Gun Fury (3-D)
Twilight Time // Unrated // $29.95 // September 19, 2017
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 4, 2017
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
A 3-D Blu-ray release of any classic title from the 1950s is welcome news, even more so when it's a film as good as Gun Fury (1953). Directed by Raoul Walsh, unable to see 3-D himself after losing his right eye in a road accident, this Western starring Rock Hudson and Donna Reed has intelligently written characters, makes good use of 3-D, and pleasantly surprises with its atypically meaty and sympathetic role for Leo Gordon, whom director Don Siegel once described as "the scariest man I have ever met."

A Columbia Pictures release licensed to Twilight Time from Sony, Gun Fury was also shot in Technicolor. The image is on the grainy side, and apparently the money wasn't there to remaster the film from the original black-and-white separations, but the 3-D looks great. The film was one of the first released in some markets in a single-strip process, rather than the dual projector system most common then. It would be interesting to learn whether film elements converted from this single-strip process was the basis for the transfer. Though not clear from the packaging, a trailer also viewable in 3-D is included.

In Arizona Territory sometime after the Civil War, Georgian Jennifer Ballard (Donna Reed) rides a stagecoach to meet her fiancé, Ben Warren (Rock Hudson), the couple bound for his ranch in California. A fellow passenger, calling himself Hamilton but actually outlaw Frank Slayton (Philip Carey), is quite taken with Jennifer. Her Southern graces remind this lonely, bitter former Confederate soldier of happier days. He pressures her to have dinner with him, upsetting Slayton's right-hand man, Jess Burgess (Leo Gordon). When Ben unexpectedly meets Jennifer at a stage stop, Burgess subtly hints they might want to transfer to a different stage.

As they are anxious to reach California his suggestions are ignored: Ben and Jennifer ride along with Slayton and Burgess, whose men ambush the stage to rob it of its payroll box. Ben tries to thwart the robbery, but is apparently shot and left for dead. (Inexplicably, he later revives no worse for the wear.) Determined to take Jennifer with him all the way to Mexico, he kidnaps and later attempts to rape her, but Burgess intervenes, only to be subdued by the rest of the gang (including Neville Brand and Lee Marvin in small roles). Burgess is tied up and left to the buzzards.

A revived Ben finds Burgess hours from death, and the two join forces to track down Slayton and rescue Jennifer.

Gun Fury is way above average for a ‘50s Western, a hair's breadth below the great Anthony Mann films with James Stewart. Like those pictures, Gun Fury has psychologically complex heroes and villains, while the screenplay by Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins (based on a novel by Kathleen B. Granger, George Granger, and Robert A. Granger) also vaguely exhibits whiffs of High Noon, released the year before.

Hudson's Ben is basically an isolationist, a veteran who has seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime, and who regards his California ranch's remoteness as its greatest asset. To him, the world outside its borders doesn't exist. Yet once his wife is kidnapped, he can't raise a posse or convince lawmen to come to his aid: not their concern, out of their jurisdiction. Instead, he comes to rely on the heavy's henchman and, later, a similarly victimized Indian (Pat Hogan) for help.

Slayton, meanwhile, is a Southern gentleman made ruthless by war. As Burgess points out, his moral standards eroded from robbing carpetbaggers to killing anyone with impunity. Jennifer reminds him of what was lost but he also knows there's no going back. He doesn't exactly lust after her or long for her love, but rather sort of wants to keep her around as a token of his irredeemable past.

The real surprise, however, is Leo Gordon as Burgess. Though he occasionally played sympathetic roles, Gordon mostly was a prolific bad guy in innumerable Western and crime films and TV shows, including Gunsmoke and Maverick. In the John Wayne vehicle McLintock! (1963), it's Gordon to whom Wayne directs his famous line, "Somebody oughta belt you but I won't. I won't. The Hell I won't!" (POW!).

In Gun Fury, Gordon's character subverts the usual henchman function, joining forces with the hero. He's a stagecoach bandit, but abides by a moral code southern gentleman Slayton blatantly violates, and, after leaving him to the vultures, Burgess is out for revenge. If anyone but Gordon had been cast, one might easily read homoerotic elements into the relationship, but in the film this appears unintentional. (This story deserves to be remade, with this aspect explored more explicitly. It's one of Gordon's best film roles.

Rock Hudson is better than adequate though Donna Reed is wasted in a nothing part so soon after From Here to Eternity (1953). Third-billed Roberta Haynes is pretty ludicrous as Slayton's Latina mistress, whose mangled Spanish is anything but convincing.

This was Columbia's third 3-D Western, released just as the new widescreen CinemaScope process was signaling the end of the ‘50s 3-D boom. Where most ‘50s 3-D titles are known for throwing and projecting items toward the camera (and thus the movie audience), Gun Fury opens with POV shots from the buckboard of the stagecoach as it races down a canyon pass. The effect is more like the audience participation tricks of Cinerama (such as its famous rollercoaster ride in 1952's This Is Cinerama) yet it's very effectively done here. Walsh's use of Arizona locations, similar to John Ford's beloved Monument Valley, is also effective.

Video & Audio

Twilight Time 3-D Blu-ray of Gun Fury is presented in 1080p, 1.85:1 widescreen, with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono audio. The movie is viewable in both 3-D and regular 2-D, with optional English subtitles on this region-free disc. As noted above the image is on the grainy side and the color imperfect, though both are acceptable and where it counts, properly conveying the three dimensions, the disc is extremely good. This is a limited edition restricted to just 3,000 units, so get yours now.

Extra Features

Supplements include a partial isolated music track of Mischa Bakaleinikoff and Arthur Morton's uncredited score, and trailers, one each in 2- and 3-D. Julie Kirgo's usual liner notes focus primarily on Walsh and his career.

Parting Thoughts

Gun Fury would be a worthwhile Western even if it hadn't been shot in 3-D. Now, as a 3-D Blu-ray release, it's ripe for rediscovery. Highly Recommended.







Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.



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