January 21, 2024

Litter Box Treasures: GUN THE MAN DOWN (1956)

In Litter Box Treasures, we focus on a variety of older films which aren’t necessarily classics, but are well-worth discovering.

Starring James Arness, Angie Dickinson, Robert Wilke, Emile Meyer, Don Megowan, Michael Emmet, Harry Carey Jr. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. (76 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSONđź’€

Along with the well-established classics, Hollywood cranked out a slew of budget-conscious, quickly-shot westerns to capitalize on the genre's enduring popularity. Most were minor diversions, now largely forgotten, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some really good ones.

Gun the Man Down is one of those, and particularly noteworthy for several reasons. First, it features James Arness just before Gunsmoke made him a household name. Second, this is the first western directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, who’d go on to helm dozens of Gunsmoke episodes and several feature films starring John Wayne (who co-produced this). Third, it features Angie Dickinson, soon to become a Hollywood sex symbol, in her first prominent role.

The story is a fairly intriguing piece of revenge. Arness plays Rem, an outlaw left behind by his two partners after being shot during a bank robbery. To make matters worse, they take off with his girlfriend, Janice (Dickinson), during their escape. Rem goes to jail for a year and, upon release, wants some payback. His former partners, led by Matt Rankin (Robert J. Wilke), have since set themselves up pretty nicely with a small town saloon, and Janice has since settled in with Rankin. It doesn’t take long for Rem to track them down, but he has more in-mind than simply shooting them.

Not the most ambitious thing ever made, Gun the Man Down is quite good for what it is...a short, well-paced western with noirish plot elements (Janice could be considered something of a femme fatale). No one on either side of the camera stretches themselves too much, but enough to place it a notch or two above the usual low budget oaters of the era. On a side note, after seeing this, one might notice that the title doesn’t actually make much sense, but that’s just nitpicking.

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