Gunman’s Walk (1958)
“Hear Tab’s runaway song-hit “I’m a Runaway””
Director: Phil Karlson
Cast: Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Kathryn Grant
Synopsis: A powerful rancher always protects his wild adult son by paying for damages and bribing witnesses, until his crimes become too serious to rectify.
This is an unexpectedly strong western boasting a couple of fine performances from old hand Van Heflin and — surprisingly — teen heartthrob Tab Hunter. The film explores the relationship between a rancher (Heflin) and his two sons (Hunter and James Darren). One — Darren — is dutiful and polite, while the other — Hunter — behaves like a spoiled brat who believes he can do as he likes because his father’s money and influence will always get him out of trouble. The film intimates that Heflin is the real villain of the piece, cleverly insinuating through his insistence that his sons call him Lex — even though the hot-headed Hunter tries to call him sir — that the boy simply needs the discipline and guidance of a strong father to put him right. Heflin, however, is one of a dying breed, increasingly out of place in a west that is growing progressively more civilised and which has no place for the gun by which he lives or his racist attitudes towards Indians. While Darren’s character quietly rejects these values, Hunter is driven to exacerbate them and to make himself a ‘better’ man than his father. He really does a good job here, growing increasingly tense and coiled as the film progresses, competitive and aggressive, but also somewhat bewildered by the impact his actions have on those around him. Catch this one if you can. In fact, this is the kind of film that’s worth watching a couple of times just to catch the subtext and ideas that are hidden just beneath the surface.
(Reviewed 26th September 2007)