A Bullet Is Waiting
Cast & Crew
Just off the California coast, a small airplane carrying Sheriff Frank Munson and his prisoner, Ed Stone, crashes, killing the pilot. Handcuffed together, Ed and Frank struggle into the woods, before Ed knocks out Frank, unlocks the cuffs and heads into the nearby mountains. Although suffering from a sprained ankle, Frank revives and follows. Ed soon comes across Cally Canham, a tomboyish young woman keeping watch over a herd of sheep with her collie dog, Shep. As Cally questions Ed, Frank appears and cautions her that Ed is an escaped prisoner from Utah whom he has been tracking for two years. Suspicious of both men, Cally leads them at gunpoint back to the rustic ranch house that she shares with her father David, a former professor at Oxford, who is away collecting supplies. A harsh rainstorm rises abruptly and Cally reluctantly offers the men shelter. Ed helps Cally with a sickly lamb and prepares dinner, while Frank morosely nurses his ankle. When Frank reveals that Ed is a murderer who has fled across two states, Cally asserts that she has no interest in their problems and offers them her father's room. During the night, Ed rises and finds Cally's rifle and removes the cartridges. The following morning, warned by Shep, Cally finds Ed attempting to flee with a bag of supplies. Frank hobbles out with the rifle, only to discover that it is unloaded and is dismayed when Cally agrees to show Ed to the mountain pass. In the hills, Ed comments on the unfairness of David bringing Cally up in this isolated locale, but Cally insists she is happy. As they near the pass, Cally advises Ed that the area is usually flooded after severe storms, making it impossible to cross, but he insists on going on. Taken by Cally's unspoiled nature, Ed attempts to kiss her, but she defends herself with a knife before fleeing back to the house. Ed continues to the pass, which he finds flooded with raging water. Back at the ranch, Cally tends to the recovering lamb as Frank criticizes her for allowing Ed's escape. Ed then returns, admitting he was unable to swim through the pass. The rains begin again, and after talking at length with Cally, Ed discovers, with some resentment, that she is a sophisticated, well-educated young woman. While they talk, Frank attempts to get the rifle, but Ed prevents him, forcing Cally to hide the gun in the woodpile later that night. The rain continues for three days, during which time Frank's ankle heals and Ed attempts to repair a broken radio. When Cally reads out loud some of the philosophical ideas from her father's unpublished manuscript, Ed scoffs and accuses David of having run away from life. After the weather clears, Ed offers to help Cally with the sheep, leaving Frank alone in the house searching for the rifle. Cally asks Ed to tell her his side of his past in Utah. Ed describes coming from a small town, where the large Munson family was prevalant, and to killing Frank's brother in a dispute over money that was owed him, but only after the brother attacked him. Ed also reveals that Frank is not a real sheriff, but had himself deputized in order to legally pursue his brother's killer. When Cally nearly steps on a rattlesnake, Ed kills the snake, then sends her home and promises to bring the herd in later. At the house, Frank pleads with Cally to give him the rifle, but she refuses and he bitterly accuses Ed of using her. Later, Cally changes into a dress and admits to Ed that she has fallen in love with him. The following morning Ed announces that the pass has cleared and he will be leaving. When Cally again refuses to tell Frank where the rifle is hidden, Frank attacks Ed to prevent him from leaving. Ed throws Frank into the woodpile and discovers the rifle there, but Shep prevents him from using it. The fight is halted by the arrival of David, who is startled by the men's presence. He orders Cally to explain the events, and despite his daughter's insistence that Ed killed in self-defense, he agrees with Frank that Ed must be returned to Utah. David then stuns Cally by revealing that he has sold the ranch, recognizing that she must have more experience in the outside world. Aware of his daughter's emotional involvement with Ed, David agrees to hear Ed's side of the story, but gives Frank the rifle. After hearing Ed's tale, David realizes that Ed returns Cally's affections and agrees that the embittered Frank will probably never let him return to Utah alive. When Ed promises to turn himself in, David offers him his jeep, advising him that the keys are in the glove compartment. At the jeep, Ed finds a pistol in the glove compartment. Furious over David's action, Frank chases Ed, and the men have a gunfight until Frank runs out of ammunition. Ed reveals that he has one more bullet, but gives himself up. David then offers to take both men back to Utah, and along with Cally, Shep and the lamb, the group sets off.
