Cast & Crew
In the 1880s, Jimmie Ringo, a gunfighter reputed to be the fastest in the Southwest, is minding his own business in a saloon when a cocky young man named Eddie, who is showing off in front of his friends, challenges him. Weary of killing, Jimmie tries to avoid the confrontation, but Eddie draws on him and Jimmie is forced to shoot him. Having heard that Eddie had three brothers, Jimmie quickly leaves town. As feared, the brothers trail Jimmie, but he gets the jump on them in the desert, chasing off their horses, then heads for the town of Cayenne. There Jimmie meets Mac, the owner of the Palace Bar, who tips off the local marshal, Mark Strett, that he is in town. Jimmie is delighted to see Mark, an old friend and former outlaw, but is surprised to learn that he is now a lawman. Although Jimmie assures him that he means no trouble, Mark asks him to leave town after he has eaten. Jimmie explains that has come to Cayenne to see his estranged wife, Peggy Walsh, and son Jimmie, Jr., who live nearby. At first, Mark is reluctant to help Jimmie locate Peggy and Jimmie Jr., whose relation to Jimmie is not known to the townspeople. When Jimmie insists on seeing them, however, and tells Mark that the brothers who are after him might cause a lot of bloodshed in the town, Mark agrees to tell Peggy that he is at the saloon. On his way to the school where Peggy teaches, Mark tells his deputy, Charlie, to take Hunt Bromley, Peggy's would-be suitor, into custody. After Mark returns to the saloon and informs Jimmie that Peggy does not want to see him, Jerry Marlowe, a local resident who thinks that Jimmie killed his son, hears that the gunfighter is in the saloon. An armed Marlowe lies in wait for Jimmie, but before he can shoot, his wife knocks the gun off target and Jimmie retreats back into the saloon. As Jimmie is about to leave, he runs into Molly, another old friend, who is working as a singer there. The recently widowed Molly lets slip that Peggy is the local schoolteacher and tells Jimmie about Bromley's interest in Peggy. Later, while Molly tries to persuade Peggy to see Jimmie, Bromley learns that Jimmie is in town and, seeing him as a way to quickly acquire a reputation, goes to the saloon. However Jimmie bluffs him and throws him out. The three brothers, meanwhile, finally reach a ranch on foot, and borrow horses and guns from the owner. Back in Cayenne, Peggy locks Jimmie, Jr. in his room to stop him from seeing Jimmie, then is persuaded by Molly to see Jimmie. After Mark stations Charlie in the saloon with a loaded shotgun to scare off potential troublemakers, Jimmie spots Marlowe's rifle across the street and goes after him. Jimmie captures Marlowe, then after denying that he killed his son, takes him to the marshal's office. As he locks Marlowe up, a group of righteous women comes in to complain to the marshal about Jimmie's presence in the town. Mark, who has been escorting Bromley out of town, then walks in and, much to the women's chagrin, introduces Jimmie. Before Jimmie and Mark return to the saloon, Bromley, who has doubled back into town, overhears Mark arranging to give Jimmie a fresh horse. Sure that Jimmie's presence at his saloon will mean a boost in business, Mac, meanwhile, offers Jimmie a share of his anticipated revenues, but Jimmie tells him to give the money to the schoolteacher, as he has always had a weakness for teachers. Just as Jimmie is about to go, Molly arrives with Peggy. Jimmie asks Peggy to join him in California or the Northwest, but she fears his reputation will follow him and refuses. When he asks her to reconsider his proposition in a year, however, she agrees. Unaware that the brothers are in town, Jimmie then arranges to see his son before he leaves. Jimmie, Jr. doesn't know that the famous gunfighter is his father and asks him to identify the toughest man he ever saw. To Jimmie, Jr.'s surprise, Jimmie names the gunless Mark who later assures Jimmie that he will watch out for Peggy and his son until he returns. The brothers, meanwhile, lie in wait for Jimmie but are taken by surprise by Charlie. Bromley then suddenly appears and shoots Jimmie in the back before he has a chance to draw. As he is dying, Jimmie tells Mark that he wants it known that he drew first so that Bromley will learn what life is like as a gunslinger. After Jimmie dies, Mark takes Bromley into a barn, beats him and tells him that thousands of "cheap squirts" like him will now want to kill the man who killed Jimmie Ringo. Later, a church service is held for Jimmie, and Peggy and Jimmie, Jr. attend as Mrs. Jimmie Ringo and son.
Alan Hale Jr.
