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Not to be confused with the Tom Cruise Air Force actioner from 1986, Top Gun is a little-known 1955 Western from (uncredited) producer Edward Small, the man responsible for bringing to the screen such productions as The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and Elvis Presley in Frankie and Johnny (1966). Why he chose not to put his name on this picture is anybody's guess. An entertaining genre film, it stars Sterling Hayden as a gunman intent on revenge for his mother's murder. Taking over for a slain town marshal, he sets his sights on a ranch owner engaged to his former girlfriend as the culprit.
By the time he made Top Gun, Hayden had already achieved screen performances of distinction in such pictures as The Asphalt Jungle (1950); The Star (1952), opposite Bette Davis; and holding his own against another formidable screen diva, Joan Crawford, in Nicholas Ray's bizarre Western, Johnny Guitar (1954), although he later said there was not enough money in the world to lure him into making another picture with her. Initially billed by his studio, Paramount, as "The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies" and "Blond Viking God," Hayden was tall, taciturn, with a somewhat troubled air- a natural for the tortured tough guy roles of the 1950s. But often publicly quite contemptuous of his profession, his big screen career had pretty much waned by the end of the decade, leaving him more time to spend with his first love, sailing. He did, however, play a number of quirky, memorable roles later in life, among them the maniac Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964), the Italian peasant patriarch in Bertolucci's 1900 (1976), the title character in King of the Gypsies (1978), and the eccentric CEO in Nine to Five (1980). He was cast in a part he seemed tailor-made for, Quint in Jaws (1975), but tax problems forced him to drop out.
Director Ray Nazarro certainly had the credentials for this kind of routine but well-done action film, having built a long career (more than 80 films in all) on a majority of B Westerns. Nazarro had one Oscar® nomination to his credit for co-writing Bullfighter and the Lady (1951) with director Budd Boetticher, a formidable director of some of the most acclaimed Westerns of the decade, - most of them with Randolph Scott.
Billed near the bottom of the cast is Australian-born actor Rod Taylor, making his fourth screen appearance. Taylor would go on to notable success in such major pictures as Raintree County (1957), The Time Machine (1960), and Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). He continues to make occasional film and TV appearances to the present.
Also in the cast, although unbilled, is notable character actor and staple of the Western genre Denver Pyle. A veteran of hundreds of films and TV shows - among them The Alamo (1960), Shenandoah (1965), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), as the humiliated G-Man Frank Hamer - he is perhaps best known to TV audiences as the head of the comic hillbilly clan the Darlings on The Andy Griffith Show and as Uncle Jesse on the original The Dukes of Hazzard TV series.
Director: Ray Nazarro
Producer: Edward Small (uncredited)
Screenplay: Steve Fisher, Richard Schayer
Cinematography: Lester White
Editing: Henry Adams, Dwight Caldwell
Art Direction: Frank Paul Sylos
Original Music: Irving Gertz
Cast: Sterling Hayden (Rick Martin), William Bishop (Canby Judd), Karin Booth (Laura Meade), James Millican (Marshall Bat Davis), Regis Toomey (Jim O'Hara).
by Rob Nixon