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As he neared the end of his career, Audie Murphy made a series of low-budget Westerns for studios like Allied Artists and Columbia, which released the 1964 film The Quick Gun. These were far from his best work, but they still allowed him to display the manly heroics on which his career had been built while also offering some chances for vulnerability in romantic subplots and a few buddy scenes. This tale of a fugitive trying to redeem himself by helping his hometown's sheriff (James Best) fight off outlaws is no exception.
The Quick Gun features some familiar Western tropes -- the rancher whose reputation has been tarnished through no real fault of his own, the man trying to live a peaceful life but pulled back into prairie warfare and the experienced gun standing against impossible odds with a crew of unlikely allies. Murphy returns home following years away after he was forced to kill an evil landowner's son. All he wants is the chance to rebuild his father's ranch, but when an old friend asks for help fighting off outlaws, he has no choice but to help, even though the friend is engaged to Murphy's former love (Merry Anders). Then he makes his final stand with nobody to help him but an elderly man (Raymond Hatton) and the town's minister (Charles Meredith). Where plot is concerned, The Quick Gun is basically a poor man's version of dozens of other films, including Broken Lance (1954), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) and Rio Bravo (1959).
But Murphy was far from the poor man's version of anything. Unlike many action stars, he was the real thing, the most decorated soldier in World War II. And as a native Texan, he rode the West with an authority often lacking in other sagebrush stars. By the mid-'60s, however, the Murphy brand was losing its luster. He was still making films for Universal, the studio that had made him a star in a string of action films -- including his own autobiography, To Hell and Back (1955) -- and his Universal Westerns were the most ambitious of his projects at that time. Unlike his producer there, Ken Gordon, Murphy had declined to sign a profit-participation deal. The films' reliable box office, at least early on, would have guaranteed him a healthy salary for the rest of his life. Although he had made solid business investments in the '50s, by the '60s a few poor choices and a taste for gambling had left the actor cash-strapped. Not only did that force him to sign for a straight salary but he also had to make less-expensive films for other studios. With smaller budgets, the films offered less action than Murphy's fans had come to expect. And eventually, they adversely affected ticket sales for his better films at Universal. As Gordon said, "What was happening was that people go to the movies, they go to see Audie Murphy, they don't look at the trademark. So it was assumed these [the low-budget films] were all made for the same aegis, and I think that's one of the things that kind of ran us out of time with Audie, and if he'd kept doing ours and hadn't done those we could keep going on for a couple of years." Universal put an end to Murphy's Western series in 1966 with Gunpoint.
Despite its low budget, The Quick Gun had a solid supporting cast including veteran character actors Raymond Hatton, Ted de Corsia and Frank Ferguson. Murphy's buddy, James Best, was already a screen veteran, having appeared in everything from Anthony Mann's classic Western Winchester '73 (1950) to the trailblazing African-American drama Sounder (1972) to the immortal schlockfest The Killer Shrews (1959). The 6', 1" Kentuckian was made to star in Westerns but never found his niche. In fact, a year after The Quick Gun he received a prominent "introducing" credit in the Jerry Lewis comedy Three on a Couch (1966), despite his having been in the movies for 16 years! Best would achieve his greatest fame as Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard but probably found his greatest professional satisfaction when he founded a well-respected acting school. Among his students were Burt Reynolds, Teri Garr, Quentin Tarantino and Lindsay Wagner, who was a babysitter for his children when he encouraged her to take up acting.
Producer: Grant Whytock
Director: Sidney Salkow
Screenplay: Robert E. Kent
Based on the story "The Fastest Gun" by Steve Fisher
Cinematography: Lester Shorr
Art Direction: Robert Purcell
Score: Richard LaSalle
Cast: Audie Murphy (Clint Cooper), Merry Anders (Helen Reed), James Best (Scotty Wade), Ted de Corsia (Spangler), Charles Meredith (Rev. Staley), Frank Ferguson (Dan Evans), Raymond Hatton (Elderly Man).
by Frank Miller
No Name on the Bullet by Don Graham (Penguin)