I happened to be involved in an online discussion elsewhere today, and the talk turned to how certain movies can be categorized. To be specific, we were chewing the fat over those films that fall at the extreme ends of the spectrum, the great and the shockingly bad. Now I’ve long been of the opinion that few movies truly belong in either of those positions; the vast majority occupy some kind of middle ground, with some of us drawn to particular virtues that appeal to us while others are less enamored. I’ve pointed out before that I’m a little uncomfortable with the term “masterpiece”, mainly due to all its high-pressure implications, but I’m no fonder of the label “turkey” either. Anyway, all of this put me in the mood to hammer out a short piece on a film that I think it’s fair to call average. Gun Glory (1957) is what I would think of as an extremely typical film, nothing special but entertaining enough and with at least a handful of positive things in its favor.
The return of the prodigal is an ancient story, although the variant in question here sees the father rather than the son cast as the errant figure. Tom Early (Stewart Granger) is a man who abandoned his wife and son, a gambler and gunman of great notoriety. The film opens with this character making his way back towards the home he has long neglected. A brief stop off in the neighboring town shows that his reputation precedes him, but his optimism remains undimmed as he happily purchases a trinket as a gift for his wife. However, his arrival at his ranch brings him down to earth and back to reality with a jolt. His son, Tom Jr (Steve Rowland), is less than impressed, and then there’s the sickening realization that the woman he once loved has passed away in his absence. Still and all, blood ties are powerful and the father and son come to a kind of edgy understanding – the wrongs and mistakes of the past can never be forgotten, but it’s human nature to try to forgive and move on. Therefore, the two men make an effort to piece together their relationship, Tom Sr being especially keen to win back the trust and respect of his son that he so casually squandered before. He even takes in a lonely widow, Jo (Rhonda Fleming), as his housekeeper in an attempt to restore something of a family atmosphere. The western genre is packed with stories of men desperate to outrun their past ans sooner or later these guys come to realize that it’s an impossible task – the past must be faced squarely and dealt with before any door to the future can be opened. In this instance, the past is represented by the arrival of a ruthless cattleman, Grimsell (James Gregory), bent on driving his herd through town and obliterating it in the process. As such, it’s both an opportunity and a challenge for Tom Early Sr – an opportunity to prove himself and do something decent, but also a challenge to his desire to leave his violent ways behind him.
Roy Rowland was what you might call an efficient director of programmers, movies that were a cut above B pictures but just shy of being A list features. He handled a couple of pretty good westerns in the 1950s (Bugles in the Afternoon and The Outriders) alongside a very strong film noir (Rogue Cop). Films like this called for a brisk, no-nonsense style and Rowland was well suited to that kind of role. A good proportion of the action takes place indoors but there are opportunities for location work too, and the director showed that he was more than capable of composing attractive setups for the wide lens. Gun Glory, which was adapted from a novel by Philip Yordan, isn’t one of those non-stop action movies but when it does come along, Rowland shoots it well with a good sense of spatial awareness. More than anything though, this follows the classic 50s western template of a remorseful man seeking to make amends for his errors.
Stewart Granger was building on his successful western role in Richard Brooks’ The Last Hunt which had been made a year before. He seemed very much at ease in the frontier setting, showing off some highly impressive horsemanship skills in the process. In fact, it’s Granger’s strong central performance that is the greatest strength of the film. It’s clear enough that he’s playing a man carrying around a heavy burden of guilt – blaming himself for not being there when his wife died, and for failing to support his son during his formative years – but he never lays it on too thick. Still, there can be no doubt how he feels about himself; the short scenes of him visiting his late wife’s grave tell us all we need to know without the need for dull, expository dialogue. Rhonda Fleming was given a strong part in the movie as the widow who works her way into the lives and hearts of the two Early men. Her role served the important function of drawing both of these men out and helping them achieve a true reconciliation. I think it’s also worth pointing out the romance that develops between the characters of Granger and Fleming is nicely judged, mature and realistic. To be honest, I felt that Steve Rowland (the director’s son) presented one of the weak links in the film. Again, the part of Tom Jr was a pivotal one yet Rowland never felt convincing to me. As for the supporting players, Chill Wills pops up once again and gives a warm performance as the town preacher and one of Granger’s few allies. James Gregory was another of those familiar faces, a character actor many will recognize straight away, and he provided a nice foe for Granger. There’s also a semi-villainous role for Jacques Aubuchon as a crippled storekeeper with his eye on Fleming.
