In this classic western from 1950, Gregory Peck plays Jimmy Ringo, an ageing shootist haunted by his reputation as a fast gun. He enters the town of Cayenne wanting a reunion with his estranged wife and son of eight years, but not far behind him are the brothers of a man he killed.The Gunfighter has all archetypal western elements, even down to the sneering punk in the saloon wanting a fast draw, and at first seems to be quite run-of-the-mill, but Peck's characterisation of a man mortally weary of the life he has led, a literate script, and the directing of Henry King turns it into an almost noir-ish tale. Like Clint Eastwood's character, William Munny, in 'Unforgiven', Ringo is a reformed man, disgusted by the killer he used to be, wanting nothing more than a homestead and a quiet life, but his past will not led go it's grip; and like that film this also is an adult, intelligent western with a bleak tone. The director, King establishes Ringo early on as being still a deadly force, but then eases back on the throttle, introducing a dry line of wit and no little pathos, before the tension builds with the clock watching of 'High Noon' and the imminent arrival of the avenging brothers. When Ringo rides into town, unannounced, he waits in a saloon while an old friend (Millard Mitchell), once an outlaw but now a lawman, tries to arrange a meeting with his wife and child. Word soon spreads about the notorious gunman sitting in the saloon and these scenes of rubber necking are very well orchestrated and quite funny, old biddies gossip, children skip school to gape at him, people scuttle past not looking him in the eye, and the bartender (Karl Malden) gleefully rubs his hands at the profits he will make. Ringo is almost marooned in the bar, as he obstinately waits for the meeting, with the furore building up outside. The script has some witty lines delivered in a low key manner that really enhances the story, and the performances are toned down and often laconic. One of the finest scenes is when a humble rancher comes in to the bar, and shares a drink with Ringo as if he was a regular guy, simply chatting about his ranch and family. To Ringo, the man has everything in life that he himself could possibly want and will surely never have. The ending is abrupt and to a certain extent inevitable, yet to my eyes the closing shot of the film seems open to interpretation. King may or may not have wanted this ambiguity but it's refreshing to be puzzled by a western's ending nonetheless. For fans of the genre, The Gunfighter is highly recommended.
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