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At Gunpoint

At Gunpoint
A general-store keeper (Fred MacMurray) scares off bank robbers with a lucky shot, but they come back.


John Chard
Jack Wright? For some reason or other that name sounds familiar. The Dennis gang ride into the town of Plainview and set about robbing the bank. However, during their escape Alvin Dennis (John Pickard) is shot and killed by a one in a million lucky shot by mild mannered store keeper Jack Wright (Fred MacMurray). Further compounding the gang's misery is that Alvin was carrying the money and so the town have managed to reclaim what was briefly taken from them. Jack, in spite of his protestations, is hailed a hero by all and sundry, even picking up a substantial reward. But led by a hate filled Bob Dennis (Skip Homeier), the Dennis gang are plotting revenge and have Jack firmly in their sights. Jack is about to find out just who his friends are in the fickle town of Plainview. Yeah yeah yeah, At Gunpoint (AKA:Gunpoint!) is for sure a variation on the High Noon theme, and yes it proudly stands in its pulpit sermonising a moralistic viewpoint. Its central theme one that has been used a number of times in Westerns both prior and post this Allied Artists Pictures release. But so what? If a story, and the potent universal messages at its core, is worth telling, then tell it. As long as it's told well and not bogged down by poor technical aspects, then that surely is enough for the discerning genre fan? At Gunpoint is directed by Alfred L. Werker and is written by prolific Western story teller Daniel B. Ullman. It's a Technicolor/CinemaScope production with Ellsworth Fredericks on photography duties, and the wonderfully named Carmen Dragon provides a bracing score. Supporting MacMurray and Homeier are Dorothy Malone as Jack's increasingly fretful wife, Walter Brennan as a loyal Doctor friend who likes a tipple, while Whit Bissell is a welcome secondary character addition. So many good things to recommend here, it may be a simple fable, but it's lit up by high quality acting and thrives on the moody atmosphere constructed by Werker. MacMurray was always hit and miss, particularly in the Western genre, but when he got it right, or perhaps when he had an understanding director? He was real value for money. Such is the case here. His Jack Wright is an honest man reluctantly put up on a pedestal, thus he quickly becomes a scared man. Naturally fearful for his wife and child, he doesn't hide that he himself is no hero, and has no wish to become one. MacMurray perfectly plays it restrained, thus it is heartfelt and believable. Homeier was always best when playing a snarly villain and here he delivers just that, a villain hell bent on revenge, an avenging brother whose actions speak louder than words. Werker was an old pro, a jobber director, and here he was coming to the end of a career that would span 32 years. He offers up some nice tonal delights here. Witness the dusty storm that descends upon Plainview, it coincides with the town residents having a change of attitude. Then there's his framing of the Dennis gang as they come for revenge, it's impossible not to think of them as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. While the final shoot out, and the twist in the horse tail, is awash with tension and crowned by a remarkable bit of stunt work. This a fine film that belies its "B" movie roots. One that will hopefully find more fans as the years roll by. 8/10

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