B. G. Norman
Charles E. Anderson
F. E. Johnston
Walter M. Scott
William A. Steele
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Gunfighter (1950)
The story of a retired gunfighter, Johnny Ringo, who yearns to live peacefully but finds himself constantly challenged to gun duels by young punks because of his reputation for being the best, The Gunfighter had its genesis in a dinner between screenwriter William Bowers and the retired heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. Dempsey told Bowers that his biggest daily problem was that seemingly everyone he met wanted to start a fight with him. Bowers was intrigued, and thought about applying that concept to a western gunfighter. "By the time I sat down to write [it]," he said, "I knew every line... It took me two weeks just to put it down, but I had thought it out completely."
The final shooting script was the work of several writers: Bowers and Andre De Toth for the story, and Bowers and William Sellers for the screenplay. Producer Nunnally Johnson, a top-flight screenwriter himself, added a sizable chunk of the script but took no screenwriting credit. (Johnson's daughter Nora later wrote that he always considered The Gunfighter his favorite script of his entire career.)
Bowers and Sellers' script was originally entitled The Big Gun, and Bowers took it initially to John Wayne. Bowers had had Wayne foremost in his mind as he worked on the script. As he later recalled: "Duke Wayne was so marvelous [in Red River, 1948] as that big, tough, tired guy, when I did The Gunfighter, I thought here I've got a story about the toughest guy in the west, only you never see him do anything tough. And I'm absolutely screwed if I don't have a guy that you would just naturally believe. So Duke is that guy." When Wayne read the script, Bowers said, "he flipped over it," but offered Bowers just $10,000. "And I said, 'Oh, come on!' He said, 'Well, you said you wrote it for me, don't you have any artistic integrity?' I said, 'No.'"
So Bowers took it next to Nunnally Johnson, who got Fox to purchase it for $70,000 and then expanded the script from 94 to 132 pages, adding scenes such as the buildup to the early confrontation between Johnny Ringo and a young gun in a saloon. (The original script had simply started with that showdown.) Wayne was irritated with Bowers for the rest of his life for having "sold that goddamn story out from under me," and he let him know it whenever their paths crossed. Bowers would reply, "Well, you didn't offer me any money." And Wayne would respond, "Well, you said you wrote it for me! And then you go over there and let that skinny schmuck do it!" -- meaning Peck. According to Bowers, Wayne thought the resulting picture was "a piece of crap" and would have been infinitely better with Wayne in it. Bowers certainly believed that "Duke would have been superb in The Gunfighter," but of course Peck turns in a brilliant performance of his own as the tortured Johnny Ringo.
Peck later recalled that the actual shoot went very smoothly, just like Bowers' original writing process: "We just worked on it for about ten or eleven weeks," Peck said, "and it all came out on the screen about the way it was on paper -- airtight."
The key quality being sought was authenticity. Cinematographer Arthur Miller told interviewer Charles Higham that the picture "was shot without any process at all. All that stuff with the guy waiting to shoot the man as he came out of a saloon from a high window...none of it was faked. The western hats and clothes were exactly right. I stripped The Gunfighter of all glamour."
Nunnally Johnson later laughed over a memory of Henry King asserting his authority over the period authenticity of bar towels. They walked onto the saloon set one day, and King started snatching the bar towels off their racks, announcing that bar towels hadn't actually come in until 1871. "Well," recalled Johnson, "he happened to be saying this in front of the only man who knew he was lying, which was me. It just happened that the night before I'd been looking through an album of old pictures, like a collection of Brady photographs, and had seen a picture of General Grant in a saloon and there were bar towels there. But naturally I didn't say anything. There was nothing [to be gained by it]. It seemed to me a small point and Henry had gained a small victory. It made him happy. I didn't care whether there were [bar towels]. If we'd been doing a picture of the Crusades, he'd come up with the same outright, flat statements and nobody would dispute a director as authoritative as Henry."
But by far the most famous story connected to The Gunfighter and its push for period authenticity involves Gregory Peck's mustache. The mustache -- as well as Peck's bowl haircut and grungy wardrobe -- were Henry King's idea for the cause of realism. Studio chief Darryl Zanuck was in Europe during production and so didn't see the mustache until he viewed a cut of the film some time later. But two weeks into filming, Twentieth Century-Fox president Spyros Skouras saw his first batch of rushes, and he hated the mustache so much that he seriously considered having the production start over with a clean-shaven Johnny Ringo. Peck and King approached the film's production manager to find out how much those two weeks had cost. $150,000, they were told. "Can't you up that a little?" King asked. "For one-fifty he just might do it." So the production manager told Skouras it had cost $300,000, and Skouras was deterred.
Henry King later said that when Zanuck first saw a cut of the film (and the mustache), he sat in silence afterward for some time. "Then he said, 'I would give $50,000 of my own money if I could get that mustache off that guy... This man has a young following. Young girls like him. That mustache, I'm afraid, is going to kill it.'" Zanuck, and Skouras, were worried that the mustache would affect the movie's box-office performance, and when the film indeed underperformed, Skouras for years afterward referred to Johnson as the man who put the mustache on Gregory Peck and cost the studio a million dollars.