Gun Glory is available as a MOD disc from the Warner Archive in the US and there’s also a Warner/Impulso pressed disc from Spain. I have that Spanish release, and it presents the film very strongly. The transfer is anamorphic scope taken from a very clean and sharp print. I can’t say I was aware of any noticeable damage and the colors are well rendered. All told, there’s really nothing to complain about on that score. The disc offers no extra features whatsoever and subtitles are removable, despite the main menu suggesting that this is not the case. Anyway, we get a very attractive looking film with two good performances from the stars. The story itself is engaging enough, although there’s nothing on show that genre fans won’t have seen before. As I mentioned above, the direction is capable and professional without being particularly memorable. All told, this is a moderate western – interesting and entertaining but not exactly essential.
34 thoughts on “Gun Glory”
I liked this comment: “the vast majority occupy some kind of middle ground, with some of us drawn to particular virtues that appeal to us while others are less enamored.”
GUN GLORY is one of those films that really appeals to me, as you describe here — in particular it works for me because I’m a Granger fan and wish he’d made more Westerns. I liked the story and the mature relationship you mention between Granger and Fleming.
I also liked the location shooting in this, just wish there had been more of it — it’s a mixture of good locations and MGM backlot.
I think you assess the film fairly, although it sounds as though in the end I was more taken with it than you were. I’m glad you called attention to it and hope more of your readers who aren’t familiar with it will check it out.
Thanks Laura. I liked the movie well enough, even if I may have come over as a little lukewarm about it. I wanted to feature something like it, a movie that’s enjoyable and well made yet not exactly among the top rank. There are many movies of which that can be said, and it’s not meant to be a disparaging comment on my part.
I’d consider myself a fan of Granger’s work too, and it is a pity he didn’t make more westerns in Hollywood in his heyday (of course he did work in the genre in Europe later) as he seemed to enjoy them as well as performing well.
Here’s a link to the piece you wrote on Gun Glory for anyone who would like to read another take on the movie.
Thanks so much for sharing the link Colin!
Laura, you’re more than welcome – my pleasure. And it’s only fair given the amount of traffic you’ve sent my way on many occasions.
I was wondering when you would review Gun Glory. It is a pleasant surprise and your review is apt. I also enjoyed watching it and was fond of the theme song by Burl Ives. Best regards.
Further to the above, I found Rhonda Fleming occupied a bigger screen presence therein compared to Gunfight At The OK Corral. Do you feel the Rhonda Fleming”s character was abruptly taken off midway in the latter? Thank you. Best regards.
Hello Chris. Yes, Fleming played very much a subsidiary character in Gunfight at the OK Corral. One can see how the narrative shift in that film meant her character had to be sidelined at a certain point, but I agree that her “disappearance” is quite sudden.
In reply to your earlier comment, I also enjoyed Burl Ives’ rendition of the theme song.
I think it’s a fair appraisal, Colin, though have sympathy also for Laura’s more enthusiastic view of it. You know that for me what you describe as that “…classic 50s western template of a remorseful man seeking to make amends for his errors” already gives a movie like this a touch of the golden because by 1957 the genre had taken this to a mature, expressive place where it comes over well even in a movie like this that is less than one of the greatest.
I like Roy Rowland and in another serious Western THE OUTRIDERS he also did well with a redhead (Arlene Dahl) and the hero (Joel McCrea) and there’s a very lyrical scene there where they dance that I’ve written about. Rowland could find other moods too–the frontier comedy MANY RIVERS TO CROSS is tremendous fun and a good romance between Eleanor Parker and Robert Taylor too. I don’t think of him as just some hack, even if I guess he isn’t a major figure.
Stewart Granger is charismatic but has sensitivity when called for and ranks pretty high among my favorite 50s actors and he is in more than his share of wonderful movies. Of the Westerns, we had a long discussion of THE LAST HUNT when you wrote on that, so my view is already known that he was tremendously moving in that one, a flawed hero who moves toward courage, moral certainty and spiritual grace.