Frank F. Planer
Jean L. Speak
A Bullet is Waiting
Set in the aftermath of a plane crash in the isolated California Hills, so far off the grid it could be the western frontier of the 1850s rather than the 1950s of airplanes and automobiles, A Bullet Is Waiting (1954) is as much a modern western as it is a crime drama on the edge of civilization. Rory Calhoun is man-on-the-run Ed Stone, a crash survivor who shucks off a pair of handcuffs and sets out to escape in the wilderness. And Stephen McNally is the obsessive Sheriff Munson, a lawman with a personal grudge against the wanted killer he's been pursuing for two years. But their mano a mano bout is interrupted by the tough, tomboyish yet cultured Cally Canham (Jean Simmons, stunning even in jeans, flannel and workboots), a woman who doesn't take kindly to trespassers on her land. She'd just as soon see them gone, but with Munson's ankle sprained, the pass flooded from heavy rains and the only vehicle taken into town by her father, she grudgingly puts them up in her rustic cabin until her father returns. Of course, that's plenty of time for embers of attraction between Cally and Ed to fan to life.
A Bullet Is Waiting is like a chamber piece in the wilderness; it builds dramatic tension between an isolated trio of characters and then introduces a fourth character (Brian Aherne) in the final third of the film; the latter is an Oxford philosophy professor who has fled civilization in disgust to return to nature with his grown daughter in tow. The rest of the film is a simmering battle of wills, with Ed as the soulful outlaw whose escape is constantly delayed for reasons that clearly have more to do with Cally than Munson and the vindictive Sheriff on the prowl for the sole rifle that Cally has hidden from them both.
Jean Simmons, who had arrived in Hollywood in 1950 from an impressive career in British cinema (among her credits were Black Narcissus  and playing Ophelia opposite Laurence Olivier in Hamlet ), had a slow start in America. The poised, intelligent British actress battled Howard Hughes to get out of an RKO contract only to get stuck in a succession of stiff costume dramas and period pieces. Cally was a rare opportunity to play a tough and independent character and she does so with steely strength and physical sureness. Though Rory Calhoun, a minor western star thanks to his matinee idol looks, athletic physicality and rough-and-tumble image, was top-billed in the cast, Simmons dominates A Bullet Is Waiting by the strength of her presence and her talent. Stephen McNally, familiar as an outlaw in dozens of westerns and crime thrillers, fills out the trio and reliable British character actor Brian Aherne brings dignity (and more than a little unchallenged arrogance) to the role of the philosopher turned rancher.
Director John Farrow (husband to Maureen O'Hara and father of Mia Farrow) was a reliable Hollywood hand whose best films were elevated by his talent for stirring up suspicion and volatile relationships (The Big Clock  and Where Danger Lives ) and giving action scenes--especially outdoor action--a tough, austere, muscular quality (Hondo ). A Bullet Is Waiting provides both for Farrow, and in spite of an unsurprising and often dialogue-heavy script with an ethically questionable climactic twist, he brings ambiguity to the dramatic tension and a rugged, rough edge to the violence. Though seeped in moral quandaries and philosophical debate, A Bullet Is Waiting is at its best stripped of everything but primal conflict in the wilderness.
Producer: Howard Welsch
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: Thames Williamson (screenplay and story); Casey Robinson (writer)
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Art Direction: Ross Dowd
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Film Editing: Otto Ludwig
Cast: Rory Calhoun (Ed Stone), Jean Simmons (Cally Canham), Stephen McNally (Sheriff Munson), Brian Aherne (David Canham).
by Sean Axmaker
A Bullet is Waiting
A Bullet Is Waiting was the first film made by Welsch Productions.
Released in United States Fall September 1954
Released in United States Fall September 1954