That is certainly an exaggeration, but it's possible that the overall sparse, understated, antiheroic grunginess of The Gunfighter was not what Peck fans wanted to see in 1950. Peck's previous western, Yellow Sky (1948), had made more money, as had most of his latest films overall. Furthermore, his four recent Oscar nominations had been for more glamorous, clean-cut roles in such films as The Yearling (1946), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and Twelve O'Clock High (1949).
Critics raved over The Gunfighter, with The New York Times deeming it "grown-up" and offering "rare suspense and a tingling accumulation of good, pungent western atmosphere." Variety called it a "dynamic, potent drama... Packs a terrific dramatic wallop which seldom has been equaled in any type of picture."
The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story, but lost to Panic in the Streets (1950). Peck was offered the lead in High Noon -- another tortured western character -- as a result of this film, but turned it down, fearing being typecast. He later regretted it. Notable in the supporting cast here are Millard Mitchell, excellent as the Marshall, and Jean Parker in the role of Molly. Parker had acted in some sixty films in the 1930s and 1940s before leaving Hollywood for a Broadway career, and this was her return to the screen after nearly five years.
By Jeremy Arnold
Gary Fishgall, Gregory Peck
William Froug, The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter
Charles Higham, Hollywood Cameramen
Nora Johnson, Flashback: Nora Johnson on Nunnally Johnson
Tom Stempel, An Oral History of Nunnally Johnson
Tom Stempel, Screenwriter: The Life and Times of Nunnally Johnson
The Gunfighter (1950)
Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)
Born in Oakland, California on March 23, 1917, Tobey originally intended to be a lawyer before a stint with the University of California Little Theater changed his mind. From there, he went straight to New York and spent nearly two years studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where his classmates included Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach and Tony Randall. Throughout the '40s, Tobey acted on Broadway and in stock before relocating to Hollywood. Once there, Tobey soon found himself playing a tough soldier in films like I Was a Male War Bride and Twelve O' Clock High (both 1949); or a tough police officer in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Three Secrets (both 1950). Such roles were hardly surprising, given Tobey's craggy features, unsmiling countenance and rough voice.
Needless to say, no-nonsense, authority figures would be Tobey's calling for the remainder of his career; yet given the right role, he had the talent to make it memorable: the smart, likeable Captain Hendrey in The Thing From Another World (1951); the gallant Colonel Jack Evans in the "prehistoric dinosaur attacks an urban center" genre chiller The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, a must-see film for fans of special effects wizard, Ray Harryhausen; and as Bat Masterson, holding his own against Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).
Television would also offer Tobey much work: he had his own action series as chopper pilot Chuck Martin in Whirlybirds (1957-59); and had a recurring role as Assistant District Attorney Alvin in Perry Mason (1957-66). He would also be kept busy with guest appearances in countless westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Virginian) and cop shows (The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Ironside) for the next two decades. Most amusingly, the tail end of Tobey's career saw some self-deprecating cameo spots in such contemporary shockers as The Howling (1981); Strange Invaders (1983) and his role reprisal of Captain Hendry in The Attack of the B-Movie Monsters (2002). Tobey is survived by a daughter, two stepchildren, and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)
How come I've got to run into a squirt like you nearly every place I go these days? What are you trying to do? Show off for your friends?- Jimmy Ringo
Large painting on wall behind Gregory Peck's chair in bar room is "Custer's Last Fight", painted in 1884 by Cassily Adams and reproduced as a lithographic print by Otto Becker from Adams's original painting. These prints were distributed in 1896 to bars and taverns all over America by the Anheuser Busch Company.
The studio hated Peck's authentic period mustache.
According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collections at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the studio purchased an original screenplay by William Bowers and William Sellers, entitled The Big Gun, in April 1949 for $30,000. A December 24, 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Columbia intended to buy the screenplay, but that deal apparently never materialized. Bowers and Andre de Toth were later nominated for a Best Motion Picture Story Academy Award. Exteriors for The Gunfighter were shot around Lone Pine, CA in late October 1949, according to studio files. Modern sources state that cinematographer Charles G. Clarke shot the title backgrounds using Gregory Peck's double. A radio version, featuring Gregory Peck, was broadcast on Screen Directors' Playhouse on June 7, 1951. A television adaptation of Bowers and Sellers' script, written by Sam Peckinpah, titled End of a Gun, was broadcast on the CBS network's The 20th Century-Fox Hour in January 1957. That version was directed by Lewis Allen and starred Richard Conte.