Blake, I hope you didn’t misunderstand me when I said that the film follows the classic template. I don’t see that as in any way negative; what I was trying to express was the way the film uses those classic themes but, unlike stronger genre examples, doesn’t expand on them or explore them in any way we haven’t seen before. I’m certainly not criticizing the themes – I guess you know how I feel about such matters anyway – just commenting on their use in this picture.
Also, I don’t think Rowland ought to be described as a hack, and I hope I didn’t give that impression. I think his direction here, and in the handful of other films of his I’ve seen, was professional and highly capable, but lacking the little touches that distinguish the major directors.
I’m sure I understood you re the template, know we take a similar view of it, and again, I think you were fair to the movie. I was just saying I like it. If it didn’t do anything amazing with the theme, it did handle it with some grace and maturity at least.
Yeah, we are often reading off the same page when it comes to themes in westerns of this era Blake. I think the movie is fine as far as it goes and certainly don’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t want to sell it as anything more.
I agree on the maturity of the script and lead performances though.
I agree Steve Rowland was disappointing as the son. A stronger actor was needed.
I always like Rhonda Fleming and this was a much bigger role for her than Gunfight at the Ok Corral.
One of my favorite Stewart Granger roles is in All The Brothers Were Valiant.
Yes, disappointing is a reasonable description of Steve Rowland’s performance. His role is very central and any weakness is magnified by that focus. To be honest, I felt there was something too contemporary about his playing – that James Dean-style conflicted young man if you like – and it doesn’t sit easily with what’s happening around him.
Another one to add to my list – great review Colin, cheers. Amazing that Granger proved so adept at Westerns as he seems such an unlikely performer given his background.
Hi Sergio. Yes, Granger does seem like an unlikely choice as a western lead but he actually fits into the surroundings quite comfortably. He appears to have been quite taken by the whole western experience and embraced it fully. Perhaps his action/swashbuckling roles helped prepare him in some way for the more physically demanding aspects.
With regards to the comments on Steve Rowland, would it be fair to compare him with Dennis Hopper in The Sons of Katie Elder. I would say Dennis came out admirably better. Best regards.
You could say so I suppose. There was something slightly incongruous about Hopper’s characters in both Gunfight at the OK Corral and The Sons of Katie Elder.
Firstly Colin, I think Roy Rowland was more than a “director of programmers” he was a
top MGM contract director,and a bit of a “jack of all trades” for the studio.
True he made quite a few routine films but most were big budget affairs with major stars.
Anyway, with a few exceptions, MGM did not do programmers in the Fifties.
Blake has mentioned THE OUTRIDERS which is certainly Rowlands best Western,
and a pretty large scale one to boot.
The Rowland film I really want to see released on DVD is ROGUE COP,a highly regarded
Noir with the stellar star trio of Robert Taylor,Janet Leigh and George Raft.
GUN GLORY is pretty routine although Granger works very hard to make something out of
pretty middling material.James Gregory is weak as the main heavy.The scenery and the lovely
Rhonda are very easy on the eye however.
Interestingly enough Rowland junior had a more successful career as a music producer over
here in England. He also fronted Seventies rock band The Family Dogg.
Another spirited defense of Rowland. That’s fair enough John, although I do get that “programmer” feel from what I’ve seen of Rowland’s work. Like I said, something in that middle ground between the A and the B movie.
I thought Gregory was OK, but he suffers a little by having others do the dirty work on his behalf, and there is a certain reluctance to his character.
BTW, I’d love to get my hands on a copy of Rogue Cop too.
I dont know maybe we are splitting hairs here but by “programmer” I always think of
films that were paired together as double features usually running 80 minutes or so.
Universal were great ones for doing this during the Fifties. I always think of programmer
directors as people like Harmon Jones,Sidney Salkow,Francis D Lyon,Nathan Juran and
Jesse Hibbs;people who made lots of films mainly which played as double features.
Then of course there are the out and out B experts like William Berke,Lew Landers,
Edward Cahn and Reginald Le Borg,their films generally always played as the B Movie.
Oddly enough Renown in the UK have just released the rarely seen (thought lost?)
GUILTY? from 1956. A very tacky combo of resistance fighter War Movie and Courtroom
Drama. Hard to believe that this film actually played as the MAIN FEATURE in the UK at the time.
Cinema-goers must have thought that they were watching the B feature,I wonder if any of
them asked for their money back!
