Gun Fury (Blu-ray Review)9 Oct, 2017 By: Mike Clark
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Stars Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Phil Carey, Lee Marvin, Leo Gordon.
For those into the esoteric byways of pop cinema, I suppose that 1953 wasn’t just the Year of 3D but the year of 3D films made by directors who only had vision in one eye and thus couldn’t see their own visually stereophonic effects. One would be the underrated Andre de Toth (Martin Scorsese wrote the intro to his autobiography), whose ball-and-paddle bit outside the theater in the year’s House of Wax is something that everyone deserves to see. The other was a somewhat over-the-hill Raoul Walsh with Gun Fury — a Western packed with the requisite volume of dirt-road shots (vantage point: stagecoach driver’s) for the full 3D scenic view and objects heaved into the audience aiming to knock cellophaned Twizzlers out of viewer laps.
I feel a little like de Toth and Walsh in terms of viewing Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray of Fury because I don’t own a 3D set (never cared much for 3D, anyway) and thus am basing these musings on the standard version aired on TV since about 1961, which is also the “default” version on this disc. To me, this is OK because it’s not much of a movie, only occasionally wallows in the 3D form and is of primary interest due when you’re “outside the picture” and simply concentrating on what was going on with careers at the time. Already something of a Walsh veteran, Rock Hudson was in the studied process of getting the star-to-be buildup, earning top billing over co-star Donna Reed in the same the year that produced her Oscar-winning supporting performance in From Here to Eternity. Matter of fact, this loveliest of workhorses had a remarkable year in ’53, also starring opposite John Wayne in Trouble Along the Way (see the Duke belt some effete clown through a glass door or window); my seminal Martin & Lewis comedy The Caddy (Dino croons “You’re the Right One to Reed,” which was the Capitol B-side to “That’s Amore”); and Raiders of the Seven Seas (a John Payne swashbuckler on a barnacle budget).
My best friend in college thought Reed was a sleeper in the hottie department and had quickie fantasies about her taken from the “Donna Reed Show” — imagining, say, that her character’s pediatrician husband (Carl Betz) was preoccupied with some Cub Scout’s knee sprain and their equally dishy daughter (Shelley Fabares) MIA at an after-school meeting of Preppie Club. (Didn’t Bob Crane become a series regular in the last couple seasons? We won’t go there.) Accordingly, Fury’s key ex-Confederate heavy (once reliable Columbia Pictures contractee Phil Carey) feels some tingles when he meets Reed in a stagecoach while briefly posing as a lawman. The fact that his also-along colleague is played by ever-sinister Leo Gordon gives that ruse away, though Gordon’s character does end up offering a few surprises here. But even aside from Carey’s true colors, reserved Easterner Reed would never bite: she’s on her way to wed fiancée (relative pacifist Rock).
Carey ultimately cuts to the chase — something the movie does as well more literally — by abducting her, leaving Hudson for dead and rejoining a band of thugs who include the young Lee Marvin. It’s all pretty boilerplate, and — I swear I had this thought myself before seeing Gary Tooze say the same thing at his DVD Beaver website — despite Technicolor, it has the same muddy (my word) looks as the same year’s Miss Sadie Thompson. Even in my youth, I never thought Columbia’s brand of Technicolor was up to other studios’ — some obvious exceptions including Rudolph Maté shooting the same Hayworth in Cover Girl, Tonight and Every Night and Down to Earth.
I’ve read that Hudson was so green and inept when struggling for Walsh in the actor’s 1948 Fighter Squadron debut that he kept blowing takes of his single line. Still, Walsh stuck with him, and by the time of Fury had used Hudson in as male leads in The Lawless Breed and Sea Devils. The former must have seen something, though the Hudson here is little more than stalwart. Things were moving fast, though, with 1954’s Magnificent Obsession for Douglas Sirk the breakthrough, and then with Giant in 1956 taking Hudson’s career to an entirely new level. The actor’s constant improvement of the years was substantial, though dramatically, you’ll note that he was always better with the better directors: Sirk a lot (though in other films, as opposed to Obsession) and Seconds for John Frankenheimer. Comedy-wise, I always thought he did the best slow burn in the business — not just in the first two Doris Day comedies but for Robert Mulligan in Come September, where his attitude toward Bobby Darin is along the lines of “I’ve been there, you punk; I’ve know what you’re trying to do with Sandra Dee, and I wrote the book” (well, it was on screen, at least). On the other real-life hand, I think my deep video archives somewhere in the house still contain Mamie Van Doren promoting her book on Larry King and saying, “Well, he wasn’t gay the night he was with me.”
Twilight Time has a lot of Blu-ray Westerns lately: John Sturges’ Hour of the Gun (which I have been trying futilely to like since 1968, though certainly some people do); Michael Winner’s Lawman (which I saw at a drive-in during a snowstorm, an effect that would have worked better with de Toth’s cult Day of the Outlaw); Woody Allen’s September (need to take a fresh look); and a tribute to personal nostalgia: the Herrmann-scored Beneath the 12-Mile Reef — which I saw at age 6 during the earliest days of Fox CinemaScope and some of it from under my seat (no lie) when Robert Wagner fought the octopus at the end. Even then, I knew it would be more fun to wrestle with co-star Terry Moore.
Getting back to Gun Fury, if Blu-ray was set on showcasing a minor Columbia 3D Western from 1953, I’d have preferred de Toth’s 3D (there he went again, as Ronald Reagan used to say) The Stranger Wore a Gun with Randolph Scott and Claire Trevor. It, too, features not just Lee Marvin but Ernest Borgnine in an orange-y number that my best friend once and rightfully described as having come from “Frederick’s of Tucson.”