The Fastest Gun Alive
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Filmed as a low-budget quickie, The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) unexpectedly grabbed the public's attention and was a surprise success at the box office. And in the years since, it has become a cult Western, revered by a great many fans of the genre, despite such technical gaffs as showing villain Broderick Crawford fanning his double-action revolvers (an apparent physical impossibility). There is also a scene in which the eagle-eyed viewer will notice that hero Glenn Ford's Colt is cocked while still sitting in his holster - a virtual guarantee of blowing his foot off on a quick draw.
Ford plays a peaceful storekeeper who tries to keep his prodigious skill with a gun under wraps. But once while drunk, he carelessly reveals his sharpshooter talent to the public, and word soon travels to Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford), an egotistical bully who thinks he's the fastest draw in the West. Crawford comes gunning for a showdown, and all is settled in a twist ending.
Director Russell Rouse and producer Clarence Greene have become something of a cult unto themselves, known for a series of offbeat films throughout the 1950s. The two first worked together as co-writers and producers of an odd little romantic comedy, The Town Went Wild (1944), about two feuding men who discover their sons have been switched at birth (and one is about to marry his own sister!). Rouse made his directorial debut with The Well (1951), a Greene-produced stark study in racial tension and mob violence. They co-created a number of quirky, low-budget hits over the next decade and had their most high-profile pictures in the 1960s with the trashy adaptation of brothel-keeper Polly Adler's memoirs, A House Is Not a Home (1964), and the camp classic, The Oscar (1966), an all-star "inside-Hollywood" melodrama. The two were also the co-writers of the film noir classic D.O.A. (1950).
The Fastest Gun Alive features a number of supporting players better known for other work. John Dehner, John Doucette, Noah Beery, Jr. (nephew of Oscar®-winner Wallace Beery), and Leif Erickson (one-time husband of Frances Farmer and star of TV's The High Chaparral) are all veterans of numerous Westerns. Russ Tamblyn, who performs an oddly out-of-place dance number in this film, is more familiar to fans of musicals from such movies as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and West Side Story (1961). Jeanne Crain, who plays Ford's wife, received a Best Actress Academy Award® nomination as a black girl passing for white in Pinky (1949), and Crawford was awarded Best Actor for his role as the Huey Long-inspired demagogue Willie Stark in All the King's Men (1949).
Viewers may also recognize the name of co-writer Frank D. Gilroy. This was his first feature-film screenplay, written in the middle of a long stretch in television, including writing stints on such Western series as Wanted: Dead or Alive (the show that gave Steve McQueen his first big break) and The Rifleman. Gilroy later wrote for the stage, too, and two of his plays were adapted to film as The Subject Was Roses (1968), an early Martin Sheen role, and The Only Game in Town (1970), the only pairing of Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor.
Director: Russell Rouse
Producer: Clarence Greene
Screenplay: Frank D. Gilroy and Russell Rouse, from Gilroy's story "The Last Notch"
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Editing: Harry V. Knapp, Ferris Webster
Art Direction: Merrill Pye, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Glenn Ford (George Temple), Jeanne Crain (Dora Temple), Broderick Crawford (Vinnie Harold), Russ Tamblyn (Eric Doolittle), Allyn Joslyn (Harvey Maxwell).
BW-90m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon