My Hall of Fame
Where is all the love for Glenn Ford westerns?! Seriously, if you were to research the best western actors, you will find many names worthy of being in the conversation, such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart, Will Rogers, Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, and Gregory Peck. The name that’s missing (and with my strenuous objection) is the immensely talented Glenn Ford. Perhaps it’s because he is also remembered for his great film noir and crime movies as well, but to overlook the abundance of quality westerns that he made throughout his glorious career is an injustice to both him and yourself. Take for instance his 1956 picture, “The Fastest Gun Alive”.
This powerful and unlikely western story revolves around Geroge Kelby Jr., or rather, George Temple (Glenn Ford) as he is now known. He is the fastest gun alive, but nobody in his small town of Cross Creek knows about it because he has hidden that part of his past from them. He, and his wife Dora (Jeanne Crain), are essentially taking refuge from his past in this small town- running a store and being treated as an outsider, afraid to act like a man. He is frustrated that he can’t reveal his abilities to the other townsfolk, but knows that if they knew, people would come from all over to challenge his abilities.
Everything changes when word of gunslinger Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford) and his most recent killing conquest reach the town. Everybody enjoys retelling the story they have heard, and interjecting their own thoughts on how to be a great gunfighter. It is more than George can take and (after too many drinks) he tells (then proves) his quick-draw abilities. The next morning George decides to leave town, but Vinnie, along with his bank robbing sidekicks (John Dehner & Noah Beery Jr.), are already in town and looking for the supposed “fastest gun alive”.
Besides having a good foundation of a story, there are a couple of surprises that although take too long to develop, make for a highly engrossing tale with a perfect blend of suspense, drama, and action. Cinematographer George J. Folsey is best known for work on bright-colored musicals like “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952), and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954), but “The Fastest Gun Alive” allows him to show off his underrated ability to set a mood and a feel for a film with masterfully planned and executed lighting and camera movements.
Glenn Ford is spectacular in a role that is quite different from his other western roles. He isn’t confident or outspoken. He has a timid approach to everything, and because of that, the character’s depth allows Ford to explore himself as an actor in a different way. He doesn’t waste any time or energy, dedicating his entire performance to the “tortured soul” that he feels is always trying to burst out of him, and it works magically.
The supporting cast also adds quite a lot to the overall feel of this picture, headlined by Broderick Crawford as the loud-mouthed, quick to anger, villain. His role is small, but because of its importance to the “real” story, it takes a consummate professional to pull it off- and Crawford is the ideal man for the job. John Dehner is also quite entertaining, and gets the benefit of many comedic lines, even in serious situations. Jeanne Craine stays in the background in a part that is dialogue heavy, that in turn seems to drag out a few scenes, but it’s not any fault of her own. Her real highlight is in her costumes. They are glorious, and although possibly seem a little too fancy and clean, still make each of her entrances exciting. Also of note is the supporting cast is a young Russ Tamblyn. His part is unimportant, his presence is unnecessary, but he gets a chance to show off his athletic dancing ability in an early scene at a hoedown. Although completely gratuitous, his talents are a physical wonder, and it gives an opportunity to smile, to a film that is quite serious.
I know that I can get a bit crazy, ranting about the quality of the westerns from the 1950’s, but “The Fastest Gun Alive” is one that is more than a film that is worth seeing, it’s a film that you should see. And while I’m up on my soapbox, how about some extra appreciation for every single one of Glenn Ford’s underrated, yet still amazing westerns?