Forty Guns(Fox Home Entertainment, 5.24.2005)
Arguably the weirdest western of the 1950s (Johnny Guitar is its main competition), Sam Fuller's cinemascope range war pits seemingly ruthless land baroness Barbara Stanwyck not against free-range cattle farmers but against trouble from within her own organization. In his "Men Who Made the Movies" episode on Sam Fuller, Richard Schickel said that this was "a western as erotic as it is deadly" and, while I wouldn't quite go that far, this is the only movie in existence that has Ms. Stanwyck use a big ol' black leather whip on someone in order to keep `em in line.
When the new law arrives in town, the rule over the territory that Stanwyck and the titular forty gunslingers have enjoyed for years begins to erode. First, one of the men gets arrested for armed robbery and then another, a crazed relative of Stanwyck's, decides to go on the warpath. Not only is he aiming for the new marshal and his kin (shades of the Earp brothers) but he's not too concerned if anyone else in town happens to get in his way.
Sound pretty typical so far? Well, it's not so much the plot that's weird as the way the action and the dialogue is handled. Take, for instance, the scene in which Stanwyck is warned that the marshal's big gun may "go off in (her) face." She smiles back suggestively and says she can handle it. Or take the frontier wedding that ends in tragedy but is framed to suggest what would have been the next scene if the bullets didn't say otherwise.
There's also a shot of a woman lined up in the barrel of a rifle that can't help but bring to mind the opening shot of the James Bond adventures and a twist on the old "don't shoot, you might hit the girl" scene that is one of the most memorable bits you'll ever see in a production code-era oater.
Fox provides a good widescreen transfer on this flipper disc that also includes a fullscreen version. Why you'd want to watch this movie with half of its picture cropped off is beyond me, as several of the shots lose their impact and logic in the pan-and-scan version. The only other feature is a theatrical trailer. Not exactly earthshattering, in terms of extras, but if you're looking for a western tale told anything but straight up you'll want to pick this up for a night of rootin' tootin' two-fisted action. -- Christopher Hyatt