The Hired Gun, I never really thought it was from a TV show, but it sure felt like it.
For starters, 'Gun' clocks in at a whopping 63 minutes, many of which are just shots of the main characters riding across the desert. Visually stunning, agreed, but giving us any reason, any reason at all to be interested? Not really. Even at just over an hour, director Ray Nazarro (typically a TV director, appropriately enough) has two vastly different storylines, one covered over the first 30 minutes and then wham! Story change! New story up until the end. Too bad because with the talent involved, the movie had some potential but never amounts to much.
Waiting to be hanged in a few hours, Ellen Belden (Anne Francis) sits in her jail cell in a dusty Texas town. She claims innocence, but a judge sentenced her to death for the murder of her husband. When she steps up to the noose, she'll be the first woman ever hung in Texas. But the morning of the hanging, Judd Farrow (Chuck Connors), her uncle's ranch foreman, busts her out and helps her escape to the ranch in New Mexico. Ellen's dead husband's family, especially father Mace (John Litel) and brother Kell (Vince Edwards), want her back to answer for the murder. With no other options, they hire gunfighter Gil McCord (Rory Calhoun) to go get her back for $5,000.
One of the big problems here is that within 30 seconds of being introduced to Francis' character, she's spilling her guts claiming innocence in the opening narration. If it's me, I try and keep you guessing for at least a little while whether she killed her husband or not. Second on the problem list, Francis with her angelic blond hair and innocent face clearly isn't going to lie about her actions. From there on, it's just a matter of who did it, and looking at the supporting cast, it's a pretty easy guess.
As for the two stories, it just caught me off-guard. The first 30 minutes or so is the prison break and McCord's pursuit of Ellen as she flees into New Mexico. The last half is Gil and Ellen trying to prove who really killed her husband with a mysterious horse thief named Kirby (Guinn Williams) holding the key to proving her innocence. The problem isn't that the story takes a quick right turn midway through the movie, it's that the first half is pushed to the side in the blink of an eye. Connors' Judd helps Ellen escape and then assumes some reciprocity in the feelings department. He chases after Gil and Ellen, gets shot in the arm and disappears the rest of the story.
Of course, that's just one problem with the main characters. Calhoun is supposed to be a badass gunfighter but he only gets one chance to prove this in the movie. Other than people cowering when they hear his name, we're given no reason to think this guy is the ultimate bad hombre with a six-shooter. From the minute he's introduced to Ellen, it's only a matter of time before he figures out the truth and of course, falls in love with her. Oh, no, I certainly hope they can make it through this harrowing journey together! Calhoun and Francis are decent enough with their parts, but they're just not given enough to do.
SPOILERS STOP READING, HERE COMES THE KILLER REVELATION SPOILER From the start, it's pretty obvious the real killer is either Chuck Connors or Vince Edwards. And the winner for husband killer is....Vince Edwards, seeking his father's love, approval, and most importantly, his money! Both actors are capable of being strong bad guys, and here they both get a shot at being the brooding, intimidating villains. Like the main characters though, they're not given much to do until the story needs them to be shot so Gil and Ellen can end up together. END OF SPOILERS
That's my idea, make this into a half-hour episode of The Rifleman and you might have a halfway decent show. But as a 63-minute feature with about 30 minutes of storyline, this western falls woefully short of being halfway decent. The cast might make it seem more appealing, but this is just not a good movie from start to finish. Pass in a big way.
The Hired Gun (1957): */****