Cast & Crew
When Griff Bonnell, an ex-gunslinger now working for the U.S. Attorney General, rides into the town of Tombstone, Arizona, his old friend, Marshal John Chisolm, begs him for help in handling Brockie Drummond. Brockie, a vicious young punk, is the brother of Jessica Drummond, the iron-willed woman who rules the territory. Griff, who has come with his two brothers, Wes and Chico, to arrest fugitive Howard Swain, advises the nearly blind Chisolm to resign and seek medical attention. After the drunken Brockie shoots Chisolm in cold blood and then cackles with glee, however, Griff faces down Brockie with impunity and pummels him unconscious. Wes, who backs Griff as his second gun, is attracted to Louvenia Spanger, the tough-talking, voluptuous daughter of the town's gunsmith, while Chico, the youngest brother who aspires to join the team as third gun, protests about being sent to live on his parents' farm in California. Soon after, Jessica gallops into town and brusquely demands to see the man who assaulted her brother. Ned Logan, the town's ineffectual sheriff who has been bought by Jessica, then meekly releases Brockie from jail. On the ride back to the ranch, Jessica chastises her brother for his irresponsible behavior and demands he turn his guns over to her. In town, meanwhile, sparks fly between Louvenia and Wes when she measures him for a new rifle. At the Drummonds' Dragoons Ranch that night, Jessica is having a dinner party for Logan and her army of forty when Griff arrives with a warrant to arrest Swain, one of her minions, for mail robbery. After ordering Swain to leave peaceably with Griff, Jessica dismisses the others and then admires Griff's gun and offers him Logan's job. Later, in town, Chico, rebellious over being forced to lead the life of a farmer, gets drunk, prompting Griff to declare that the life of a hired gun is soon to become an anachronism. When the jailed Swain informs Logan that he plans to blackmail Jessica unless she arranges for his release, Logan turns his back and smiles smugly as a bullet hurls through the cell window and kills Swain. After pulling the bullet out of Swain's back, Wes shows it to Louvenia, who surmises that it was fired by Charlie Savage, the best shot in the territory. Afterward, Logan tells Jessica that he arranged for Swain's death to save her, and she coldly observes that he has just hanged himself. Soon after, Griff comes to Jessica's ranch in search of Swain and Jessica offers to help him. As they scour the range, a violent cyclone strikes, uprooting trees and blackening the air all around. Thrown from her panicked horse, Jessica is dragged along the ground until Griff comes to her rescue. In the calm following the storm, Jessica recounts how she was forced to forge her independence early in childhood. When Griff recalls shooting his way across the country, Jessica replies that the frontier is finished and asks him to throw in with her. Later, in town, Logan and Savage plot to ambush and kill Griff in Undertakers' Alley. After the brothers put Chico on the California-bound stage, Wes tells Griff that he plans to marry Louvenia and settle down as the new town marshal. Once the stage pulls out, Logan has one of his stooges lure Griff into the alley, where Savage takes aim from his upstairs hotel room. Just as Savage is about to fire, Chico, who has jumped onto the stage, bursts into Savage's room and shoots him, thus saving Griff's life. When Brockie puts Savage's body on display in the undertaker's window, flanked by signs accusing the Bonnell brothers of murder, Griff rides to Jessica's ranch to warn her about curbing her brother. Their discussion is interrupted when Logan fires at Griff and then claims he was only trying to protect Jessica, with whom he has fallen in love. In response, Jessica writes Logan a check and then callously dismisses him. As Griff and Jessica passionately embrace, Griff hears thudding coming from the adjacent room and finds Logan's lifeless body, dangling from the end of a noose. Some time later, Wes and Louvenia are married, and as Griff bends over to kiss the bride, a shot rings out from Brockie's gun, killing Wes. While Louvenia buries her husband, Griff tracks down and apprehends Brockie. Dispirited, Jessica turns over her ranch to the county in return for immunity against all charges. On the day of Brockie's execution, Jessica visits her brother in jail, and he demands that she buy his freedom. After Jessica dispassionately replies that he is going to hang, Brockie pulls a gun from the deputy's holster, then takes Jessica hostage and uses her as a shield to escape. When Brockie dares Griff to shoot, Griff takes deliberate aim and wounds Jessica. After Brockie drops his sister's limp body, Griff brutally empties his pistol into Brockie, thus ending his ten-year record of not killing a man. Some time later, Griff visits Chico, now the town marshal, and tells him that he is going to California. When Chico suggests that Griff ask the now recovered Jessica to join him, Griff replies that she will never forgive him for slaying her brother. As Griff drives his wagon out of town, however, Jessica sees him and follows.
L. B. Abbott
Gene Fowler Jr.
