Gun Battle at Monterey (1957)
“It starts with a shot in the back…and travels a hundred miles to TERROR!”
Director: Sidney Franklin Jr., Carl K. Hittleman
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Pamela Duncan, Ted de Corsia
Synopsis: After he and his partner, Reno, hold up a bank, Turner decides he wants to branch out on his own. When he tells Reno, Reno shoots him and makes off with the money. But Turner doesn’t die — rather, he is discovered and mended by a beautiful Mexican woman named Maria…
The movie opens with Jay Turner (Sterling Hayden) and Max Reno (Ted de Corsia) having successfully pulled off a robbery and taking refuge in a coastal cave scouted earlier by Reno. You can tell right from the off that these two aren’t great buddies, and when Reno learns that Turner has no intention of continuing as his partner-in-crime he puts three bullets in his back and leaves him for dead. But Turner’s made of stronger stuff than Reno gives him credit for, and it’s not long before he’s nursed back to health by dusky maiden Maria (Pamela Duncan).
Turner goes on the hunt for Reno, and after a year or so he tracks him down to a small town in which he has become something of a mover and shaker. Reno now owns the local saloon. He has a sidekick called Kirby (Lee Van Cleef) working for him, and has the local alcoholic sheriff (Charles Cane) pretty much in his pocket. When Turner introduces himself as John York, Reno is understandably wary. York looks like Turner, but Turner had a beard and was lying in the sea with three bullets in his back last time he saw him. A cat-and-mouse game ensues, one which eventually sees Kirby in jail and Turner/York voted deputy sheriff by the honest townspeople who are tired of living under Reno’s thumb.
Judged by the standards under which it was made — a B-movie production from ailing Poverty Row studio Republic Pictures — Gun Battle at Monterey is just about acceptable fare, even though the title is wholly misleading: there are no gun battles to speak of and most of the action takes place not in Monterey but in a town called Del Ray. Sterling Hayden gives a typically lazy performance, and was probably yearning for a life on the seas that was calling pretty insistently by this time in his life, and you can’t blame him for failing to be inspired by the material he was given to work with. After an opening scene in which he is inexplicably awful, de Corsia shapes up to give a reasonable bad-guy performance, and Mary Beth Hughes pops up all too infrequently as the misguided girlfriend of Kirby. Lee Van Cleef gives probably the best performance of a jaded cast, and at least injects some life into the scenes in which he appears.
The movie’s ending is unusual, to say the least, and it kind of comes out of nowhere, as if writers Jack Leonard and Lawrence Resner suddenly realised they had no way of wrapping things up convincingly and simply came up with a conclusion that is something of an unlikely anti-climax.
(Reviewed 25th July 2013)