“Ed’s just got to prove he’s as good as Lee ever was — he can’t stand being second best.”
When the trigger-happy son (Tab Hunter) of a cattle rancher (Van Heflin) is accused of murder, his brother (James Darren) — in love with the victim’s “half-breed” sister (Kathryn Grant) — finds his loyalties conflicted.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cross-Cultural Romance
- Father and Child
- Native Americans
- Phil Karlson Films
- Race Relations
- Tab Hunter Films
- Van Heflin Films
As noted in Mike Grost’s analytical overview of Phil Karlson’s films, Gunman’s Walk accurately reflects the sentiments and concerns of both its director — in the way it shows “the effects of hate and violence poisoning people’s characters” — and its screenwriter, Frank Nugent (whose concern with racial prejudice was evident as well in his screenplays for both The Searchers and Sergeant Rutledge). Indeed, Gunman’s Walk is a surprisingly hard-hitting western which touches on some challenging themes — notably, the need to scale back on violence and machismo in a newly evolving West, and the enduring legacy of racial prejudice against Native Americans.
This is ultimately a film about cognitive dissonance, given that all three leading male characters must deal with uncomfortable facts they don’t want to have to face. Van Heflin gives an excellent performance in the central role as a father who understands (and even admires) his son’s gun-loving ways, but slowly realizes he can no longer support him unconditionally; meanwhile, teen heartthrob Tab Hunter is believably hot-headed as Ed Hackett, and James Darren does a fine job as his conflicted brother.
This one is definitely worth seeking out.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Van Heflin as Lee Hackett
- Frank S. Nugent’s smart script
Yes, for Heflin’s memorable performance. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.
- Noteworthy Performance(s)