The Gun Runners
Cast & Crew
On Key West, Florida, former naval officer Sam Martin ekes out a living chartering his cabin cruiser to tourists. One morning Sam and his first mate Harvey are stopped by Cuban revolutionary sympathizers Carlos Contreras and his partner Juan, who ask to hire Sam's boat. Wary of becoming involved with the nearby political unrest, Sam refuses. Sam and Harvey then take tourist Mr. Peterson out fishing, and he loses the expensive tackle at sea. Later, Peterson grudgingly promises to pay Sam his near thousand-dollar, ten-day debt in full that evening. At Freddy's bar, Sam assures the easy-going bartender he will finally pay his long-overdue bill. Gas station owner Arnold finds Sam at the bar and demands payment for three months of gas for the boat and agrees to meet Sam at Peterson's hotel that night. Sam then stops at home to see his wife Lucy and she reminds him about back payments on the boat to lender Sy Phillips. That evening, when Sam meets Harvey and Arnold at the hotel, he sees Peterson being taken to jail for passing bad checks. Dismayed, Sam visits Pop's pawnshop, where he hocks a clock for twenty dollars, then takes the money to the small illegal gambling parlor behind Pop's shop. Sy attempts to talk Sam out of gambling, but Sam refuses and promptly loses. Nearby, jovial gambler "Papa" Hanagan, overhears Sy and Sam discussing the money owed on the boat. The next morning, Hanagan and his Swedish girl friend Eva meet Sam on the pier and hire him for a day trip. Once at sea, Hanagan asks Sam to stop in Havana, but Sam declines, explaining that the ongoing revolution makes Cuba legally off-limits. Nevertheless, Hanagan pressures Sam to drop them off on the Cuban coast, just outside Havana. Sam demands a large extra sum for the arrangement and is surprised when Hanagan agrees. That night, when Hanagan and Eva miss their scheduled pick-up time, Sam anxiously slips into Havana to look for them and finds Eva at a bar. Sam insists on being paid and Eva asks him why he is not curious about where Hanagan gets his money. Sam agrees to return to the boat and wait for the couple. Meanwhile, in a small room above the club, Hanagan and several Cuban revolutionaries negotiate a gun shipment promised by Hanagan. On the way back to the boat, Hanagan kills a policeman who refuses to be bribed, then kills the cab driver once they arrive at the boat. Sam is suspicious of Hanagan's activities, and at sea carefully avoids the Coast Guard patrol boat. Back at Key West, Sam pays Freddy and Arnold before being summoned by Commander Walsh, the head of the Coast Guard, who has already questioned Harvey. Sam denies having gone to Cuba, then is stunned to hear of the two murders. At home, Sam tells Lucy the prior night's activities and she assures him that he is not responsible for the killings. Later, Eva visits Sam to rehire him, but he refuses. Eva reveals that Hanagan has purchased the boat from Sy and Sam is outraged. When a policeman stops by with Hanagan's ownership papers and the request for the boat's keys, Sam frantically goes to Pop to ask for two thousand dollars to buy back the boat, but Pop regretfully refuses. Sam worries about having to deal with Hanagan, but Lucy agrees that it is the only way to get back the boat. The next day, Hanagan tells Sam that he will receive the boat plus a large bonus for a three-day trip to the other side of Key West and a Cuban coastal spot. Sam returns home to tell Lucy of the plan, but rouses Harvey's suspicions when he attempts to send him away for equipment. Harvey secretly stows away on the boat, where Sam later hides a machine gun in the hold before Hanagan and Carlos arrive. On the far side of the island, the group picks up two more men, including Hanagan's anxious partner Buzurki, with two large boxes of rifles. Carlos alone knows their destination of Ibarra, Cuba and gives Sam the route. Later Carlos goes down to inspect the rifles and is furious to find the boxes full of rocks. When he protests, Buzurki shoots him and Hanagan orders Sam to continue to Ibarra. Harvey appears from the hatch at that moment in an attempt to save Sam, but is quickly overpowered. When Hanagan wants to shoot Harvey, Sam points out that if Hanagan kills Harvey he must also kill Sam, who is the only one who can pilot the boat. Hanagan then forces Harvey back into the hatch and the journey continues. Near Ibarra, Sam fakes engine trouble, but when he opens the engine hatch discovers that Hanagan has already found the machine gun. Harvey then slips overboard and swims toward shore. Buzurki and the other man shoot at Harvey, but Sam guns the engines, knocking everyone off balance, and giving him the opportunity to snatch Hanagan's gun. Sam shoots all of the men, but is wounded by Hanagan before killing him. Harvey returns to the boat to tend to Sam's wound and pilot the boat back to Key West where Lucy is waiting.
