The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Five Guns West

I'm guessing no matter how hard I try I won't be able to see all the movies Roger Corman has made over the years.  By IMDB's count, there are 395 he produced, 56 he directed, and over 100 more that he was involved with in one way or another.  The ones I've seen I have enjoyed, mostly in a guilty pleasure sort of enjoyment. Well-made for the most part if on the cheap side, his movies would serve as a definition of what a B-movie can be.  They're not all winners, like 1955's Five Guns West which Corman directed.

I've seen horror, sci-fi, war movies, all directed/produced by Corman, but this is the first western of his I've watched.  It's pretty typical of many 1950s B-westerns that were churned out by the dozen for double features and drive-ins.  Generic story, small cast, heavy on dialogue but not enough action, and with some discrepancies that should have cost someone their jobs no matter how cheap the movie is/was.  Years ago, I saw this DVD at Amazon and almost picked it up because it looked like a mix of The Magnificent Seven, spaghetti westerns, and The Dirty Dozen.  Here's the DVD. I of course later found out that the 'Guns' DVD actually rips off the art of Guns of the Magnificent Seven.  It all comes together every once in awhile.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy is in desperate need of soldiers and recruits convicts, thieves and murderers to perform dangerous missions in exchange for pardons.  Five such recruits have been picked for a mission that is key to Confederate success going forward.  The men include Govern Sturges (John Lund), Hale Clinton (Mike Connors), J.C. Haggard (Paul Birch), and the Candy brothers, John (R. Wright Campbell) and Billy (Jonathan Haze). The group of five must ride across the frontier, tangling with Union patrols and Indian war parties, to get to a stagecoach station where a coach loaded with $30,000 in gold is due to arrive.  Waiting for them though is a woman, Shalee (Dorothy Malone), who sparks an interest in all of them, but can they stick together long enough to get the job done?

For a western released in 1955, I'll give credit when it's due.  The story is far from hard-hitting or original, but Corman presents five main characters, none of whom are particularly likable.  Even Robert Aldrich in The Dirty Dozen made a couple somewhat respectable characters.  They're at each others' throats almost from the word go, and it is only a matter of time before they do turn on each other.  Getting there is the hard part though.  The movie is only 78 minutes long, but there's about 45 minutes of story here.  For those other 33 minutes, we get lots of filler, repetitious dialogue scenes, unnecessarily long riding across the horizon shots, those sort of award winning film techniques.

Filling out the cast is a group of actors who do little to inspire confidence in what you're about to watch.  Connors was years away from playing Mannix, Malone was a B-movie star who never hit it big, Lund is as vanilla a "hero" as I've seen in awhile, and the rest are more bad than anything.  Haze as the psycho brother Billy had potential, but he's more of a child lunatic than anything.  If I counted correctly, he bitches "I'm sick of waiting/I'm sicking of sitting around!" in four straight scenes.  His brother John is supposedly more menacing, but nothing really comes of it.  Of the five, three end up getting shot, one rides away, and the, who cares.  It ends happily enough.

Now on to some discrepancies which pissed me off.  The story takes place in 1867 or if I've done my math correctly....two years AFTER the end of the Civil War.  First, how did that line placing things in 1867 even make it into the script, and two, how did any somewhat intelligent person let it through all the various stages of filming? Okay, maybe that was a dumb mistake/accident.  But then there's a stagecoach carrying $30,000 in gold with an important Confederate turncoat aboard, and it's guarded by four soldiers.  I don't care how small your budget is, put some freaking guards on that loaded stagecoach.  Then there's the western afficionado in me that is bothered by the fact all the participants are using guns that weren't designed for another 10 years, but I do my best to ignore that voice in my head whenever possible.

At 78 minutes, the story still finds a way to rush through the final twist -- not much of a surprise -- and the ending shootout.  Tension has been building the first hour as these five hold off killing each other because otherwise the movie would have been over in about 20 minutes.  Then when they finally turn on each other, all that tension and drama gets thrown out the window.  There were some great chances for some epic one-on-one showdowns that just never materialize.  Movie over, and 78 minutes I won't be getting back anytime soon.

Five Guns West <---clip (1955): */****

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