Harold E. Knox
Harry M. Leonard
William J. Magginetti
Robert J. Schiffer
Walter M. Scott
Joan St. Oegger
The film begins with a breathtaking sequence of Stanwyck leading her band of forty gunmen on horseback, galloping across the Cinemascope screen, surrounding, then passing a buckboard that carries three men who sit, silently astonished, watching. Fuller fills the wide screen with that dynamic opening and never lets up after that. Stanwyck plays Jessica Drummond, the steely landowner who rules Tombstone, Arizona, but cannot tame her hotheaded younger brother. The men in the buckboard are Griff Bonnell, a former gunfighter turned federal agent, in town to arrest a fugitive who is one of Jessica's guns, and his two younger brothers. An attraction flares between Jessica and Bonnell, even as they are caught up in the violence and lawlessness of the times in the Arizona territory.
Fuller had written the screenplay for Forty Guns, originally titled Woman with Whip, while under contract at 20th Century Fox in the early 1950s, but it was rejected by studio head Darryl Zanuck. After his contract ended, he had formed an independent production company, and made financing and distribution deals with Fox and other studios. By 1957, Fox was looking for films that could be made cheaply and quickly, and agreed to finance Forty Guns. Fuller later claimed that Fox contract player Marilyn Monroe wanted the role of Jessica, but he had always intended it for Stanwyck, whose work he admired.
"To work with Stanwyck is to work with the happy pertinence of professionalism and emotion." Fuller said. "She's superb as a queen, slut, matriarch, con girl or on a horse--a viable criterion of dramatic impact because she naturally (bless her) eschews aspects of forced emotion." Knowing how skilled she was at allowing the camera to capture her emotions, the director challenged her. "There was a scene loaded with a page of monologue and she knew it perfectly. I asked her, before the take, to eliminate the gibble-gabble and show the words in her face. Her eyes did it superbly."
Stanwyck was also superb in the action scenes. During the impressive tornado sequence, the script called for Stanwyck to fall off her horse and, her foot caught in the stirrup, be dragged by the galloping animal. When the stunt men refused to do the drag because it was too dangerous, Stanwyck, then nearly fifty, volunteered. She did it three times before Fuller was satisfied.
The star proved that she still was as adept at delivering lines loaded with sexual innuendo as she had been two decades earlier. A verbal exchange with Barry Sullivan, who played Griff, about his gun is played for laughs. As Dan Callahan writes in The Miracle Woman, his study of Stanwyck's career, "Something about Fuller's direction has clawed away all the cobwebs that had grown over her on-screen sexuality, so that she's as hot-to-trot, don't-give-a-damn sexy here at fifty as she ever was in her twenties." Stanwyck did not appear in another film until Walk on the Wild Side (1962), but did go on to star in a successful TV western, The Big Valley (1965-1969).
Fuller later said of Forty Guns, "I considered it one of my best efforts so far. Sure there were some compromises, like the ending [Fuller had wanted Jessica to die at the end, but the studio insisted that she live], but it came close to my original vision." His directorial flourishes in the film--long, masterful tracking shots, the shooting and editing of the gunfight scene, startling visual set pieces--have been admired and imitated by everyone from Jean-Luc Godard and the FrenchNouvelle Vague, to Sergio Leone, to Jim Jarmush and Quentin Tarantino. Forty Guns offers the thrill of recognition, and the realization that Fuller did them first. His outrageous, kinetic style still feels as fresh and inventive as ever.
In an appreciation of Fuller, director Martin Scorsese said, "When you respond to a Fuller film, what you're responding to is cinema at its essence. Motion as emotion. Fuller's pictures move convulsively, violently. Just like life when it's being lived with passion." But Fuller himself said it best, in a cameo as himself in Godard's Pierrot le Fou (1965): "A film is like a battleground. It's love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word, emotion."
Producer: Samuel Fuller
Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Art Direction: John Mansbridge
Music: Harry Sukman
Film Editing: Gene Fowler Jr.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Jessica Drummond), Barry Sullivan (Griff Bonnell), Dean Jagger (Sheriff Ned Logan), John Ericson (Brockie Drummond), Gene Barry (Wes Bonnell), Robert Dix (Chico Bonnell), Jidge Carroll (Barney Cashman), Paul Dubov (Judge Macy), Gerald Milton (Shotgun Spanger), Ziva Rodann (Rio)
Forty Guns on DVD
Fuller was also more on a stylistic limb than his contemporaries. Fuller's operatic sort of exaggerated reality can be found in such later directors as Sergio Leone and Seijun Suzuki, but in few other 1950s studio films. In Forty Guns, his overheated tale of a hard-nosed female rancher-tycoon who meets her romantic match in the U.S. Marshal who stands up to her, Fuller includes gunfights, love scenes, two onscreen ballads and more Freudian dialogue than every other movie from 1957 combined. Fuller's gut-level theatrics regularly veer to the edge of self-parody. For instance, the title refers to the 40 gunslingers Barbara Stanwyck's Jessica Drummond has in her employ, and in the rousing opening her thundering herd, which she leads on her white mount, stampedes past the buckboard bringing Barry Sullivan's Griff Bonnell and his two brothers (Gene Barry, Robert Dix) to Cochise County, the area where everything is under her thumb. But when Griff visits her spread to serve an arrest warrant on one of those hired guns, he finds Jessica and her henchmen at dinner, all seated at the same ridiculously long table. It could have been a moment from Blazing Saddles.
