Review: Death of A Gunfighter
Blu-ray: Death of a Gunfighter (1969)
After a year of work, director Robert Totten (whose experience was in television directing Rawhide, Bonanza and Gunsmoke) left Death of a Gunfighter after ‘creative differences’ with star Richard Widmark.
Widmark, whose previous film was Madigan, pulled in that films director – the great Don Siegel to take the reins. And here was born the very first “Allen Smithee” film, as Totten didn’t want his name on the credits, while Siegel didn’t think he deserved it.
It’s an interesting film, made in the middle of all the amazing westerns of that period (Once Upon a Time in the West, The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy, and Valley of the Gwangi…Yes, that’s a western too!). And it’s VERY of that time; sex, violence and an interracial marriage (Widmark marries Lena Horne), along with some smashing blue eye shadow and at one point a sort of Disney evil witch marching through town (no really, you have to see it)…and the sweating in this film is incredible! ALL the main male characters drip constantly and there are several mentions of heat and hot and phew….
Set in Texas at the turn of the century, Marshal Frank Patch (Widmark) is an old fashioned lawman, violent, with a temper, who gets things done the old way. But the aldermen and business owners of Cottonwood want him gone, he’s holding up progress, and any newcomers will see this is still the old west if he’s the Marshal and won’t invest. When Frank kills an old flames drunk husband in self defense, the aldermen see their chance to make him leave and he refuses.
It’s hinted throughout the story that Patch keeps his job because of some dark secret he knows about the town, or men. When this is eventually revealed, it’s a bit of a disappointment and doesn’t really explain why Patch stayed.
However, there is something about this film, you think you can tell Siegel’s filming from Totten’s (filmic to TV close up?) and Widmark is as usual a powerhouse in this part. I expected it to be a mishmash of styles and story and ‘vibe’, but no, despite bits being very ‘Bonanza-ish’ it’s a good film, that could have been one of the greats.
- High Definition remaster
- Original mono audio
- Audio commentary with screenwriter and novelist C Courtney Joyner and film historian Henry Parke (2023)
- Man Out of Time (2023, 22 mins): film historian Neil Sinyard discusses the film’s complex production history
- Siren Song (2023, 24 mins): Richard Dyer, author of Stars, considers the career of the actor, singer and activist Lena Horne
- Exercise No. One (1962, 10 mins): rare short film based on the Ira Wolfert short story ‘Off the Highway’ and starring Richard Widmark, made by students of USC’s Cinema Department under the supervision of Fred Zinnemann
- Original theatrical trailer
- Image gallery: promotional and publicity material
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Limited edition 40-page booklet featuring a new essay by Paul Duane, an archival interview with Lena Horne, an extract from Don Siegel’s autobiography, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Michael Neyman on Exercise No. One, and full film credits
- UK premiere on Blu-ray
- Limited edition of 3,000 copies for the UK
Release date: 27th February 2023.
Review by Tina from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.