The Gunfighter

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This article is about the Western film of 1950. For other uses, see The Gunfighter (disambiguation).
The Gunfighter
The Gunfighter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Henry King
Produced by Nunnally Johnson
Written by William Bowers
William Sellers
Starring Gregory Peck
Helen Westcott
Millard Mitchell
Jean Parker
Karl Malden
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by Barbara McLean
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release dates
  • June 23, 1950 (1950-06-23)
Running time
85 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,950,000 (US rentals)[1]

The Gunfighter is a 1950 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 André de Toth.


Notorious gunfighter Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) at 35, tries to avoid the trouble that goes with his reputation as the fastest draw in the west. However, when cocksure young Eddie (Richard Jaeckel) deliberately provokes an argument and draws on him, Ringo has no choice but to kill him. Ringo is warned to leave the area because the deceased has three brothers who are certain to seek revenge. The brothers do pursue him, but he takes them by surprise, disarming them and driving off their horses.

Ringo then stops to wait in the nearby town of Cayenne, where he occupies a corner of the largely empty saloon for most of the remaining film. It is revealed later that he is hoping for a chance to see his wife and young son, whom he has not seen in eight years. The barkeeper, Mac (Karl Malden), remembers him from another town and alerts Sheriff Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell), an old friend of Ringo's. Strett knows Ringo's wife Peggy (Helen Westcott), and tells Ringo she has changed her surname to hide their past life together. Urging Ringo to leave town as quickly as possible, Strett nevertheless agrees to ask Peggy to come and see Ringo. She declines, fearing the notoriously hotheaded nature of Ringo's younger days that drove them apart.

While waiting, Ringo has to deal with Hunt Bromley (Skip Homeier), young local would-be gunslinger who is keen to make a name for himself, and Jerry Marlowe (an uncredited Cliff Clark), a semi-retired man who mistakenly believes Ringo killed his son years before. Ringo meets another friend from the past, a bar-girl named Molly (Jean Parker), who eventually persuades Peggy to talk to her husband. Meeting at last, Ringo tells his wife that he has changed, that he wants to settle down where people do not know him, possibly out in California, and asks her to leave with him. She refuses, but agrees to reconsider in a year's time if he will remain true to his word. Ringo is acquainted with his son at last, although he does not tell him of their relationship.

However, by this time Ringo has been too long in town. The three brothers trailing him arrive, but two are captured by Strett and his deputies before they can ambush Ringo. As Ringo makes final preparations to leave, Bromley seizes his chance, shooting Ringo in the back, fatally wounding him. Word quickly spreads through town that Bromley shot Ringo. As Ringo lies dying he tells Sheriff Strett to say that he, rather than Bromley, drew first. When Bromley starts to say he doesn't want Ringo's help, Ringo rejects Bromley's words, informing his killer that he will soon know how it feels to have every hotshot two-bit gunfighter out to get him in turn. Angrily, Strett tells Bromley to leave town immediately, punctuating his order with a beating, which he warns is "just the beginning" of what Bromley's got coming for killing Ringo. Bromley will become a magnet for trouble: he will soon discover (as Ringo did) that notoriety as a gunfighter is a curse which will follow him wherever he goes, making him an outcast and a target for the rest of his life.

The film closes with Peggy Walsh at Jimmy Ringo's funeral, making her way through the crowd at the church door with her son to reveal, quietly, with pride, what the townsfolk have never known – that she is Mrs. Jimmy Ringo. Thus, despite his death, the gunfighter achieves what he sought in coming to the town – his wife's forgiveness and reconciliation.


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.[2][3]

The script was loosely based on the purported exploits of an actual western gunfighter named John Ringo, a distant cousin of the outlaw Younger family and a survivor of the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral against Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers.[4] 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, and after a ten-day alcoholic binge he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.[5] Many of the circumstances and legends surrounding John Ringo's life and adventures have been challenged in recent years.[6]


The film was nominated for a WGA Award for Best Written American Western. Writing for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther noted in his June 24, 1950 review:

"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."[7]

Bob Dylan Brownsville Girl[edit]

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.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
  2. ^ Roberts, R. and Olson, S. John Wayne: American. New York: Free Press (1995), pp. 121-2. ISBN 978-0-02-923837-0.
  3. ^ Hyams, J. The Life and Times of the Western Movie. Gallery Books (1984), pp. 109-12. ISBN 0831755458
  4. ^ Tefertiller, C. Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. Wiley (1997), pp. 86-90. ISBN 0471189677
  5. ^ Gatto, S. John Ringo: The Reputation of a Deadly Gunman. San Simon (1997), pp. 201-16. ASIN: B0006QCC9U
  6. ^ Burrows, J. John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was. University of Arizona Press (1987). ISBN 0816509751
  7. ^ Bosley Crowther (June 24, 1950). "The Gunfighter (1950)". 
  8. ^ "Bob Dylan Honored by Gregory Peck with Performance by Dylan". December 7, 1997. 

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