bunch seems to go wide open all the time. Has to be hard on the horses.
Both Griff and Jessica have kid brothers that want to be gunmen. Chico wants to be the third gun in the team with his brothers. They want him to return to the family farm. Jessica’s brother, Brockie(John Ericson), already fancies himself a gunman. She’d delivered him when she was only twelve and father was away. Her mother died giving birth, she’d milked a cow to get him milk and was the one who raised him. Brockie has obviously been spoiled as he likes to drink, gamble, and shoot up the town.
Early in the film, Brockie is hassling town Marshal John Chisum(Hank Worden), an old man who’s going blind. He shoots Chisum in the leg and goes on a rampage with some of the forty guns. Griff has tried to stay out of the feud until old Chisum is shot, then makes the walk(check the clip below) to stop him. Wes, as always, backs him up with a shotgun as he approaches the drunk young man.
Jessica buys him out of it with a five minute trial in the Sheriff’s office and a fifty dollar fine for disturbing the peace.
But Jessica is basically an honest woman. Though she rules with an iron fist, she’s done a lot for her county in Arizona Territory. Against both their wills, a relationship starts to build. While looking for a suspect of the murder of the deputy he’d arrested and put in jail, Charley Savage, Jessica accompanies him around her ranch. They get caught in a tornado and have to take shelter in a sturdy old building where they talk and get to know each other.
Little brother doesn’t like it. Neither does Sheriff Logan who has had designs on Jessica for years himself.
Brother Wes finds love in town, the daughter of the local gunsmith, a gunsmith herself, and they decide to wed, with him taking the town Marshal job. It ends tragically and sets up the violent ending.
FORTY GUNS, shooting title of Woman With A Whip, was produced, directed, and written by Samuel Fuller. It had a noirish look with black and white filming, lots of shadows, and unusual camera angles.
Liked this one.
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One last thing. Barbara Stanwyck was forty-nine when she made this film. She did all her own stunts, including being dragged by her horse in the tornado(see the clip below). It was filmed three times until Fuller was satisfied.