In the turn-of-the century Texas town of Cottownwood Springs, marshal Frank Patch is an old-style lawman in a town determined to become modern. When he kills drunken Luke Mills in self-defense, the town leaders decide it's time for a change. They ask for Patch's resignation, but he refuses on the basis that the town on hiring him had promised him the job for as long as he wanted it. Afraid for the town's future and even more afraid of the fact that Marshal Patch knows all the town's dark secrets, the city fathers decide that old-style violence is the only way to rid themselves of the unwanted lawman.Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Richard Widmark character is in a relationship with the Lena Horne character: in other words, an interracial relationship. That aspect of things is not a plot point in the movie - she's his girlfriend, and nothing more is said. At the time of the movie's release, this was touted by some involved (Widmark for one) as a sign that society had finally reached the point where such things were no longer a controversy or a big deal, and didn't need to be dealt with as part of the narrative. See more »
Near the end of the film you can see the electrical wires running (presumably buried for most of their length under the differently-coloured soil) to a man's body as he is 'shot'; the last yard or so of wire -which is presumably for the gunshot SFX- is clearly visible running towards the man's ankles. See more »
It's awful seeing a man kill himself. One minute he's there... alive... then he's dead. Blood and the smell of powdersmoke. And it's all over and done with. It's awful!
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Death of a Gunfighter was directed by Robert Totten and finished by Don Siegel who took over when Totten was fired as he did not get on with star Richard Widmark.
The gunfighter is Marshall Patch Frank (Widmark) the long tome sheriff in a small town in transition at the tail end of the nineteen century. The bad guys have gone and the town council wants to become respectable and attract new people and new industry. Their once feared Marshall in an anachronism and after one shooting too many they want him out.
The Marshall does not one to leave, he was promised the job for as along as he wanted. He also has dirt on these important men in the council. In the background are some slimy men such as Carroll O'Connor who wants to see the back of the Marshall for their own reasons.
I once heard a critique of the film Shane. One man rides into town, gets rid of the bad guys and then leaves. In reality he would stay, feted as a hero at first and eventually morphs into another bad guy before some years later he is confronted by someone else.
This has what happened in this town. The Marshall did not leave and is now out of place. When he is confronted by the country sheriff a Mexican that he recruited once as a deputy despite the misgivings of the then town council, he punches him and throws him out on the street. It becomes clear to this viewer that the Marshall's unbending ways will be his undoing.
Richard Widmark gives a fine performance of a confused man who realises that he past his sell by date and wants to stick around not knowing that he is stinking the place out. Belatedly he marries Lena Horne the local Madame and for the time it is a daring interracial romance.
This is small scale character study. A western with veterans of the genre such as Royal Dano and Harry Carey jr but not always the stereotypes of the normal western films. It does suffer by trying to paint Widmark as too black and white a good guy when he needed more shades of grey. Maybe this is the creative differences that led to the original director departing.
We see other characters telling him that it is always Marshall's way or no way without it being properly spelt out.
At the end the town decides to get its own type of justice as the only way to bring the violence to an end.
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