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When Matt Weaver, a Confederate veteran, returns to his family home after the Civil War, he discovers that his property has been confiscated by the Yankees. Sam Brewster, the town leader, tries to intimidate Weaver into leaving the community but the former Rebel soldier refuses to give up his homestead. To remedy the situation, Brewster imports a professional gunslinger from Louisiana by the name of Jules Gaspard d'Estaing to kill Weaver. But the hired gunman has his own agenda and quickly becomes a bigger threat to the townspeople than Weaver.
Not a typical Western by any stretch of the imagination, Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964) is a psychological frontier drama with an unusual twist - the hired gun is a literate, highly educated gentleman of Creole ancestry with a hatred for whites. The film not only plays up the race issue but also the sense of alienation and dissolution that affected towns where families fought on both sides of the Civil War. Imagine a Western as interpreted by the Actor's Studio and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The fact that Invitation to a Gunfighter has a distinct theatrical flavor is not surprising. Richard Wilson, the co-writer, producer and director, learned his craft as an actor in The Mercury Theatre and in several Orson Welles films. His theatre training is evident throughout the film from its staging to the screenplay which provides dramatic soliloquies for some of the central players and elements of Greek tragedy. Adding to the "Off-Broadway" quality of the film are the performances: George Segal takes a 'Method' actor approach to his besieged Southerner while Yul Brynner alternates between moments of cool sophistication (he recites poetry and plays the spinet) and intense brooding.
Most of Invitation to a Gunfighter, which was executive produced by Stanley Kramer, was filmed on the Universal backlot and the old Psycho house was used as the set for Sam Brewster's home. A few actors in the supporting cast will also be instantly recognizable to Western fans; Brad Dexter was one of the hired guns of The Magnificent Seven (1960); Strother Martin appeared in the Sam Peckinpah Westerns, The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970); and Russell Johnson, most famous for his role as the Professor on Gilligan's Island, made several B-Westerns in the fifties including Seminole (1953) and Many Rivers to Cross (1955).
However, if you expect pure action from a Western like blazing gunfights, barroom brawls, and cattle stampedes, Invitation to a Gunfighter is NOT for you. Sure, the film has the prerequisite shootouts and killings and violent confrontations. But the overall style of the movie is closer to a Eugene O'Neill drama than a six-gun oater like Dodge City (1939). After all, when was the last time you saw a feared gunfighter publicly best his rival - not in a showdown - but through a demeaning lesson in French pronunciation?
Producer/Director: Richard Wilson
Screenplay: Richard Wilson, Elizabeth Wilson, Hal Goodman (story), Larry Klein (story)
Production Design: Robert Clatworthy
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Editing: Robert C. Jones
Music: David Raksin
Costume Design: Paula Giokaris
Cast: Yul Brynner (Jules Gaspard d'Estaing), Janice Rule (Ruth Adams), George Segal (Matt Weaver), Alfred Ryder (Doc Barker), Clifford David (Crane Adams), Pat Hingle (Sam Brewster), Bert Freed (Sheriff), Strother Martin (Fiddler), Clifton James (Bartender), William Hickey (Jo-Jo).
by Jeff Stafford