Gunsight Ridge (1957)
“Only One Would Leave Gunsight Ridge Alive!”
Director: Francis D. Lyon
Cast: Joel McCrea, Mark Stevens, Joan Weldon
Synopsis: A stage line agent investigates a series of robberies by taking the job of a deputy sheriff in a border Arizona town.
The days of the B-movie Western were coming to an end when Gunsight Ridge was released, the consequence of television’s voracious appetite for material which resulted in the creation of countless Western TV series. In fact, a couple of years after this movie was released, its ageing star Joel McCrea briefly defected to the small screen to appear in Wichita Town, a short-lived Western series for NBC.
McCrea plays Mike Ryan, a stage line agent sent undercover to an Arizona town to investigate a series of stagecoach hold-ups. On the way out there, Ryan’s stagecoach is held up by Velvet Clark (Mark Stevens) and a hapless accomplice who allows his mask to slip, provoking Clark into shooting him dead after the stagecoach has been sent on its way minus its booty. Ryan becomes friendly with the town’s sheriff Tom Jones (Addison Richards), eventually becoming his deputy. However, their partnership is short-lived as Clark guns down the sheriff when he stumbles across him attempting to smuggle the proceeds from a bank robbery out of town, thus setting up a showdown with Ryan.
Gunsight Ridge is a strange little Western, better than most of its type. The plot rambles along, never quite sure whether it wants to focus on the hunt for the stagecoach robber, Ryan’s wooing of the sheriff’s daughter (Joan Weldon), Clark’s motivation for his life of crime, or the criminal exploits of a pack of cowboys living on a ranch on the outskirts of town. By the final act, it’s spending as much time with the fascinating character of Velvet Clark as it is with the more prosaic Ryan, which is no bad thing as he, and actor Mark Stevens, are by far the best thing about Gunsight Ridge.
Stevens was an interesting man who led a restless, nomadic existence. Once briefly a Hollywood leading man during the war years after being turned down for service, he became a published novelist when his acting career faltered and opened a restaurant in Spain, none of which prevented him from eventually filing for bankruptcy in the 1960s. Velvet Clark, his character in Gunsight Ridge, although shown to be a ruthless killer when he has to be, is shown in an almost sympathetic light for much of the time, and given added depth with a back story relating to his frustrated desire to be a pianist. It’s a thin line between good and bad, and Clark fell the wrong side of that line because of his frustrated creative urges.
The plot is strictly formulaic, but the uncommon attention given to the character of Clark by writer Talbot Jennings manages to elevate Gunsight Ridge above the ordinary.
(Reviewed 8th June 2012)