Everybody knows about John Wayne the actor, but there were also a few times when he took more of a behind-the-scenes role. He served as a producer on many films, often uncredited. Our film today is one such film. It’s a simple revenge tale that the Duke might’ve appeared in himself, but it would’ve meant playing a bad guy. Instead our lead is James Arness in 1956’s Gun the Man Down.
Our story centers on three outlaws who stage a bank robbery. They are led by Matt Rankin (Robert J Wilke), along with a guy called Farley (Don Megowan) and Rem Anderson (Arness). Unfortunately, the robbery goes bad and they return to their hideout cabin with Rem wounded. Knowing that Rem will only slow the rest of them down, they leave him to be captured. What’s worse, they take Rem’s girl, Janice (Angie Dickinson) with. Though Rem tries hiding under the cabin, he is quickly discovered and ends up spending a year in prison.
Upon release, Rem immediately heads out to find the guys that left him behind. He winds up in a small town where Matt has become a somewhat respectable saloon owner. Matt and Janice also happen to be a couple now. Rem quickly makes it clear that he intends to get his revenge, which is not to the liking of the town’s laid back sheriff (Emile Meyer). Matt tries to get rid of Rem with the help of a hired gun, but the ex-con is too clever for that. This leads to Matt and his co-horts skipping town, but Rem isn’t going to be stopped that easily.
Gun the Man Down is very simple and to the point. It’s about bad people, out to get other bad people. I mean there’s almost a terminator quality to Arness’ part. His character is relentless, but not over-the-top. He knows what he has to do and he’s going to do it…if you get in his way, well you’ve got a problem. There’s nothing really thematically deep about a story like this, but it does make for a satisfying western.
I did have a bit of a problem with Angie Dickinson’s character…mainly because I didn’t think she really belonged in this story. I mean, from the beginning she’s there with this gang of bank robbers. Three guys and one of them has a gal. Eh, I’m not buyin’ it. When Rem gets out of prison and encounters Janice again the film is guilty of turning a little bit soap opera-ish. Luckily it doesn’t get in the way of some good old fashioned revenge. In the end, though, the Janice character is put to good use, providing a moment that legitimately surprised me which I won’t spoil here.
The highlight of this film for me, though, was the performance of Emile Meyer as Sheriff Morton. I loved his voice, which sounded like it belonged more on the south side of Chicago than out on the western prairie. He’s a guy who’s seen it all before and he’s more than content to sit back and let things happen. When someone steps out of line, he’s ready to step in…but until that time he’s gonna let nature take its course. He seems more perturbed by the hot temperatures they’ve been having in town than the fact that a few guys are gettin’ ready to gun each other down. Meyer’s delivery is priceless and he has some particularly fun moments with his somewhat hapless deputy played by Harry Carey Jr.
Gun the Man Down is a very satisfying little revenge tale. It’s got some interesting characters, a concise plot, and a few surprises along the way. It’s one of those sort of films that is beautifully ugly. It’s about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things…and yet it’s a joy to behold.
NOTE: Gun the Man Down was recently released on DVD and Blu Ray by Olive Films. Thanks to them for letting us check the film out.