Westerns don't necessarily need a big budget to be entertaining; just a few memorable characters, a half-decent plot, at least one showdown, and a couple of good haymakers along the way. Andrew V. McLaglen's Gun the Man Down (1956) ticks all of those boxes and a few more. It feels more like an extended TV episode than a feature-length movie at times, due to said budget and a running time that barely cracks the 75-minute mark. Yet the film plays most of its cards right: while Gun the Man Down is hardly an exceptional production---it feels more "good" than "great"---there's still a lot to like here, plus a young Angie Dickinson in one of her best early film roles.
The story goes like this: Remington "Rem" Anderson (James Arness), Matt Rankin (Robert J. Wilke), and Ralph Farley (Don Megowan) successfully "withdraw" $40,000 from a bank, critically wounding a teller in the process. Rem takes a bullet during their escape, and a posse is just minutes behind the robbers when Rem's girlfriend Janice (Angie Dickinson) ushers them into their hideout. Fearing the wounded man would slow them down, Rankin and Farley leave Rem behind and take Janice for good measure. Soon enough, Rem is thrown in jail for a year after refusing to snitch. He serves his time. It's now March 19, 1886, and Remington's aiming to get even with his former partners.
Economically shot, Gun the Man Down has a few visible seams but they're mostly part of the fun. The largely barren locales are limited to dusty, nondescript landscapes and a sun-scorched small town that's technically run by Sheriff Morton (Emile Meyer) and his restrained deputy Lee (Harry Carey, Jr.)...but Rankin and Farley pretty much do what they want in the nearby saloon, rendering the once-quiet town a little less peaceful. This all changes once Rem finally rides into town, and it's the resulting slow burn---one that involves a reunion with the fiercely unapologetic Jenny, a deadly encounter with gun-for-hire Billy Deal (Michael Emmet), and a measure of support from the local authorities---that gives Gun the Man Down the bulk of its charm and staying power. The performances are enjoyable, the tension builds nicely---if not a little too slowly at times, as 10 minutes or more could've been trimmed with little impact---and the ending doesn't necessarily play to audience expectations. Produced by John Wayne and his brother Robert E. Morrison, this is a lightweight but durable little production that genre fans should enjoy.
While Gun the Man Down was released on DVD by MGM back in 2007, Olive Films' new Blu-ray should be well-received by genre enthusiasts. This extremely low-budget film looks and sounds quite good on home video; in all probability, even better than many 1956 theatrical release prints. Licensed from MGM, Olive's single-layered disc doesn't offer much in the way of bonus features...but the film's the main thing, and this one's good enough for a closer look.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Gun the Man Down looks very good on Blu-ray with a few small complaints (most of which appear to be source material issues). First, the good: black levels, shadow detail, film grain, and textures are often very strong, especially during close-ups and sunbaked outdoor sequences. No major digital imperfections---excessive DNR or edge enhancement, for example---could be spotted along the way. Slight and occasional issues include pervasive darkness during both of the film's short to mid-length "day for night" scenes (one even accidentally catches a bit of sun glare), as well as some white blooming that looks more like overexposure than boosted contrast. Overall, it's a fine effort and die-hard fans should be pleased.
NOTE: This review's screen captures and stills were taken from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio comes through cleanly on this DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track, preserving the film's original mono mix while faithfully reproducing the dialogue and music cues. There's little depth and this is undoubtedly a "thin" presentation from start to finish, but considering the film's age and budget it's completely understandable. In other words, genre fans and newcomers alike won't find much to complain about with this lossless audio treatment. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature, an overdue but welcome new standard for Olive Blu-rays.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The plain-wrap interface includes separate options for content access and subtitle setup. Loading time is fast with no trailers or advertisements beforehand, aside from the Olive Films logo. This one-disc package includes one insert and attractive, colorful cover artwork. Extras are limited to the film's entertaining Theatrical Trailer
Slightly bloated even at a scant 74 minutes, Andrew V. McLaglen's Gun the Man Down is nonetheless an engaging and enjoyable time at the movies. There's a good amount of setup hashed out in relatively short order, which makes its slow-burning payoff all the more suspenseful (if not a bit too drawn-out at times). Performances are reliably good all across the board, especially Gunsmoke star James Arness and young Angie Dickinson in her first starring role. Olive's Blu-ray has no trouble eclipsing MGM's 2007 DVD with its solid A/V presentation, but the extras leave a lot to be desired. Recommended for genre or cast fans; a rental should be enough for everyone else.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.