Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Henry King|
|Produced by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Written by||William Bowers
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Cinematography||Arthur C. Miller|
|Edited by||Barbara McLean|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
|Box office||$1,950,000 (US rentals)|
The Gunfighter is a 1950 American Western film starring Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell and Karl Malden (resuming his film career after a three year hiatus). This film was directed by Henry King. It was written by screenwriters William Bowers and William Sellers, with an uncredited rewrite by writer and producer Nunnally Johnson, from a story by Bowers and screenwriter and director Andre DeToth. The film was the second of King's six collaborations with Peck.
A young, reckless cowboy named Eddie (Richard Jaeckel) deliberately provokes an argument with the notorious gunfighter Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck). Ringo is widely known as the fastest draw in the West, making him the perpetual target of every young gunslinger eager to become famous as "the man who shot Ringo". When Eddie ignores Ringo's warnings and draws his weapon, Ringo has no choice but to kill him. Eddie's three brothers pursue Ringo as he leaves town, seeking revenge, but Ringo ambushes them, takes their guns, and drives off their horses, leaving them to walk back to town.
In the nearby town of Cayenne, Ringo settles into a corner of the largely deserted saloon. Though he knows that the three brothers will soon arrive, he waits, hoping to see his wife and young son, whom he has not seen in eight years. The barkeeper, Mac (Karl Malden), recognizes him and alerts Sheriff Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell), an old friend of Ringo's. Strett informs Ringo that his wife, Peggy (Helen Westcott), has changed her surname to hide their past life together. Strett is anxious to avoid a gunfight in his town, and urges Ringo to leave; but Ringo persuades him to ask Peggy to come to the saloon to talk to him. Peggy, recalling the hotheaded young man that she knew, declines.
Meanwhile, Ringo has to deal with Hunt Bromley (Skip Homeier), another young local gunslinger keen to make a name for himself, and Jerry Marlowe (Cliff Clark, uncredited), an older man who mistakenly believes Ringo killed his son. The bar girl, Molly (Jean Parker)—another old friend—eventually persuades Peggy to see Ringo. Ringo says that he is now older and wiser, and wants to leave his gunfighting past behind. He intends to settle down to a peaceful life in California, where people do not know him, and he wants Peggy to come with him. She refuses, but agrees to reconsider in a year's time, if he has kept his word and abandoned his sordid past for good. Ringo meets his son at last, although he does not reveal that he is his father.
Ringo's business in Cayenne is finished, but he has lingered too long. The three vengeful brothers have arrived, and lie in wait, but Strett and his deputies intercept them and bring them in. Ringo bids farewell to Peggy, his son, and his friends; but as he departs the saloon, Bromley shoots him in the back, mortally wounding him. As Ringo lies dying, he tells Strett that he wants it known that he drew on Bromley—that Bromley shot him in self defense. Bromley protests that he doesn't want Ringo's help—but Ringo explains to his killer that he is doing him no favors. Bromley, he says, will soon know how it feels to have every hotshot two-bit gunfighter out to kill him. He will become a magnet for trouble. He will learn, as Ringo did, that notoriety as a gunfighter is a curse that will follow him wherever he goes, making him an outcast and a target for the rest of his life. Strett orders Bromley out of his town, punctuating his order with a beating, which he warns is "just the beginning" of what Bromley has coming.
In death, Ringo has finally found what he sought for so long: his wife's forgiveness and reconciliation. At his funeral, as Peggy proudly reveals to the townspeople for the first time that she is Mrs. Ringo, a silhouetted, unrecognizable cowboy rides off into the sunset.
- Gregory Peck as Jimmy Ringo
- Helen Westcott as Peggy Walsh
- Millard Mitchell as Marshal Mark Strett
- Jean Parker as Molly
- Karl Malden as Mac
- Richard Jaeckel as Eddie
- Skip Homeier as Hunt Bromley
- Kim Spalding as a clerk (his first role, uncredited)
- Anthony Ross as Deputy Charlie Norris
- Verna Felton as Mrs. August Pennyfeather
- Ellen Corby as Mrs. Devlin
- David Clarke as Second Brother
- Alan Hale Jr. as Brother
Homeier is the last surviving principal cast member.
Film rights to The Gunfighter were originally purchased by Columbia Pictures, which offered the Jimmy Ringo role to John Wayne. Wayne turned it down, despite having expressed a strong desire to play the part, because of his longstanding hatred for Columbia's president, Harry Cohn. Columbia sold the rights to Twentieth Century Fox, where the role went to Peck. Wayne's final film, The Shootist (1976), is often compared to The Gunfighter and contains numerous plot similarities.
The script was loosely based on the purported exploits of an actual western gunfighter named Johnny Ringo, a distant cousin of the outlaw Younger family and a purported survivor of the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral against Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers. As in the movie, Ringo sought a reconciliation with his estranged family, in California, in 1882; but unlike the film his conciliatory gestures were summarily rejected. After a ten-day alcoholic binge, he died of a gunshot wound, probably self-inflicted. Many of the circumstances and legends surrounding Johnny Ringo's life and adventures have been challenged in recent years.
The film was directed by Henry King, the second of his six collaborations with Peck. Others included the World War II film Twelve O'Clock High (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Bravados (1958) and Beloved Infidel (1959).
The studio hated Peck's authentic period mustache. In fact, the head of production at Fox, Spyros P. Skouras, was out of town when production began. By the time he got back, so much of the film had been shot that it was too late to order Peck to shave it off and re-shoot. After the film did not do well at the box office, Skouras ran into Peck and he reportedly said, "That mustache cost us millions".
"The addicts of Western fiction may find themselves rubbing their eyes and sitting up fast to take notice before five minutes have gone by in Twentieth Century Fox's The Gunfighter, which came to the Roxy yesterday. For suddenly they will discover that they are not keeping company with the usual sort of hero of the commonplace Western at all. Suddenly, indeed, they will discover that they are in the exciting presence of one of the most fascinating Western heroes as ever looked down a six-shooter's barrel."
Bob Dylan Brownsville Girl
Bob Dylan referenced scenes from The Gunfighter in his song "Brownsville Girl", co-written by playwright Sam Shepard. It appears on Dylan's 1986 release Knocked Out Loaded. Peck paid tribute to Dylan's words when Dylan received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997.
- 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 223
- Roberts, R. and Olson, S. John Wayne: American. New York: Free Press (1995), pp. 121-2. ISBN 978-0-02-923837-0.
- Hyams, J. The Life and Times of the Western Movie. Gallery Books (1984), pp. 109-12. ISBN 0831755458
- Tefertiller, C. Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. Wiley (1997), pp. 86-90. ISBN 0471189677
- Gatto, S. John Ringo: The Reputation of a Deadly Gunman. San Simon (1997), pp. 201-16. ASIN: B0006QCC9U
- Burrows, J. John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was. University of Arizona Press (1987). ISBN 0816509751
- Bosley Crowther (June 24, 1950). "The Gunfighter (1950)". nytimes.com.
- "Bob Dylan Honored by Gregory Peck with Performance by Dylan". December 7, 1997.
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