Welcome to the Old West! Or at least Roger Corman’s version of the Old West. In a small town Rose (Beverly Garland) is happily married to the marshal of these parts. But when her husband is gunned down in cold blood, Rose decides to take the law into her own hands, literally. She demands that the mayor make her the marshal until the new one arrives.
With this power, Rose starts tracking down the men that killed her husband. But she also suspects that the sultry, sneaky saloon owner Erica Page (Allison Hayes) is the real power behind the crime wave. Turns out she is right! Erica hires infamous killer Cane Miro (John Ireland) to kill Rose. But Cane takes a shine to the firebrand marshal. Erica is never one to put all her eggs in one basket, and begins to weave a web to destroy this lady Gunslinger and might take the whole town with it.
|"Do you think Corman is still filming us?"
Let’s take a look at the good points first. Corman and his crew mostly filmed this on location. There were plenty of Western sets still in use when Corman tackled the movie. In fact many of the locations look like old Paramount Ranch, which appeared in plenty of movies and television series including Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman. In any case, the dusty trails, rolling hills, chaparral, and twisted oaks give Gunslinger a classic western feel.
Most of the indoor sets work well too, including the Red Dog Saloon and the marshal’s office. The only bits that doesn’t quite convince are the hotel rooms where Erica and Cane plot. As Joel and the bots point out, doors to hotel rooms don’t usually open out, nor do they have numbers facing the inside of the rooms. This leads to some very funny riffs about having trysts in the hallway of the hotel.
|Erica doubts the veracity of your claim.
Speaking of Erica, Allison Hayes is just as good playing the deceitful antagonist in Gunslinger. She has an alluring way to her, and you can see why Cane and Little Man (Jonathan Haze) are attracted to her. But she also reveals a steely determination that matches Rose. Of course Erica is out for herself, looking to cash in on a huge property scheme. It is a delightfully devilish performance, only hampered by the clumsy dialogue she has to deliver.
Ireland plays Cane Miro as a typical tough guy who has a dark past. We get to know why he turned into a gunman for hire, and all around criminal (from Tombstone no less). When he’s playing up the cold killer aspects of the character, Ireland makes it work. But the scenes where Cane and Rose start falling for each other never really click. I don’t think the two have much chemistry, and it makes that portion of the film feel a little flat. But all in all, Ireland gives a solid performance.
|"Breakfast any time? Well I'm ready for flapjacks!"
The story at the heart of Gunslinger has a lot of potential. The idea of a marshal’s wife watching her husband getting gunned down and then taking up the star herself is full of potential. I especially like the idea of two powerful, confident women waging a battle against each other in this small frontier town. Each one doing what she thinks she has to do. In the middle of this is Cane Miro, a man that has a past with Erica and starts to fall for Rose. He becomes a key piece in the chess game, but who will end up controlling him? Executed with skill, Gunslinger could be considered well ahead of its time.
Alas this is a Roger Corman film. It just wasn’t going to happen.
ow, I know Corman is
admired in many circles. I will say that when he made some good movies in his
time. But I will also say that he showed potential in many films, including Gunslinger, that I think he had a real
knack for selecting and writing interesting story concepts. But the execution
of those stories, from the script level especially isn’t strong enough to build
a really great movie on.
|She switched his coffee for flavor crystals.
Lets see if he notices.
Knowing Corman, the actual script for Gunslinger was hashed out in a matter of days (or even hours). The result is an unfocused script that muddles itself far too often. Not that the film is confusing or complex, but it loses track of what it is trying to deliver.
A simple example is how they handle the killers who targeted Rose’s husband. Rose manages to shoot one of the men as they two ride away. And then the other guy shows up at the funeral of the man he just killed! Who does that? Rose spots him and guns him down right there. The silliness of that scene aside, it would have made for a more compelling film to leave one or both killers alive, and focus on Rose putting together the pieces of the plot and hunting them down. We could see her skills as a detective, work in some action, and build up Erica at the same time. Erica would obviously be watching Rose work with rising concern and then send out for Cane Muro who would arrive in the middle of the film after Rose takes out the last of her husband’s killers.
I just came up with that solution, and it works much better than what we ended up with. The movie is filled with script opportunities like that.
|Make out session in the hallway and Wormy
Cane Muro suffers the most. The idea of the lone wolf in the thrall of two women has plenty of story potential. But, as I mentioned, the chemistry between Ireland and Garland just isn’t there. Those scenes fall flat. But they could be avoided by having Muro admire Rose’s tenacity and skills. It doesn’t have to be love, but respect that increases as the movie goes along. He could even realize near the end that he is outmatched and outwitted by both women, and become a tragic figure in this. His final shootout with Rose could be a more desperate one, as he realizes that she’s just a better Gunslinger and his number is up. That would have made an even more edgy film, especially for 1956.
The final shooting script has too many silly lines, meandering conversations, and unclear character motivations, or moments that run contrary to what we think the characters are after. It’s a mess, and it impacts the acting too. I get the feeling that several members of the cast were just not sure how they were supposed to play certain scenes.
|"Mayor, you got to get them to stop calling me Wormy!"
Gunslinger isn’t a horrible film. But with a little more time, a little more care, it could have been a fondly remembered classic that was ahead of its time. Hell, Beverly Garland could have become one of the greats of the genre if given a chance. She does ride off into the sunset at the end of this film. I bet she could have appeared in a follow up or two. Alas, we get a sluggish mess that in some ways is more frustrating than an out and out bad movie. But it provides Joel and the bots with plenty of material.
|"Love what you're riding. Pinto?"
In all honesty Gunslinger is one of those episodes that I have to be in the right mood to appreciate. It all comes down to the pacing of Corman’s movie. It is deadly dull in spots. If you are not prepared to be bored by aimless dialogue than getting through the film can be difficult. But if you are ready to take is nice and slow, this is really a well-riffed episode.
|His only crime was making too many beans.
A lot of the riffing comes at the expense of the poor editing and some of the budgetary seams that start showing up all over the place. There is a hilarious moment where the camera pans to the right, and you can clearly see two riders waiting for their cue. Tom yells, “Action!” and they start riding “into frame”. A similar moment happens where the scene starts with Alison Hayes obviously waiting for her cue, and the start of the scene. Joel and bots just crack up and Crow sighs, “Corman!” with incredulity.
|They are so naughty. Naughty they are.
The Red Dog Saloon is a source of a lot of jokes. Erica keeps insisting that “The Red Dog Saloon is open 24 hours,” to which Crow chimes in, “Breakfast any time.” Whenever the can-can dancers appear on the screen, Tom offers numerous back-to-back riffs on their routine including helpful choreography tips such as “Spank and spank and spank and you’ve been bad in the tushy.”
They also have a lot of fun with Jonathon Haze’s character, who they dub “wormy”. When he tries to show Erica how he can take out Rose with a rifle, pretending his broom is the firearm, Crow chides, “Wormy, that’s an O Cedar!” And when Haze attempts to mount a horse for a secret mission, Joel provides the voice of the horse grumbling, “Oh no, not Wormy. Have some mercy!”
The pacing does present a challenge, as do some of the longer talking scenes between Erica and Cane in the hotel/hallway. But the boys do a pretty good job overall.
|Pony express... or Gypsy express?
For me, this episode is a fun one, not a favorite, but one that I usually enjoy when I revisit it. If you are a fan of westerns, Beverly Garland or even Roger Corman, you’ll probably get a bigger kick out of it than I do. Still this is a Season Five episode and most of those are in the top tier of the series, so you can’t really go wrong here.
I give it three wormy-guys out of five.