The Stranger Wore a Gun Reviews
Despite the generally reliable presence of Scott as well as Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine playing heavies, and director AndrĂ (C) De Toth who usually was able to do something interesting with the low-budget, B picture pulp he directed, this is a really bad western.
Everyone seems to be stiffly going through the motions, both in front of the camera and behind, especially De Toth, who normally had a knack for staging quick and exciting action scenes. Not here. Instead he relegates himself to just having extras shoot guns into the lens and tossing various objects directly at the camera in order to make ham-fisted use of the 3D process in which the film was shot (and very poorly I might add), a technique that he didn't need to resort to in his previous 3D picture, the excellent HOUSE OF WAX.
Most of the blame however lies in writer Kenneth Gamet's dreadfully awful script, which has a ridiculously thin narrative, mind-numbingly dumb characters (Alfonso Bedoya's character of Degas, the leader of the rival gang of Banditos and what I assume is supposed to be comic relief, is so painfully annoying and embarrassing that I was turning away in shame), and some of the stupidest and cloying dialogue I have heard in a long while (example: Scott's character to Claire Trevor - "Guns never settle anything... the right way. I'm through with 'em, Josie". Who talks like that?).
What is of mild interest is that the basic narrative structure of the picture - an anti-hero riding into a lawless town and pitting two rival gangs against one another - is a plot that can be traced back to Dashiell Hammett's 1929 book RED HARVEST, featuring his great amoral private investigator, The Continental Op. It was this story that inspired Akira Kurosawa when writing his 1961 samurai masterpiece, YOJIMBO, which in turn inspired filmmaker Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western masterpiece from 1962, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Was screenwriter Gamet familiar with Hammett's book? It's possible. And was Kurosawa and/or Leone familiar with De Toth's film when theirs went into production? Again, that is possible, for both directors loved American movies and had a great knowledge of cinema.
The action opens during the American Civil War with the renegade Confederate guerrilla leader, General William Clarke Quantrill (James Millican of "High Noon") and his raiders, as they loot and burn Lawrence, Kansas, in one of the worst atrocities of the war. Quantrill's chief spy, Jeff Travis (Randolph Scott of "Ride the High Country"), has gathered a herd of horses and prepared a list of names and addresses for men that Quantrill wants to see. When Travis learns that Quantrill wants his second-in-command, Jules Mourett (George Macready of "Gilda"), to kill everybody named on the list, our hero decides to quit Quantrill and fight the rest of the war in a regular outfit. Nevertheless, the murderous Lawrence raid attaches an odium to our protagonist that he never entirely manages to sweep under the rug. In the second scene, on board a Louisiana paddle wheel, Travis has to defend himself from people who want to kill anybody that rode with Quantrill. What Travis doesn't immediately know is that Mourett was on board when people made death threats against our hero, and Mourett furnishes a distraction that allows Travis an opportunity to escape. Travis guns down two men and plunges over the side. Travis' gambling companion, Josie Sullivan (Oscar winning actress Claire Trevor of "Key Largo") has kept the flame burning for our hero in her heart since the Civil War. She advises him to jump over the side, swim to the riverbank, and ride out to the Arizona territory where she will meet him. Realizing that he has no alternative, Travis heads west to Prescott, Arizona, the same day that the U.S. Army is moving the territorial capital out of town.
As the villain, Jules Mourett is a well-tailored fellow who plans to become a millionaire before he leaves Prescott. He explains to Travis that thousands of thousands in gold flow through the mines to the capitol and the only thing that stands between him and his fortune is the Conroy Stage and Freight Lines run by Jason Conroy (Pierre Watkin of "Mysterious Island") and his beautiful daughter Shelby (Joan Weldon of "Them!") along with an obnoxious Mexican bandit Degas (Alfonso Bedayo of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre") and his gang that constantly interfere in Mourett's best laid plans. Bedayo is the actor who uttered the immortal line: "We don't need any stinking badges" from the Bogart movie. Consequently, when Travis shows up in Prescott, Mourett wants him to spy on the Conroys and learn when they are going to ship the gold. Conroy has thwarted Mourett's men, Dan (Lee Marvin of "The Big Heat") and Bull (Ernst Borgnine of "The Dirty Dozen"), by not telling the coachman where the gold is and substituting rocks for the gold in the strongbox. In one scene, the outlaws take the strongbox filled with rocks, while the gold coins were kept in a cloth satchel. Consequently, Travis masquerades as a detective from the Collier Detective Agency and convinces the Conroys to trust him with information about all the gold shipments. At one point, the Conroys change their minds about loading the gold, and Dan and Bull beat a coachman to death when he refuses to divulge the whereabouts of the gold.
The biggest problem with "The Stranger Wore A Gun" is that the villain allows the hero to string him along for far too long. Further, the henchmen are just plain stupid. They can stop a stagecoach in the middle of the desert and ride off with the strongbox and neither has enough sense to check the contents of the box at the scene of the robbery. Meanwhile, the Conroys are so gullible that they accept Travis' explanation for why he is so late helping them with their problem. Moreover, neither Conroy thinks to verify Travis' identity with the Collier home office in Chicago. Eventually, the hero learns that the authorities do not have a bounty on his head, only that Josie made up the story so that she could exercise some control over him. The ending when Travis chooses which girl he will wind up with is one of the biggest surprises in the movie.
The cast is top-notch, but villainous George Macready doesn't sneer enough to be truly menacing. Director Andre De Toth maintains a brisk pace throughout the film's terse 82- minute running time. Most of the dialogue is expository, except for when Travis swaps threats and ultimatums with the Lee Marvin bad guy. "The Stranger Wore A Gun" is about as generic a western as it title implies, but a sturdy cast and the lively action sequence bolster this otherwise routine oater.