DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A GUNFIGHT (director: Lamont Johnson; screenwriter: Harold Jack Bloom; cinematographer: David M. Walsh; editor: Bill Mosher; music: Laurence Rosenthal; cast: Kirk Douglas (Will Tenneray), Johnny Cash (Abe Cross), Jane Alexander (Nora Tenneray), Karen Black (Jenny Simms), Raf Vallone (Francisco Alvarez), Dana Elcar (Marv Green), Keith Carradine (The young gunfighter), Robert J. Wilke (Marshal Tom Cater), Eric Douglas (Bud Tenneray), Paul Lambert (Ed Fleury), James Cavasos (Newt Hale), Philip L. Mead (Kyle Briggs), Robert J. Wilke (Marshal Tom Cater); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Harold Jack Bloom/A. Ronald Lubin; Paramount Pictures; 1971)

 
"It's agin bloodlust, but is all about bloodlust to sell its tale."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It was the first mainstream American film to be financed by an Indian tribe -- the Jicarilla Apaches of New Mexico -- though oddly enough the film has nothing to say about Native Americans, yet the $2 million budget film had Johnny Cash in it and he was one quarter Cherokee. Before he was established as a television director, Lamont Johnson ("Lipstick"/"Cattle Annie and Little Britches"/"Kona Coast") helmed this diverting offbeat but clunky Western that wants to make an important allegorical statement about mankind's darker side and the futility of being a gunfighter--stating emphatically that there are no winners. It's agin bloodlust, but is all about bloodlust to sell its tale. Harold Jack Bloom is the earnest message writer who cheats the viewer with a cop out inconclusive double ending. 

Old and disheveled noted gunfighter-turned-prospector, Abe Cross (Johnny Cross), rides into a small Western town seeking aid for his horse after a rattlesnake bit it on the trail. Word of who he is soon gets out when Abe has to give his name at a bank to cash in some gold nuggets, and the locals are all pumped up because another famed old gunfighter-turned-bartender, Will Tenneray (Kirk Douglas), has lived peacefully in town for the past year with his wife Nora (Jane Alexander) and young boy Bud (Eric Douglas, Kirk's son). Neither gunfighter is looking for action, and after they meet they become friends and look upon all the buzz with bemused looks.

The saloon owner (Dana Elcar) of the Riata Palace Saloon where Will works is pleased all this gunfighter talk has been great for business and gives Will a raise while the other gunfighter is in town. Soon the long-in-the-tooth Will, who feels sorry for himself that he makes so little money and dreams of owning a ranch, sees an opportunity to make some big dough, Barnum and Bailey style, from the public's interest in a gun duel between them-- a winner-take-all showdown--by selling tickets to the circus event. Abe, at first, turns it down, but when he realizes he's also short on money when he can't get work in town and doesn't have enough bread to buy another horse after he has to put down the ailing one, he gets chatty general store owner, Franco Alvarez (Raf Vallone), to promote it in the bullring across the border. 

It's shot with a "dream sequence" ending, thereby each gunfighter wins in their dream segment but neither winner seems that much better off than the loser. It delivers a lecture point that being a gun duel winner has no good ending and doing things only for the money is not a good idea. Unfortunately, I felt I could do without the lecture and felt the whole exercise a bit too dry for my taste. 

Karen Black plays the goodhearted saloon gal the dressed all-in-black Cash romances while in town.

REVIEWED ON 4/23/2008        GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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