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If you're wondering why characters are forever pointing gun barrels or throwing furniture toward the camera during The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953), it's because, in keeping with the early 1950s trend that was an attempt to lure Americans away from their newfangled television sets, the picture was shot in 3-D. Director Andre De Toth had a knack for conjuring something out of very little, but the "something" he managed in this case may be lost in a conventional print. Randolph Scott is on hand, however, to amble around in the laconic, aw-shucks way that more or less served as his B-Western calling card for several lucrative years.
Scott plays Jeff Travis, a spy for William Quantrill's raiders during the Civil War. Quantrill and his men were little more than terrorists, and it takes a while for this reality to dawn on Travis. After leaving Quantrill, Travis takes up with a group of outlaws who are hoping to gain control of post-war Prescott, Arizona. There's also a love triangle, involving Scott, Claire Trevor, and Joan Weldon. This situation, however, isn't as interesting as the rest of the film, since lovers in Westerns seldom fling items at the camera while coping with spurned affections. That's Anna Magnani territory. Film buffs should also keep an eye open for Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine in the supporting cast. The Stranger Wore a Gun is Borgnine's big-screen debut, and (although he pretended otherwise in order to win the role) was also the first time he ever rode a non-carousel horse!
Lee Marvin, who worked with Randolph Scott on three occasions, recalled one incident during the making of The Stranger Wore a Gun: "There was a flaming stagecoach in one scene, racing along while the cameras rolled in the driver's seat. Holding the reins sat the stunt man while 20 yards away, sitting in a canvas chair, sat Scott, all dressed in his cowboy outfit, with legs crossed, reading The Wall Street Journal." (from The Films of Randolph Scott by Robert Nott).
De Toth shot another, much more memorable 3-D picture in 1953 - the Vincent Price horror film House of Wax. But he was more than happy to work with his old buddy Scott once again, in a genre that they both understood. Before their respective careers were over, De Toth and Scott would collaborate on Man in the Saddle (1951), Carson City (1952), The Stranger Wore a Gun, Thunder Over the Plains (1953), Riding Shotgun (1954), and The Bounty Hunter (1954).
Scott was also pleased to be working with producer Harry Joe Brown on The Stranger Wore a Gun. "Harry Joe Brown was a very good, down-to-earth, nickel-and-dime producer," De Toth would say in an interview many years later. "He made a lot of films and drank a lot, even for those times. Scott drank a lot a too sarsaparilla and they understood each other because instead of reading scripts, they read The Wall Street Journal. They had financial interests together. Neither of them knew much about stories. It was a good combination. They didn't fight about story points. They were both gentlemen, nice people."
According to De Toth, Scott wasn't even all that interested in acting. He just did it to make a living. "I believe Randolph Scott could have gone further as a performer," De Toth said. "But he did not have the ambition to step up, to be better in anything except golf. Golf was all that counted. He was a handsome man; took showers twice a day, I believe. He was a man whose shoes shined. But he had a tremendous inferiority complex about his acting ability, and that made him stiff...he was Randy Scott. Which had advantages, but no surprises."
Director: Andre De Toth
Producer: Harry Joe Brown
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet
Editor: Gene Havlick, James Sweeney
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Set Decoration: Frank Tuttle
Sound: Lambert Day
Cast: Randolph Scott (Jeff Travis, aka Mark Stone), Claire Trevor (Josie Sullivan), Joan Weldon (Shelby Conroy), George Macready (Jules Mourret), Alfonso Bedoya (Degas), Lee Marvin (Dan Kurth), Ernest Borgnine (Bull Slager).
by Paul Tatara