Herbert E. Stewart
The Gun Runners
When director Don Siegel was invited to a production meeting to consider filming The Gun Runners (1958) he at first couldn't figure out why the producers had chosen that particular property. The Gun Runners is a loose rewrite of Ernest Hemingway's 1934 short story "One Trip Across" and his follow-up novel To Have and Have Not, about a fishing boat proprietor who gets sucked into smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States. It had already been filmed as the 1944 Howard Hawks classic To Have and Have Not starring Humphrey Bogart and introducing Lauren Bacall. Warner Bros. remade it only five years later as The Breaking Point (1950) with John Garfield and Patricia Neal. Why producer Clarence Greene would want to film another iteration with lesser stars and a fraction of the budget of either of the first two versions was beyond Siegel's understanding.
The answer lies in the way 1950s Hollywood was restructuring itself as the power of the studios waned. Former executives, agents and stars formed independent production companies, raising money on their own and contracting with studios mainly for distribution. Big stars like James Stewart and Bogart brokered sweetheart deals with the majors, but the equally marketable Burt Lancaster and John Wayne ran their own production companies. Because studios needed product to fill their distribution schedules, independent producers with the right connections were suddenly in demand: the industry now depended on the art of The Deal rather than a mogul's whim. The Gun Runners was the first film from Seven Arts Productions, a company formed by Eliot Hyman and ex-agent Ray Stark. While other independents remained producers-for-hire, Seven Arts often partnered with studios, as it did with Britain's Hammer Films. Seven Arts performed so well that after only ten years it bought out Jack Warner's percentage of Warner Bros., a merger that formed Warner Bros. - Seven Arts.
In his 1996 autobiography A Siegel Film Don Siegel offers a sarcastic account of his meeting with producer Clarence Greene. The director expressed his low opinion of the project, slated to star famed soldier-turned-actor Audie Murphy. Siegel considered Murphy a pathetic choice to follow in the footsteps of Bogie and Garfield. Since his auspicious debut in John Huston's The Red Badge of Courage (1951) Murphy had impressed few with his acting talent yet carved out a reasonably successful career in minor westerns. As reported by Lillian Ross in Picture, her exposé book on MGM, Huston was attracted to Audie Murphy because one could see that he was a "natural born killer". Siegel was similarly impressed, when he noticed Murphy casually toting a Colt .45 Peacemaker into a bar:
Siegel: Why the arsenal?
Murphy: You never know when you might need it.
Siegel: You're not expecting trouble?
Murphy: No. (Taking a long sip from his beer.) But if it's coming, I'll blow it away.
Howard Hawks adapted Hemingway's original tale of the war effort by adding a Casablanca- like patriotic conflict, pitting Free French against Vichy Fascists on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Michael Curtiz's noir version The Breaking Point moved the locale to Southern California, concentrating on the economic hardship faced by John Garfield's bankrupt fishing operator. To avoid losing his boat, Garfield becomes a getaway pilot for bank robbers.
For The Gun Runners, writers Daniel Mainwaring and Paul Monash add a topical spin, relocating the story to Key West, Florida. Excursion boat captain Sam Martin (Audie Murphy) is pressured into helping rogue arms dealer Hanagan (Eddie Albert) smuggle guns to Cuban rebels. The film takes no overt political position yet offers a negative portrait of Castro's revolutionaries. The rebels are generic desperados that assassinate policemen; a committed rebel leader enjoys killing with a knife. This bias won't be lost on viewers aware of Audie Murphy's previous film The Quiet American (1958), based on Graham Greene's highly critical novel about American meddling in 1950s Vietnam. Famed writer-director Joe Mankiewicz reversed Graham Greene's political message, giving the film a pro-American, anti-communist slant. The makers of The Gun Runners use the Cuban Revolution only as a backdrop. They had no way of knowing how the struggle would turn out: their film was released exactly four months before Fidel Castro's victorious entry into Havana.
In 1957 film directors carried a lot of weight on an independent picture: Seven Arts probably told producer Clarence Greene that his usual directing partner Russell Rouse (Wicked Woman ; The Thief ) wasn't a big enough name for The Gun Runners. Don Siegel was allowed to choose his own cameraman Hal Mohr, who had filmed his two prior pictures, Baby Face Nelson  and The Lineup . Remembering the Bogart original's underplayed humor, Siegel nominated his favorite writer Daniel Mainwaring to add some laughs in a rewrite. Mainwaring was a master of hep noir irony, as proven in his classics Out of the Past , The Lawless  and Invasion of the Body Snatchers .
Don Siegel expressed enthusiasm for the casting of Eddie Albert as Hanagan, a swindler who murders a Cuban soldier when he won't accept his bribe. Siegel was unenthused about the rest of the players but made space for Richard Jaeckel, the getaway driver from his previous The Lineup, to play Hanagan's brutal gunman. Siegel felt sympathy for Patricia Owens, a spirited actress who had played opposite Marlon Brando in the big hit Sayonara (1957). Noting Audie Murphy's coldness, Siegel got his actors together to rehearse a husband & wife love scene. Siegel found Murphy unwilling to touch Owens or even look her in the face:
"Pat was dead game. She'd caress Audie's face, sit on his lap and attempt to kiss him. It's hard to believe, but I couldn't get any response from Audie. By twisting and turning, he managed not to look at her once. Oh Bogey and Johnny, where were you when I needed you?"
