Glenn Ford probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when it comes to cool Hollywood icons. Perhaps that’s because he was always an actor first, a movie star second.
However, when I first watched The Fastest Gun Alive as a kid, I briefly thought he was the coolest guy ever. Granted, my exposure to heroes & antiheroes was limited to what our local independent TV channel chose to air on Saturday afternoons, which was usually old westerns and Jerry Lewis comedies.
Still, the scene where meek, teetotaling store owner George Temple (Ford) gets drunk in a bar and reveals to his ignorant, big-talking neighbors that he’s more skilled with a gun than all of them combined just floored me. It's a magnificent, subtly menacing character transformation that, even today, is the best example of Ford’s talent that no one seems to talk about. For one scene anyway, he was as cool as Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen.
Until that moment, George keeps his considerable skills to himself, not even carrying a gun. His wife, Dora (Jeannie Crain), is aware of his past, but he’s promised never to revert back to his old ways. When word gets out that notorious outlaw Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford) just outdrew and killed another gunfighter in another town, most of the people of Cross Creek are impressed, which really bothers George, mainly because he doesn’t appear to be widely respected as a man.
|Glenn spots a gumball machine.|
Despite the title, The Fastest Gun Alive is atypical of many westerns of the time. Light on action, it’s more of a character drama similar to High Noon, with a narrative more interested in what makes its protagonist tick than action and shoot-outs. George is a sympathetic, relatable character…filled with regret over his past and now torn between keeping a promise to his wife or defending the town. Ford portrays him with the right measures of stoicism and vulnerability. Conversely, Vinnie is a one-note caricature, exacerbated by Crawford's overacting.
Despite an overall lack of action, The Fastest Gun Alive is consistently engaging and comes to a satisfying conclusion, with a twist ending that was probably a big surprise at the time the film was released. If nothing else, it’s a solid reminder that Glenn Ford could do cool along with the best of them.
2 TOM & JERRY SHORTS - “Blue Cat Blues” & “Down Beat Bear.”