On that level the film is most interesting. At least the distributor had the decency to pair
it with a strong support film BATTLE STATIONS starring John Lund,William Bendix and
I was by the way only defending Rowlands status not his films;there is little in his output
that is of much interest to me,apart from the aforementioned titles.
You may have something there John. Metro didn’t seem to go in much for the mid-range stuff in the 50s and Rowland’s movies certainly weren’t B efforts, whatever else one may say about them.
I did see that Guilty? had been released – never heard of it before that though, and I find it amazing that a movie of that type would have been scheduled as a main feature.
Back to GUN GLORY.
I feel that a far superior film with the same theme;famed gunfighter trying to reform/
father,son relationship;was Henry Levins THE LONELY MAN.
Like Rowland,Levin made more than his share of lightweight films but there are certain
titles that are really interesting.
THE LONELY MAN is a much stronger film helped by the fact that Jack Palance is up against
such formidable foes as Neville Brand,Lee Van Cleef and Claude Akins.
Levins THE MAN FROM COLORADO is worth a look too and worthy of the Colin treatment
if only to see Glenn Ford playing a much darker character than we are used to.
You know John, I’ve never seen The Lonely Man but always wanted to.
Henry Levin did seem to make a lot of forgettable stuff, but there are a few interesting titles among his output: I’m quite fond of Night Editor and Convicted.
The Man from Colorado is a nice little psychological piece, and the kind of movie that would indeed be ideal for a future article on this site.
Thinking a bit more about “programmers” as opposed to A or B movies I feel Allied Artists
pictures in the Fifties are worth looking at. Their output in the Fifties was almost entirely
made up of programmers.From the mid-Fifties they issued a whole raft of Westerns which
had the attraction of being made in CinemaScope and color.
I am thinking about titles like COLE YOUNGER GUNFIGHTER,OREGON PASSAGE,
THE TALL STRANGER,CANYON RIVER,GUNSMOKE IN TUSCON and LAST OF THE BADMEN.
These films were attractive to cinema chains especially if they were stuck with a weak main
feature.A case in point;the action-packed THE TALL STRANGER boosted the cheap,weak
black and white,THE GOLDEN DISC starring ill-fated Brit rocker Terry Dene..
You may argue that there is not a great deal of difference in these films and GUN GLORY
except GUN GLORY cost a lot more to make and of course played as a main feature..
Not all Allied Artists fare was doomed to play as the support feature;their first CinemaScope
Western WICHITA played top of the bill and was a box office hit to boot!
The Errol Flynn romp THE WARRIORS (aka THE DARK AVENGER) was also a main feature
and is, by the way, one of the most requested titles on the Warner Archive Facebook page.
Warners have promised a remastered version in the future. Film was directed by Henry Levin
and is good fun. WICHITA and THE WARRIORS bridged the gap for famed producer Walter
Mirisch between his BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY cheapies and later classics like THE MAGNIFICENT
SEVEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE.Did any other producer in Hollywood history transform his
fortunes so much in just a few short years?
Yes, it does look like it comes down to the studios who made these films as much as anything.
Wichita indeed seems to be the film that provided Mirisch with his first big success and helped put his production company on the map.
Another intersting Allied-Artists snippet is that the snooty cinema chains in England
rejected the now bona-fide classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.
This provided a much needed life-line to struggling independent cinemas at the time.
Like John, I was also fond of The Lonely Man. I look forward to your ever thoughtful review of The Lonely Man in due course. Best regards.
Cheers Chris – for whatever reason, it’s a film that’s always managed to elude me. I’ll have to look into tracking down a copy.
Ha Ha. I have a watchful list of westerns awaiting your analytical review. I am guessing when we can hope to read them. Best regards.
Sounds like a kind of western movie lottery! 😀
I hope I get round to those on your list. Generally, I try to mix things up as far as possible, partly due to my own viewing habits and also in an effort to prevent too much staleness creeping into this place.
This blog is as exciting as ever. Keep up the good work. Best regards.
Thanks so much for that – that’s very encouraging.
Enjoyable enough but not something I will be in a hurry to return to. Nice cast and crew but I was wanting something a bit more nasty.
There are parts where it could have been improved for sure but it’s not bad all told. The ease with which Granger took to the western continues to impress me.