Mel Brooks's spoof also comes to mind when several of the drunk gunmen, including Jessica's bad egg brother Brockie (John Ericson), raise hell in nearby Tombstone, breaking windows, firing guns and scaring passersby. Of course, they're pulling none other than Slim Pickens's "Number 6" dastardly deed from that movie: "riding into town, whampin' and whompin' every living thing that moves within an inch of its life." (Ironically, cinematographer Joseph Biroc shot both movies.) Brockie's impulsive shenanigans are what really bring Jessica and Griff into conflict, when Griff pistol-whips the hellraiser and has him thrown in jail. Although Jessica and her cronies quickly spring Brockie from his cell, Griff has made an enemy of both Drummond siblings.
It's here that Fuller's script stumbles a bit. Although Griff and Jessica have previously sized each other up, and she asked to feel his "trademark" (that would be his, um, gun) and offered her the job replacing her current bought-and-paid-for sheriff (Dean Jagger), there's little reason to think she would fall in love with him. Sturdy Sullivan is, as usual, rather colorless, and even though Fuller throws Griff and Jessica together during a well-staged twister (with Stanwyck clearly doing her own stunt when being pulled by her hysterical horse), what happens when they seek shelter in a clay shack has never fully convinced me of their love. The scene inside, which may or may not take place after the two have had sex, is just too brief to get the job done, with a few lines of dialogue and a semi-hug. You just have to go along with it, and I don¿t find the passion in Fuller's exercise in style as convincing as that in the ultimate Stanwyck western, Mann's The Furies.
Leave it to Brockie to continue to prevent Jessica and Griff from happily settling their differences and cultivating their affair. He still harbors a grudge against Griff, and his vengeance spills over to affect Griff's brothers and one of those brothers's fiancee, the sexy gunsmith's daughter played by Eve Brent (who fires off as much phallic innuendo as anyone here). As Brockie's attempts to kill Griff fail, the violence scares off many of Jessica's high-powered cronies, and puts all three on the path to a showdown that Fuller gives a typically askew twist (though, in his memoir A Third Face he detailed an even more unconventional ending Fox insisted he change). As with the sexual spark between Jessica and Griff, there are a few other plot turns where you wish the 79-minute movie would take a minute and better explain its characters' actions, especially Jessica's towards the end.
The occasional lapses in plot only slightly diminish Fuller's talent as a visual storyteller in Forty Guns. If Fuller played it safe and didn't grab your lapels and try to shake you with his tale, the movie wouldn't be worth revisiting nearly 50 years after it was made. But Stanwyck leading 20 two-horse tandems across Jessica's ranch, Griff's "walk" to face down Brockie and that massive dinner table are all indelible movie images. The lone extra on the Forty Guns DVD, the frenzied trailer narrated by prolific voice actor Paul Frees, makes dramatic use of such high-octane Fuller moments.
For more information about Forty Guns, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Forty Guns, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman
Forty Guns on DVD
Condemned in the US because of its brutal handling of the narrative, but praised in Europe for its stylistic vigor.
The working title of this picture was Woman with a Whip. In the onscreen credits, Samuel Fuller's credit reads "Written, produced-directed by Samuel Fuller." The onscreen credits read "Songs sung by Jidge Carroll." Although Eve Brent's onscreen cast credit reads "and introducing Eve Brent," she had appeared in several earlier films under the name "Jean Ann Lewis." Forty Guns marked the first time she was billed as Brent. A 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Philip Dunne was initially to produce this film. The Variety review misspells the character played by Robert Dix as "Chica."
According to an April 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, backgrounds were filmed in Arizona. In an interview reprinted in a modern source, Fuller stated that in the original ending of the film, "Griff" shoots and kills Jessica after "Brockie" takes her hostage. According to Fuller, Twentieth Century-Fox forced him to change the ending to the one in which Griff wounds Jessica and then kills Brockie.
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States July 1991
Released in United States May 1989
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1957
Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.)
Released in United States July 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) July 26 & 27, 1991.)
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1957
Released in United States May 1989 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) May 16 & 17, 1989.)