Western RoundUp: Hidden Gems, Vol. 4
This month I’ll be sharing another round of what I like to call “Hidden Gems,” Westerns which are lesser-known yet entertaining films worth seeking out.
Below are brief sketches of a trio of worthwhile movies from the latter half of the ’50s. Happily, all are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray.
I’d love comments from others who have enjoyed any of these films, and I hope viewers who are unfamiliar with them might seek them out in the New Year.
Stranger at My Door (William Witney, 1956)
Stranger at My Door, a personal favorite of director William Witney, is a “psychological Western” with some powerful moments. The story concerns a bank robber, Clay (Skip Homeier), who takes refuge at the home of a minister (Macdonald Carey) after his horse goes lame. The minister quickly realizes Clay’s true identity but — despite the danger to his little boy (Stephen Wootton) and his new wife Peg (Patricia Medina) — attempts to break through to Clay with Christian kindness. Things go awry when the sheriff (Louis Jean Heydt) arrives at the farm and realizes Clay’s identity.
The screenplay by Barry Shipman goes much deeper than this bare bones description sounds, raising interesting questions along the way. There’s a memorable set piece in which a wild horse tears up the farm; the horse is clearly a metaphorical reference to Clay. Peg attempts to shoot the horse but can’t bring herself to do it, symbolizing her own conflicted feelings regarding the stranger in their midst. Like many good movies, Stranger at My Door leaves viewers pondering its themes long after “The End” comes on the screen, though my one quibble about the film is I would have liked to have a few more of my questions answered!
Stranger at My Door is compellingly directed by Witney, who specialized in Westerns over the course of his decades-long career in films and television. For those wondering about the horse sequence, the animal was very extensively trained by one of the great stuntmen in the business, Joe Yrigoyen. The movie was filmed in black and white by Bud Thackery.
Stranger at My Door is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.
The Quiet Gun (William F. Claxton, 1957)
The Quiet Gun is a strong film directed by William F. Claxton, best known for his longtime work on TV Westerns such as The High Chaparral and Bonanza. It was written by Eric Norden, adapted by Norden and Earle Lyon from the novel Law Man by Lauran Paine.
In a film which has echoes of High Noon (1952), Forrest Tucker is superb as Sheriff Carl Brandon, a world-weary yet honorable man who won’t ever back down from doing the right thing. Trouble arrives in town in the form of nasty troublemaker Sadler (Lee Van Cleef); more problems arrive on the stagecoach with Teresa (Kathleen Crowley), whose estranged husband (Jim Davis) has stirred up local outrage keeping company with an Indian girl (Mara Corday). The Sheriff’s unspoken feelings for Teresa further complicate matters.
Tucker gives a nuanced performance, much of which is communicated nonverbally; there’s a great moment I love where he goes in a saloon and stares down Van Cleef. Tucker has excellent support from a fine cast which also includes Hank Worden, Vince Barnett, and Tom Brown.
The movie was beautifully filmed in widescreen black and white Regalscope by John Mescall. The film’s Southern California locations included Corriganville, which I wrote about here at Classic Movie Hub earlier this year.
The Quiet Gun is a special movie which I recommend.
The Quiet Gun is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.
Gunsmoke in Tucson (Thomas Carr, 1958)
Mark Stevens might not readily come to mind as a Western star, but he was a compelling presence in a handful of ’50s Westerns, including Jack Slade (1953) and Gunsight Ridge (1957).
My favorite of Stevens’ Westerns might be Gunsmoke in Tucson, in which he plays one-time outlaw Chip Coburn, who’s spent eight years in jail thanks to his brother, Marshal John Brazos (Forrest Tucker). Upon his release Chip intends to turn over a new leaf and ranch, and he patiently avoids numerous confrontations arranged by Bodeen (Vaughn Taylor), who’d like to see him back in jail, or worse. But when an innocent farmer (Kevin Hagen) is targeted by one of Bodeen’s men, Chip finally goes into action, backed by his friend Slick (John Ward).
Stevens wasn’t conventionally handsome by this point in his career, yet his performance demands viewer attention. What he lacks in size and good looks he makes up for with attitude and charisma. Ward, an actor who was previously unfamiliar to me, is also terrific as Slick. It’s a great deal of fun watching them deal with the bad guys while Chip also resolves his conflicted relationship with his brother.
Gunsmoke in Tucson was nicely filmed in Deluxe color and CinemaScope by William P. Whitley; the film’s locations included Old Tucson. The screenplay was by Robert Joseph and Paul Leslie Peil, based on Peil’s story.
Gunsmoke in Tucson is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive Collection.
Best wishes to all my readers for a very happy 2022!
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.