“It’s a fine life, ain’t it? Just trying to stay alive.”
After killing a young upstart (Richard Jaeckel) in self-defense, notorious gunfighter Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) flees to the town of Cayenne, where he hopes to reconnect with his estranged wife (Helen Westcott) and son. The town’s marshall (Millard Mitchell) allows Ringo to enjoy drinks provided by a sympathetic bartender (Karl Malden), while a saloon singer (Jean Parker) agrees to help him connect with Westcott — but Jaeckel’s three brothers are out for revenge, and the local hotshot (Skip Homeier) is eager to prove his mettle against the “fastest gun in the west”.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Gregory Peck Films
- Henry King Films
- Jean Parker Films
- Karl Malden Films
Henry King directed this highly effective, economically paced tale of a talented gunfighter desperate to leave his past behind but literally haunted by his own prowess. Because Peck kills Jaeckel in self-defense — and does everything he can to try to prevent the killing — it’s easy enough to maintain empathy for his plight, and simply gloss over the lurid reality of how he came to his notoriety. Much like High Noon (1952), The Gunfighter takes place within a concentrated span of time, with a deadline of sorts looming and menace lurking around every corner; tension builds as more and more people (mostly awe-struck kids) gather outside Malden’s saloon (reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon), and Peck wearily waits for resolution of some kind. This one is well worth a look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Gregory Peck as Jimmy Ringo
- Arthur Miller’s cinematography
Yes, as a fine, underrated genre flick. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.