A Movie A Day #64: Gunslinger (1956, directed by Roger Corman)


gunslinger_posterWelcome to Oracle, Texas.  It’s a dusty little town in the old west.  Marshal Scott Hood (William Schallert) may uphold the law but everyone knows that the town is actually run by Erica (Allison Hayes), the owner of the local saloon.  Erica knows that a railroad may be coming to town so she comes up with a plan to buy all the land around Oracle.  She sends her lackey, Jake (Jonathan Haze), to each landowner.  Jake buys the land then murders the landowner so that he can get the money back.

When Scott is gunned down by two outlaws, his widow, Rose (Beverly Garland), takes over as temporary marshal.  Rose has two weeks until the new marshal arrives but that is just enough time for nearly everyone in town to get killed.  It starts when Rose orders Erica to close her saloon at three in the morning.  Erica loses the epic catfight that follows so she hires her former lover, Cane Miro (John Ireland), to come to town and kill Rose.  Cane is more interested in killing the town’s mayor (Martin Kingsley), a former Confederate who abandoned Cane and his brothers to Union forces during the Civil War.  Even more complications arise when Cane and Rose fall in love.

Roger Corman has described Gunslinger as being his most miserable experience as a director.  He filmed it in six days and it rained for five of them, causing cameras and lights to sink into the mud.  Both Allison Hayes and Beverly Garland were injured during filming, with Hayes breaking her arm after falling off a horse and Garland spraining her ankle while running down the stairs of the saloon.  During the filming of an outdoor love scene, both Ireland and Garland were attacked by fire ants.

Gunslinger is usually savaged by reviewers and it was featured on an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  But how can any film be that bad if it features an epic cat fight between Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes?  Gunslinger is proof that Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes were actress who could make something entertaining out of even the least inspiring material. Garland gives a serious, heartfelt performance while Hayes goes all out as evil Erica.  Years before he played Seymour in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, Jonathan Haze is intensely weird as Jake. As with many Corman films, part of the fun is watching for members of the Corman stock company, like Dick Miller and Bruno VeSota, in small roles.   Gunslinger may not be a classic but I like it.

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