Wednesday 29 April 2020
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Van Heflin and Tab Hunter explore vast landscapes and intimate family conflicts in one of the most underrated westerns of the 1950s
Phil Karlson’s Gunman’s Walk is one of the most underrated westerns of the late 1950s, and also an important touchstone for Quentin Tarantino’s recent Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Featuring a script by Frank Nugent (The Searchers), it examines the changing values of a quickly gentrifying West and reflects on contemporary issues of race, juvenile delinquency and the battle between the generations. It also provides a showcase for a pair of stellar performances by Van Heflin and Tab Hunter (you can also hear his 'I’m a Runaway' on the soundtrack).
But Gunman’s Walk is also notable for its widescreen combination of the vast and the intimate (it is not a B-movie), its ability to stage deeply felt emotions in a large landscape, and its almost Shakespearean (rather than Freudian) sense of family tragedy. Like many of Karlson’s crime movies it also provides a bracing study of ingrained corruption and injustice, while extending the range of his work to include moving and nuanced character studies of its deeply conflicted all-male family. As Wheeler Winston Dixon claims in his profile of Karlson in Senses of Cinema, it is an unjustly neglected film that “is more than ripe for a reappraisal”.