A criminally neglected Western deserving far greater notoriety is Day of the Evil Gun, released on March 1, 1968 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring Glenn Ford. The downbeat, unusually brutal film rates among Ford’s top five best Westerns.
The actor, a quintessential under-player who served the scene rather than upstaging his fellow actors, had comfortably settled into Westerns by this stage of his film career (his screen debut, incidentally a Western, was Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, released 29 years earlier; in the 1970s Ford would translate much of his acting duties to television movies of the week and a short-lived, albeit exciting modern-day Western series entitled Cade’s County).
In Day of the Evil Gun Ford plays a prodigal gunslinger who returns home after a long absence and is forced to pursue Apaches who have kidnapped his wife and kids in an homage to John Wayne’s iconic The Searchers. Interestingly, Ford goes against the traditional grain and never shoots anybody in the movie. He is an observer, relying on his wits to navigate the violent savagery around him.
Arthur Kennedy brings to life a meek rancher who abhors firearms and has feelings for Ford’s wife, basically taking care of her while Ford roamed the prairie. Kennedy is determined to follow Ford on his quest, even if he remains uninvited.
After an awesome fistfight in a river, the duo gradually come to begrudgingly respect one another. Various interludes exemplified by the partners getting staked out to die in the sun by Indians and encountering a band of less than noble soldiers defending a fort illustrate an uneasy proclivity towards violence as Kennedy comes to savor the feeling of power exhibited whenever he kills.
The end of the movie is kinda shocking to see Ford renounce violence and his past. Kennedy just can’t bear the thought of Ford returning to his family. An undercurrent of dark, dry humor permeates many scenes.
The supporting cast is excellent including genre stalwarts John Anderson, Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Jagger, plus Paul Fix, best known as Marshal Micah Torrance on The Rifleman as well as John Wayne’s early, definitely influential acting teacher.
The desert visuals are expertly photographed, the action—particularly the fort/Apache scenes—is thrilling, the direction by Jerry Thorpe is top notch, and the script was co-penned by Charles Marquis Warren, executive producer of three epochal Western series— Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and The Virginian.
This wordsmith heartily endorses Day of the Evil Gun, which periodically airs on Encore Westerns and is available on Warner Archive DVD or streaming sites like YouTube. A video containing the edge-of–your-seat, expertly choreographed river fistfight between Ford and Kennedy can be accessed above.
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! John Wayne had no plans to retire after The Shootist opened to excellent reviews but slow box office receipts in August 1976. After open heart surgery in late spring 1978, the Duke was determined to begin work on Beau John. He went to impressive lengths to secure the project, actually buying the film rights via Batjac, the first time that had happened since he unsuccessfully bidded for True Grit 10 years earlier. The legend also had plans to reunite with one of his recent costars. Little has been known about the unfinished film until now. To learn more about the one project that gave Wayne some much needed hope during his final days, head on over to “‘Beau John’: The Untold Story of John Wayne’s Last Project.”
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Exclusive Interview: Dean Martin gave bravura performances in Rio Bravo and The Sons of Katie Elder with buddy John Wayne. The “Memories Are Made of This” balladeer’s namesake daughter, Deana, keeps the limelight on her family, performing and recording her dad’s material all around the world. Deana recently agreed to explore a side of her father rarely discussed in modern literature, a man of simple tastes versus the cliché-ridden, glitzy Vegas image. In “Deana Martin Can’t Help Remembering the Swingin’ King of Cool,” Dino’s daughter shares heretofore unheard memories regarding the Duke, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, family vacations, guitars, watching old Westerns with Sammy Davis, Jr., riding horses, golf, and their poignant, final Christmas spent together.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Still a towering icon decades after his death, John Wayne personifies the genuine article. In 2013 the Wayne family commissioned journalist Michael Goldman to explore the family archives of personal letters (i.e. correspondence between presidents, Steve McQueen, director John Ford, the president of the Harvard Lampoon after the Duke rode to the campus on a tank borrowed from Fort Devens) and rare documents, most of which had accumulated dust in unopened boxes hastily packed away in the hectic days following the naturally gifted actor’s tragically unfair demise in 1979. The only edict from the Duke’s son, Ethan, was to craft a portrait harnessing his dad’s own words. During Goldman’s research, he stumbled across a golden goose—the cowboy actor’s unfinished memoir. In “He Was Ugly, Strong, and Had Dignity: Uncovering John Wayne’s Hidden Treasure,” Goldman agreed to speak candidly with this writer about the current state of John Wayne Enterprises and his favorite archive discoveries. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: Imposing, intelligent, battle-scarred hombre Richard Boone rose to fame as the star of CBS’ iconic Western series, Have Gun—Will Travel. In case you didn’t know, Warren Oates guest starred in two episodes. Boone was a multifaceted individual who experienced frightening Kamikaze attacks and hand-to-hand combat during World War II. The gruff cowboy was capable of gregarious carousing one evening while attending opera or art gallery openings the next. Biographer David Rothel took it upon himself to shine a light upon the thespian’s varied life and career. Fortunately, yours truly convinced Rothel to undertake his first Boone-centric interview (“A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land: Saluting Erudite Tough Guy Richard Boone”) in well over a decade.
- Exclusive Interview No. 4: Though not a household name, cult actor Warren Oates lit up the screen in a 25-year career cut inexplicably short by a heart attack at age 53 in April 1982. His hardscrabble Depression-era upbringing in the predominantly coal-mining community of Depoy, Kentucky, no doubt influenced his honest characterizations as the voyeuristic deputy of In the Heat of the Night, a good-natured outlaw gang member in The Wild Bunch, the psychotic pill-poppin’ villain in Lee Van Cleef’s Barquero, a tall-tale spewing car driver in Two-Lane Blacktop, the sympathetic title role of Dillinger, and Bill Murray’s constantly exasperated sergeant in the comical Stripes. His pre-eminent biographer, Susan Compo, speaks in a fascinating interview [i.e. “That Guy You’ve Seen But Can’t Remember His Name…”] about Oates’ hell-raising and humanity, best and worst movie roles, working alongside the mercurial Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and what she might have said to Oates if their paths had intertwined.
Further Reading: With tongue planted firmly in cheek, actor Charles Bronson once mused, “I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited.” Appearing in an astounding 160 television and film productions [e.g. Death Wish, Sergio Leone’sOnce Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape—the latter two classics costarring Steve McQueen], Bronson rarely received any credit for his minimalist acting style and formidable screen presence. To read an extensive birthday profile detailing exactly who the strikingly stone-faced star was behind his tough guy persona, featuring anecdotes from costars such as James Coburn, James Garner, Tony Curtis, and Elvis Presley’s Memphis Mafia, head on over to the following link: “A Face Like An Eroded Cliff…”
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