The Gun Runners has a more than adequate cast, with Everett Sloane (The Lady from Shanghai, 1947) cast against type as Sam Martin's drunken first mate, the Walter Brennan "rummy" role from To Have and Have Not. Audie Murphy's Sam Martin becomes a target of seduction for Hanagan's sexy girlfriend Eva, played by Swedish model Gita Hall. Assisting in lesser roles are Paul Birch, Jack Elam and acting coach Lee Strasberg.
Although set in Florida and Cuba, the modestly budgeted thriller was shot entirely in California. The water scenes were filmed in and around California's Newport Bay, with "Cuban" locations all done locally as well. The most atmospheric setting is a smoky Cuban nightclub, complete with a convincing rumba dancer who doubles as a rebel gun moll. The rest of the film plays out in nondescript Newport Beach dock areas, adding a Spanish sign or two when necessary.
Siegel said before filming that the story has "pace, danger and action", and that's what he delivered. Always good with action scenes, Siegel makes the concluding shoot-out on the boat fast and deadly. Eddie Albert gives the best performance as the engaging but duplicitous Hanagan. Patricia Owens tries hard to humanize the Audie Murphy character. Her efforts to warm up Audie must have had some success because he indeed does look at her, touch her and even kiss her on screen. Although he's likeable and good-looking, Murphy can't carry the film. We never forget that he's a non-actor working too hard to appear natural, and he does little with Daniel Mainwaring's ironic dialogue. The overly theatrical Everett Sloane is stuck with a part Walter Brennan portrayed more effectively. Seductive Gita Hall gives her blonde playgirl an extra dimension -- the character serves to remind Sam Martin that allowing one's self to be bought has dire consequences.
In the final estimation The Gun Runners carbon copies too many details from the two previous versions to establish an identity of its own. The fatal voyage to deliver machine guns to the rebels ends in the middle of the ocean, nearly identically to the finish of Key Largo (1948) another Bogart picture seemingly influenced by To Have and Have Not.
Distributor United Artists played up the Ernest Hemingway connection for the film's September 1958 release, perhaps hoping to benefit from publicity for the same year's much-promoted Spencer Tracy adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea. Posters for The Gun Runners promised "Hemingway-Hot Adventure!" in text far bigger than that given the film title or Audie Murphy's credit.
Audie Murphy's career took a downturn into ever-cheaper westerns, a pattern broken by his fine supporting performance as an Indian-hating cowboy in John Huston's The Unforgiven (1960). Murphy's last movie was a brief appearance as Jesse James in Budd Boetticher's micro-budgeted western A Time for Dying (1969). He lost his life in an airplane crash two years later. Don Siegel's career soon stepped up to higher-profile pictures with Elvis Presley and Steve McQueen, followed by another Hemingway remake, 1964's The Killers with Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes. The director finally hit the "A" list with a quartet of big Clint Eastwood pictures. Siegel and Eastwood became fast friends, and when Eastwood began directing on his own, he frequently credited Siegel as his mentor. The Gun Runners remains one of Don Siegel's lesser pictures from his breakout years.
Producer: Clarence Greene
Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Daniel Mainwaring, Paul Monash (screenplay); Ernest Hemingway (novel); Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Art Direction: Howard Richmond
Music: Leith Stevens
Film Editing: Chester W. Schaeffer
Cast: Audie Murphy (Sam Martin), Everett Sloane (Harvey), Eddie Albert (Hanagan), Patricia Owens (Lucy Martin), Gita Hall (Eva), Carlos Romero (Carlos Contreras), Paul Birch (Sy Phillips), Herb Vigran (Freddy/'Baldy', bar proprietor), Peggy Maley (Blonde Barfly), Jack Elam (Arnold).
by Glenn Erickson
The Gun Runners
Working titles for the film were One Trip Across, The Gunrunners and The Gun Runner. The story was based on an Ernest Hemingway short story published in April 1934, entitled "One Trip Across," that partially served as the basis for Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not. According to a February 1958 Daily Variety news item, Hemingway protested the use of the title "One Trip Across" despite producer Clarence Greene's assertion that the author had not read the script. Greene insisted the property, which Warner Bros. had filmed first in 1944 as To Have and Have Not then in 1950 as The Breaking Point (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films; 1941-50), was part of the property sold to Howards Hughes, resold to Warner Bros. and eventually sold again to Eliot Hyman and Ray Stark, owners of Seven Arts Productions. The Gun Runners was the company's first release.
Hemingway, at the time of The Gun Runners was released a resident of Cuba, also protested the change in plot line from rum running in Prohibition Cuba to gun running during the Cuban revolution. The film was released without further protest from Hemingway. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item lists Joey Ray and Billy Wayne in the film, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Portions of the film were shot on location in Balboa and Newport Bay, CA.
Released in United States Fall September 1958
Remake of "To Have and Have Not" (1944) directed by Howard Hawks.
Released in United States Fall September 1958
Feature acting debut for Lauren Bacall.
Broadcast in USA over TBS (colorized version) June 4, 1990.