One of my biggest complaints about movies over the last 10 or so years is the overwhelming use of remakes. Older movies are being updated, TV shows are being turned into movies, basically anything that's been proven successful in the past is being used repeatedly. And really why not? Why think of new creative, unique ideas when you can just reuse something from the past? It seems more prevalent now, but remakes are as old as movies themselves.
Take 1958's The Gun Runners which is based on an Ernest Hemingway novel from 1937, To Have and Have Not. Using Hemingway is nothing new to say the least, and this B-movie came just 14 years removed from the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall vehicle and only eight years removed from another remake made in 1950 starring John Garfield. They all deal with the same story, but it's fair to say this is a remake of a remake...and not a particularly good one at that.
With his midsize fishing boat off the coast of Florida, captain Sam Martin (Audie Murphy) who with his drunken first mate Harvey (Everett Sloane) takes tourists out for fishing trips, but he isn't too successful at it. He's months behind on payments for his boat with no real sign of money starting to flow in. One day, an American tourist enlists Sam's services to take him and a lady friend out onto the Gulf where he brings up a proposition. He'd like to go to Cuba -- in the midst of a revolution -- for a night where no one would bother him, and he'll pay well to get what he wants. The man's name is Hannigan (Eddie Albert), and he's not telling Sam everything. He's an arms dealer and has an arrangement for a large inbound shipment for the rebel fighters. Sam catches wind of the plan though and isn't going to go along willingly, but Hannigan has an ace up his sleeve.
Setting the story in southern Florida with detours over to Cuba is almost always a good idea in hopes of bringing up some controversy, even now 40 years later where the wet-foot, dry foot policy still remains with Cubans trying to escape to the U.S. But even with veteran tough guy director Don Siegel at the helm, this B-movie lacks a certain energy. There are long scenes of dialogue that don't really go anywhere, and the dynamics between characters is downright dull at times.
In the lead, Murphy takes off the gunbelt and cowboy hat and replaces it with a silly-looking captain's hat which he keeps on for almost the whole movie. I'm trying to think of an actor Murphy could be compared to, but I'm drawing a blank. I'll say this; he's a poor man's somebody. The real-life WWII hero made a movie career that saw him typically in B-westerns so it is refreshing to see a change of pace here. But like so much of the movie, his character is boring. He loves his wife (Patricia Owens) but their relationship lacks any fireworks. He looks out for drunken Harvey but why is he so protective? It's a nice enough character who you know in the end will make the right decision, but that's part of the problem. Sam Martin is about as interesting to watch as a drunken Harvey sleeping one off.
It's odd looking back on some actors' careers for how they're remembered. Albert is generally remembered as the star of the very stupid but very popular TV sitcom Green Acres, but I always think of him as playing a bad guy, and a good one at that. He was perfectly evil in The Longest Yard and Attack!, and he's one of few bright spots here. As Hannigan, Albert is charming and slimy at the same time, the kind of villain you love to root against. He'll deal with whoever has the most money, principals or morals be damned. The rest of the cast features Richard Jaeckel and Jack Elam in small parts where they're required to look menacing and do little else.
Throughout the movie where there should be a physical confrontation or at least a good shouting match, it feels like Siegel and his crew figured a way to keep the process cheap. I'm betting not a scene -- two at most -- go by before somebody's drinking, and I'm not talking apple juice. Got a problem? Go to the bar. Need to meet someone to talk things out? Go to a bar. Maybe this movie would be better if I had watched it drunk or at least buzzed. It's a snoozer with little to recommend other than Eddie Albert's turn as a villain.
The Gun Runners <---clips (1958): * 1/2 /****