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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Death Of A Gunfighter (1969)

A corrupt and cowardly town wants to get rid of its sheriff (Richard Widmark) for two reasons. One, his way of doing things doesn't fit in with their idea of a civilized west and two, more importantly he knows their secrets and misdeeds. This western, like many done around its time (THE WILD BUNCH, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID), reflects on the changing West and the encroaching civilization. Its premise of a vile and unworthy town that resorts to cold blooded murder to achieve its own ends is intriguing. Intriguing enough to hold our attention and wish it were better. But there's something flat about it and something feels missing and not all of its characters are fully developed. For instance, Carroll O' Connor's barkeep doesn't make sense, just what is his problem? Lena Horne (in a rare dramatic role) is Widmark's mistress and the owner of the town's brothel, yet their interracial romance is never addressed which leads one to suspect the role may not have been written for a black actress. The film was directed, for the most part, by Robert Totten who left after the usual "creative differences" with Widmark and was replaced by Don Siegel who didn't want his name on the film. Thus, we get the directed by the non existent "Allen Smithee" credit. Still, for a film that's an orphan, its promise is enough to make it worth a watch. There's a nice score by Oliver Nelson, too. With John Saxon, Kent Smith, David Opatoshu, Royal Dano and Jacqueline Scott.

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