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, February 4, 2013

A Man Called Gannon

There is a certain charm I associate with westerns. The idea of a man riding across the country, all his possessions he's either wearing or they're on his horse with him, and answering to no one is an incredibly cool premise for me. Countless westerns have used that iconic character, the loner-drifter-cowboy, including 1969's A Man Called Gannon, a remake of 1955's Man Without a Star.

Riding a train west after a failed cattle ranch in Texas, cowboy drifter Gannon (Tony Franciosa) meets Jess Washburn (Michael Sarrazin), an inexperienced Easterner from Philadelphia. Jess wants nothing more than to be a cowboy, but he's got no idea where to start. In a jam when they witness a murder, Gannon saves Jess, and the youngster feels obligated to him. Booted off the train, they get jobs working at a local cattle ranch through Matty (Susan Oliver), a prostitute and "friend" of Gannon's. As the experienced cowboy teaches Jess everything he can, they find themselves in the midst of a budding range war. As the sides separate though, Gannon and Jess find they may be on opposite sides.

It's been awhile since I saw the 1955 version/original so I didn't associate this 1969 remake right away with it. The 1955 version starred Kirk Douglas and was pretty good in a simple, straightforward kind of way. There's no reason to remake it to begin with, but here we go just the same. 'Gannon' is one of a wave of movies released in the late 1960s and early 1970s about the changing of the west on the personal level; the cowboy. It reminds me a lot of Monte Walsh, released a year later. It tries to be a little too lyrical and schmaltzy, especially its main theme, a folk song called 'A Smile, A Memory and an Extra Shirt.' 'Gannon' struggles to find the right tone from the get-go, bouncing back and forth between physical comedy, goofiness and the natural darkness that comes from the changing times in the west. Pick a route and take it.

What makes it worthwhile is the casting of Franciosa and Sarrazin in the two lead roles. Neither actor had a ton of star power, but they were both solid actors capable of delivering above average performances. It doesn't hurt that the two parts -- the weathered, veteran cowboy and the inexperienced, wet behind the ears youngster -- are basically the definition of two archetypal western characters. You've seen them before, and you will see them again. I typically think of Franciosa as more of a heavy, a bad guy, so it's cool to see him in a more straight, good guy role. He at first wants nothing to do with Sarrazin's Jess, but can't really shake the persistent youngster. Sarrazin too does a fine job with the part, a young man who so desperately wants to be something, anything, that he puts himself in a bad situation to get to that point.

The relationship that develops between the two is the best part of the movie. Gannon keeps on teaching everything he can, and to his credit, Jess does a good job of picking things up whether it be shooting, roping, or handling a horse. Gannon has a checkered past and still holds some tremendous guilt from a past incident that went horribly wrong. In young Jess, he sees potential to right a wrong. The problem is simple, he can only show him how to do things, but at some point, Jess will have to decide things for himself. As the hooker with a heart of gold, Oliver does a very good job as Matty, a woman trying to fix Gannon for lack of a better description. Judi West plays Beth, the ranch owner trying to keep the place afloat by any means necessary (and with anyone who will the bedroom), John Anderson plays Capper, the ranch top hand, David Sheiner is the maligned but tough sheriff, with James Westerfield, Gavin MacLeod and Eddie Firestone playing some of the cowhands at Beth's ranch. 

Unfortunately as things develop in this 105-minute flick from director James Goldstone, the pace lets up and the story loses steam. The opener, with Gannon meeting an old acquaintance (Jason Evers) as a telegraph line is set up, is nearly perfect, setting up how out of place this veteran cowboy is in a changing world. But as things progress, the story goes in too many directions and never quite gets back on the right track. It's never bad, but I started to lose interest (a lot) at about the hour-mark. Harmless enough western, probably worthwhile for a watch.

A Man Called Gannon (1969): ** 1/2 /****

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