The Quiet Gun (1957)
Directed by William F. Claxton
Produced by Earle Lyon
Based on the novel Law Man by Lauran Paine
Adapted by Eric Norden, Earle Lyon
Screenplay by Eric Norden
Cinematography by John Mescall
Olive Films (library DVD)
There was a time when westerns were so popular and such a huge part of the American consciousness that it seems inevitable that some would become cinematic relics buried in a trunk somewhere deep in the deserts of the Southwest. That’s almost what happened to The Quiet Gun (aka Fury at Rock River). I couldn’t find the film in any of my movie review books (which go back quite a few decades) or even on Rotten Tomatoes. The Quiet Gun might’ve remained buried in the graveyard of forgotten westerns had it not been for Olive Films.
A stranger named Sadler (Lee Van Cleef, left) arrives in the town of Rock River and begins humiliating one of the locals, Sampson (played by western stalwart Hank Worden). Sheriff Carl Brandon (Forrest Tucker, center) breaks things up, then is confronted by city attorney Hardy (Lewis Martin). Hardy wants Sheriff Brandon to ride out to Ralph Carpenter’s ranch and do something about the “problem” that everyone in town is talking about: apparently Carpenter’s (Jim Davis, below left) wife is out of town and he’s shacking up with an Indian woman. (Apparently Hardy cares nothing about Carpenter’s infidelity, but the fact that he’s sleeping with an Indian woman sends Hardy and the entire town into orbit.)
Brandon rides out to Carpenter’s ranch and discovers that there is indeed an Indian woman named Irene (Mara Corday, above right) living there, but she’s just hired help, right? Brandon and Carpenter have been friends for years and Brandon learns not only about the relationship between Carpenter and Irene, but also that Carpenter’s wife Teresa (Kathleen Crowley), whom Brandon still carries a torch for, is arriving in town soon. But Brandon feels something else is going on that he can’t quite put his finger on…
If The Quiet Gun sounds like a soap opera disguised as a western, it’s not. It’s mostly a commentary on mob violence, fear and prejudice, but it’s also a pretty good story, especially considering it’s a B picture. Director William F. Claxton worked primarily in TV westerns (Rawhide, The High Chaparral, Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie), so he certainly knew how to shoot one, even when given a widescreen canvas as he has here.
Tucker is surprisingly good, far better than I’d expected, having previously known of his acting only from the goofy TV series F Troop. Tucker isn’t your typical strong, chiseled-jaw sheriff, but rather a plain-looking flop-haired everyman trying to do the right thing. Jim Davis (whom millions of TV fans from the 80s will remember as Jock Ewing from Dallas) is adequate, but most of the other supporting players are placeholders who stand around delivering wooden lines without much rhythm or pacing. Although they only have one scene together, the contrast between the dark-skinned Irene and the porcelain doll Teresa is about as subtle as a raven standing in a bowl of milk. Even Lee Van Cleef, after a sadistic opening scene, isn’t really given much to do other than spew forth a few threats from time to time and give intimidating looks (which he was always good at).
Comparisons to High Noon (a far superior picture) seem inevitable, yet The Quiet Gun attempts to address messier issues with implications that run deeper than those in High Noon, and for those reasons, it earns my admiration. Although it’s certainly not in the same league with High Noon, The Quiet Gun deserves a look.