Forty Guns 1957
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An Arizona rancher rules with her cowboy army until a U.S. marshal and his brothers come to town.
Forty Guns is the most rampantly sexualized Western ever made, and the most outrageous of Samuel Fuller's late-'50s B movies. Fuller's original title was "Woman with a Whip," referring to the hard-riding range baroness--Barbara Stanwyck, sporting silver hair and (most of the time) black, skintight man togs--who's "the boss of Cochise County" and a law unto herself. The forty guns are an army of pistoleros who accompany her just about everywhere, and Fuller misses no opportunity to exaggerate their macho assertiveness in black-and-white CinemaScope, whether thundering along the horizon or formed up on either side of a preposterously long dinner table with Stanwyck at its head. Barry Sullivan costars as a Wyatt Earplike gunfighter who both threatens Stanwyck's empire and awakens her lust for something besides power. As one of his brothers, Gene Barry (soon to star in Fuller's mind-blowing Vietnam movie China Gate) enjoys a passionate liaison with a gunsmith's busty blond daughter (Eve Brent) whom he romances down the bore of a rifle--an image Jean-Luc Godard would memorialize in Breathless. In the relentlessly double-entendre dialogue and the blocking of scenes, everything takes on sexual overtones: power and impotence, political advantage and exclusion. Fuller and cameraman Joseph Biroc capture many sequences in single, minutes-long takes that often end in a death--and in one perverse instance, the revelation of a death that has occurred midway through without our knowing it. (It's a T.S. Eliot moment, though we won't insist on it.) Style is all in this movie, which will leave you either astonished or aghast. More likely, both. --Richard T. Jameson
- Includes widescreen anamorphic and full-screen versions
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The movie has a number of positives:
- The opening sequence is great with its apocalypse of thundering horses led by Jessica on a lone white horse (symbolically?).
- The tornado sequence is well-done with Jessica getting dragged by her horse and her subsequent monologue after the storm, hooking up with Griff (Sullivan).
- Eastwood's renowned “Unforgiven” (1992) was obviously influenced by “Forty Guns”: Both feature a remote town without justice or law and order, an existential wasteland. Crooked, murderous Sheriff Logan (Dean Jagger), embodying the breakdown of social order, is similar to Hackman in “Unforgiven”; and his suicide is very eerily done. A blind marshal (Worden) is a literal joke on "blind justice" and another symbol of the impotence of law & order.
- The long shoot-up of the town by the “wet-nose” Brock is grand mayhem. In “Unforgiven” the attack on the prostitute by two young cowboys (also referred to as "boys") serves as the same type of initial, youthful, anarchic transgression which has to be set straight.
- A gruesome, dressed-up corpse in a coffin, put on full display on the main street, with accompanying, hand-written vindictive placards, is also seen in “Unforgiven.” In each it’s a grotesque slap to decency and civilization.
- The town ambush of Griff by Charlie Savage (fitting name) next to a row of empty coffins is effective, particularly the straight-up vertical shot of the window with the assassin's rifle sticking out.
- While the "Woman with a Whip" song is dated, ill-fitting and corny, the score is otherwise suited to the content.
- The stylish, irreverent way the movie strays from Western tradition reveals it to be the precursor to the (mostly lame) spaghetti Westerns of the 60s.
- Other highlights include: The shot of Wes's widow in black against the sky; the leitmotifs of the foal and hearse, representing the extremes of birth and death; the comedy at the baths; the sexy female gunsmith seen through a rifle barrel, a jarring juxtaposition of the feminine and force, as is the case with Jessica.
Because of these positives “Forty Guns” is often touted as a groundbreaking Western. While true, it's also a decidedly average 50’s Western filled with unbelievable dialogue/characterizations and deliberately contrived scenes, not to mention the story’s just dull and it’s shot in B&W. Just because it strays from the mold of traditional Westerns doesn't make it a good movie.
The film runs 79 minutes and was shot in Arizona.
Silly script, odd pacing, jumping from one thing to another with no continuity at all. Needless to say a big disappointment.
Oh well, just because you like a certain actor, does not necessarily mean its good!
The DVD has the option of fullscreen or widescreen. Please consider the latter, because that is how it was presented: in "cinemascope," and you'll want to see photographer Joseph Birac's work in all its glory. This looks great!.
All the characters are pretty interesting. Barbara Stanwyck fans will be disappointed at her screen time. She is getting headlines here on this page, but she is not the leading character. To repeat, this is an odd story. I mean, how often does one see a tornado in the middle of a western movie? Some of the lines in here were quite profound, too, and some were uttered really stupidly. It's a curiosity piece, that's for sure.....but definitely worth watching if good photography and odd characters interest you.
This is said to be a heavily sexualized Western, but I didn't find it so; sexual tension there certainly is, but nothing overt (after all, this was 1957). What it certainly is, is Stanwyck in her defintive "tough-broad" sort of role, a woman who is respected, obeyed, and even worshipped and feared by men who are pretty tough themselves. Beside her the soft-spoken Bonnells (probably loosely based on Wyatt Earp and his brothers) seem almost boyish, yet they do their jobs quietly and well. I did think the ending was a bit of a cop-out, but it's probably the sort of thing you should expect from a movie made at a time when women's lib still lay well in the future and the popular belief was that every woman should accept a designated, traditional role rather than trying to outdo the men at their own game.