Masters Of Cinema #116 - Forty Guns - Blu-ray Review

'Jessica's authority feel entirely genuine, showing unwavering control over all forty of the men under her command whilst never becoming a one-dimensional villainous stereotype'.

Initially at least, Samuel Fuller's Forty Guns shows considerable promise in presenting smart twists on some tried and tested Western tropes. The structure is familiar, telling the story of the Bonnell brothers - Griff (Barry Sullivan), Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix) - who ride into Tombstone, Arizona to find the town under the iron fist of Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) and her army of hired guns.

The narrative is hardly innovative within the genre, but what is is the way Jessica is initially positioned as the primary antagonist. Stanwyck's excellent performance throughout the first half of the film makes Jessica's authority feel entirely genuine, showing unwavering control over all forty of the men under her command whilst never becoming a one-dimensional villainous stereotype. A scene in which Griff, working for the office of the Attorney General, delivers an arrest warrant for one of the forty, only to have it passed down the long table at which the dragoons are sitting to Jessica seated placidly at the head, is particularly symbolic and one of Forty Guns' best.

Other elements too show promise. Stanwyck's character is paralleled by Louvenia (Eve Brent), a local gunsmith with whom Wes falls in love, and who for much of the film in her own way shows a similar level of independence and strength of character as Jessica. The theme of brotherhood and youthful rebellion is also introduced well, with both the youngest of the Bonnells, Chico, and Jessica's younger brother Brockie (John Ericson) demonstrating the unpredictability of youth at several key points in the story. Behind the camera, director Samuel Fuller shows some inventive touches, with effective use of smart camera angles, long tracking shots and extreme close-ups throughout.

The main problems within Forty Guns come through its underwhelming payoff in the second half for the strong set-up created in the first. Having established Jessica as a powerful and forthright presence, Fuller steadily chips away at this through her burgeoning romantic relationship with Griff, ultimately converting her to a fairly stock female character within the genre. Whilst Louvenia lasts longer than Jessica, she too becomes a dutiful woman under the influence of the men around her in the end.

The biggest limiting factor within Forty Guns, however, is ultimately its brevity. Fuller introduces too many elements to be able to pleasingly develop and conclude each of them during only the eighty minutes he gives himself. Of the Bonnell trio, Griff's is the only story which ever feels properly developed, with Wes and Chico's respective threads far too undernourished to truly satisfy. Even Griff's path would have benefited from a little more time with a few important plot points coming across as rushed, in turn negatively impacting upon the film's overall flow.

The problems here are never serious enough to spoil what is an enjoyable and at times original entry into the Western genre. But Fuller's slight film never manages to become much more than this, something which it's hard not to feel Forty Guns quite easily could have been.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Forty Guns is released in the UK on Monday 22nd June 2015

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment