Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Gambler Wore a Gun (1961)

The Gambler Wore a Gun is a 1961 Western film directed by Edward L. Cahn and starring James Davis.

Davis plays Case Silverthorne, a professional gambler from the East who decides to quit gambling and move to the West. He purchases a ranch through the mail, but upon arrival, finds Will Donovan, the man who sold him the ranch, hung up on a tree. The film follows Case as he discovers that Donovan's grown son and daughter, Jud and Sharon, have no idea their ranch has been sold. This leads Jud to discover that Will was killed by three cattle rustlers pretending to be ranch hands. Jud confronts the rustlers, only to be shot, and Case framed for the murder. With the help of Sharon and Marshal Dex Harwood, Case proves the ranch and the cattle to be his, culminating in a shoot-out between Sharon, Case, and the Marshal, and the three cattle rustlers. Case et al are victorious, and Case settles in to his new life in the ranch with Sharon.

The Gambler uses all the typical iconography of the Western, such as the saloon, the ranch, stetson hats, guns, and horses. Although the story is initially about Case's efforts to prove his claim to the ranch, it becomes a revenge story, as Jud seeks revenge for his father's death, then Case and Sharon seek revenge for both Will and Jud's deaths. Arguably, the sub-genre of this film is that of the man of honour, as Case develops from a gambler to an honest man. A link is implied between the West and honesty; Case was a dishonest gambler in the East, and his decision to quit goes hand-in-hand with his decision to move west. Additionally, the law is emphasised greatly; Case's claim to the ranch is believed as soon as he produces the letter in Will's handwriting promising him the ranch; after Case strays and finds himself gambling again, he realises the error of his ways and gives Jud back the $300 he had lost; even the cattle rustlers, in the final confrontation, admit the bill of sale as legitimate.

Clip: In the final scene of the movie, the legalities of ownership are emphasised as the last note - before the big kiss.

As opposed to the typical hero-excluded-from-society trope, Case's fate is the opposite - at the beginning and throughout the film, he is already an outsider: new in town, and demonised by the citizens when they think he has killed Jud. The only people on his side are Dex and Sharon, who help him defeat the rustlers and prove both his innocence and his claim.

A character of interest to me was Sharon; although she is the only woman in the film, and clearly has her domestic role - until the climax, she is not seen outside the house setting - she is represented well. After Jud leaves to find the Marshal, Sharon is worried about attack from the rustlers; when Case and Dex knock on her door, instead of hiding, she confronts her visitors with a rifle in her hand. In that same scene, Case tells her that Jud is dead and he's going after the rustlers. Sharon immediately chooses to confront them too, with little protest from the men. Approaching the hill the rustlers are hiding out on, we see Sharon is wearing trousers, not a skirt, and sits atop the horse normally, instead of side-saddle. Even during the climactic shoot-out, Sharon is the one to give the final shot, killing the last rustler.

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