Jul 052010

Gregory Peck is The GunfighterThe Gunfighter is a classic western from 1950, it stars Gregory Peck as Jimmy Ringo.

Jimmy is a man whose reputation precedes him, unable to find peace or live the quiet life he must drift from town to town knowing that one day someone might just be faster than him or shoot him in the back.

This post contains spoilers so i recommend clicking here if you intend to watch this film sometime and do not want your later viewing experience to be spoiled.

Jimmy Ringo sips his drink, the weight of the world on his shoulders, tired and just wanting to be left alone but all Eddie can see is a gunfighter and he wants a piece of him, Eddie wants to be known as the man who killed Johhny Ringo.

Eddie "I Bet I'm Faster Than Him"

Eddie draws on Jimmy, that was his first and last mistake, Eddie's friends tell Jimmy he has three brothers and they won't take kindly to him killing their brother, Jimmy takes the hint and leaves town, he's used to the drill by now as he gets challenged by young punks out to make a name for themselves in every town he enters. As sure as night follows day the three brothers do pursue Jimmy but he takes them by surprise, by now Jimmy is tired of killing so instead he disarms them and drives off their horses, he tells them to abandom the pursuit and let him be.

Mac "Uh, hes a little astonished, Jimmy"

Jimmy "When you get him un-astonished, tell him to take care of my horse"

Jimmy is heading to Cayenne, a small town, he is there to see his wife and their young son who he last saw eight years ago, Jimmy heads to the local saloon where the barkeeper recognizes him and informs the Marshal that a gunfighter is in town, Luckily for Jimmy, Marshal Mark Strett is an old friend, they share a history together, Jimmy urges Mark to get his girl, Peggy, who is now a schoolteacher to see him, he agree's to try, Jimmy will not leave the town until Peggy meets him and he gets a chance to talk to his son.

Marshal Mark Strett: "Somebody after you"?
Jimmy Ringo: "Three somebodies"
Marshal Mark Strett: "The law"?
Jimmy Ringo: "Naw, this is personal"
Marshal Mark Strett: "I dont want em to catch up with you here"
Jimmy Ringo: "I dont want em to catch up with me anywhere"

Jimmy knows if he stays in town the more chance that the brothers who are after him will find him and he has to contend with Hunt Bromley, a local gunslinger who thinks he is faster on the draw. the clock is ticking and for Jimmy Ringo it doesn't pay to stay in one place too long.

The conclusion to The Gunfighter is appropriate, Jimmy Ringo is shot by Bromley in the back, its a cowardly act and as the tension builds up you could almost see this coming.

Jimmy Ringo: "Now turn around and head for the door. Keep movin' and don't do anything sudden with your hands"
Hunt Bromley: "I'll be seein' ya, Mister Ringo"
Jimmy Ringo: "All the way outside, sonny."

The Gunfighter is not your typical western, there are no heroes in this movie just flawed characters who are trying their best to live their life, Jimmy Ringo by all accounts has a chequered past and did some very bad things, he has killed a lot of people and his reputation has grown so much that it is inevitable that he now finds himself challenged by those who want fame and the glory that they believe comes from being the fastest gunslinger.

This film was made in black and white its aspect ratio is 1.37:1, the director is Henry King and as well as featuring Gregory Peck, the film also has Karl Malden as bartender Mac, Helen Westcott as Peggy, Millard Mitchell as Marshal Mark Strett and a young Richard Jaeckel plays Eddie who is shot dead by Jimmy at the beginning of the film. Its a fine cast with good acting performances.

Gregory Peck in The GunfighterThere is little action in the film, its more of a character study and was filmed at the height of the film noir period in Hollywood, if you watch High Noon you can see that film's influence is The Gunfighter.

The scene where Peck meets his son for the first time is superb, the interplay between father and son is touching and its here that we get to see the human side of Jimmy Ringo, the years just wash off him and he no longer looks so tired and worn out, its an impressive moment and one of many.

We learn that Marshal Strett used to ride with Jimmy Ringo and he himself was once a bad guy but through a stroke of luck he got his badge and became respectable, it's here we see friendship at work as Jimmy is genuinely pleased to see Mark and is happy he got his break in life.

Jimmy realises the mess he has made of his life and wants better for his son, he wants to escape the past and thinks if he can show his wife he has changed and stay out of trouble for a year then they can be together as a family and live happily ever after, if this was made today i am in no doubt they would tag a happy ending on the film but its appropriate that this film does not end that way, in order to have redemption and set an example to his young son, Jimmy must die.

It takes a bullet in the back from Hunt Bromley to kill him, no one is shown in the film to be faster on the draw than Jimmy Ringo, as he lies dying Jimmy tells the marshal not to arrest Bromley, he wants him to suffer as he did, he wants him to find out that being a fast draw in the west is a curse and not a recipe for fame and fortune, good dialogue in this scene.

No one in town knows Peggy has a son by a notorious gunslinger, by the end of the film Peggy is proud to let people know she is Mrs Ringo, at no point do i recall seeing a scene where we actually find out that Peggy ever married Jimmy, it could well be they had a son out of wedlock and this would have been heavily frowned upon back in those times and that final scene is Peggy telling the world she would have been proud to be Jimmy Ringos wife.

You watch the film and hope Jimmy gets out of town in time, you shout at the screen for him to leave but although his reflexes are still good his mind is weary and his time is up, the tagline for The Wild Bunch is they came too late, they stayed too long, for Jimmy that is also true.

This is a short film at only 85 minutes long but it deserves your attention, its a classic western and its a classic film, if only more films had as much thought put into them as this one has.

This is a pyschological study of a man who made the wrong decisions in life and ended up regretting them, its as telling today as it was back in 1950 and has aged beautifully. Featuring superb black and white cinematography by three times Oscar winner Arthur C. Miller i recommend this film down and i hope that one day it gets the film restoration treatment for blu ray.

Gregory Peck and Helen Westcott in The GunfighterIncidentally to show the type of class Gregory Peck had i must recount this tale of the actor Richard Jaeckel who played Eddie in The Gunfighter, Jaeckel's wife had just been diagnosed with Alzheimers and Jaeckel himself was suffering from Cancer, they owed lots of money on their home and were declared bankrupt, they lost their home in 1994 but thanks to lobbying by Mr Peck he was able to get into the Motion Picture and Television Retirement Center in Woodland Hills where he died one year later.

Its worth pointing out that many movies have featured the character of Johnny Ringo, the last of which was the excellent Tombstone.

There is no doubt this film is loosely based on the character of Johnny Ringo even though the name has been changed to Jimmy, Johnny Ringo was real and hung around with the Clanton's and was a member of the infamous cowboys gang, there are many rumours and stories as to how Ringo died, most have been debunked and it is likely he killed himself due to depression after a marathon drinking binge.

Gregory Peck often got scripts which were originally rejected by Cary Grant but he felt The Gunfighter was one of his best film roles, i agree, check it out. Its currently available on DVD.