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A lean, fast-paced account of a key period in the life of frontier legend Bat Masterson, The Gunfight at Dodge City (1957) was supposed to be the final film for Joel McCrea who wanted to retire after its completion. It was filmed the same year as Comanche Station which starred Randolph Scott, another Western veteran, who wanted the Budd Boetticher helmed oater to be his farewell movie. Ironically, both McCrea and Scott would be lured back to the screen a few years later to co-star in Sam Peckinpah's ode to the vanishing West - Ride the High Country (1962) - but in the case of McCrea, The Gunfight at Dodge City was a more typical example of the actor's work in this genre. There's no elemental deconstruction, no psychological tinkering, no grand theme. Instead, The Gunfight at Dodge City is a streamlined, absorbing drama that doesn't neglect any of the elements that make Westerns such a quintessential form.
The film takes place in a notorious rough 'n' tumble town which needs somebody like Bat Masterson (Joel McCrea) to bring some semblance of order to the place. Masterson is pressured to take the job of sheriff and reluctantly agrees despite sure signs of trouble from the start. For one thing, he's distracted from the job at hand by two local lovelies, Pauline (Julie Adams) and Lily (Nancy Gates). If that wasn't enough Mr. Bat has to deal with both his old wrong-side-of-the-law gang and a passel of corrupt politicians. Yep, there's a gunfight, too.
The Gunfight at Dodge City succeeds for several reasons but the major one is the top notch cast. Joel McCrea was a veteran whose career began with the sound era in 1927 (he started appearing in small roles, even dancing with Greta Garbo in one early film - The Single Standard, 1929). Despite being very busy, McCrea's career didn't take off until the 1940s when he appeared in films by Alfred Hitchcock and Preston Sturges alongside Western classics like Ramrod (1947) and The Virginian (1946). It was his work in the latter genre, though, that dominated his career and his iconic screen presence was just what director Sam Peckinpah wanted for Ride the High Country.
Julia (also Julie) Adams was one of the 50s' more memorable B-level actresses. Her career started in low-budget Westerns in 1950 where she stayed for most of the decade though she's probably best remembered for The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Adams later worked extensively in television and was a regular on Murder She Wrote and Capitol. Adding his offbeat charm is accomplished character actor John McIntire who played some of the most believable villains on the screen, including his role in (The Far Country, 1955).
Producer: Walter Mirisch
Director: Joseph M. Newman
Screenplay: Martin G. Goldsmith, Dan Ullman
Art Direction: Serge Krizman
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Editing: Victor Heerman
Music: Hans Salter
Cast: Joel McCrea (Bat Masterson), Julie Adams (Pauline), John McIntire (Doc), Nancy Gates (Lily), Richard Anderson (Dave), James Westerfield (Rev. Howard), Timothy Carey (Forbes), Don Haggerty (Sheriff Regan).
By Lang Thompson