This film is often considered the best western Audie Murphy
starred in, thanks to its off-beat storyline about a hired gun (Murphy) with an unusual MO. He prefers to provoke his targets into shooting first, so that it looks like self-defense, and he never reveals who he's after unless it's necessary to provoke the target. So when he drifts into the local hotel and starts ordering coffee, the entire town freaks out, and nearly everybody starts accusing each other of hiring the guy, sort of like a 90-minute Wild West version of The Twilight Zone S 1 E 22 The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
, only the alien's sitting right there in plain sight smirking at them.
I remember enjoying it quite a bit the first time I saw it, years ago, but on a rewatch it was a bit meh. There's a lot less suspense once you know how it will play out, and the townspeople, who take up a lot of screentime, didn't manage to make me care about them. As you might expect from scriptwriter Gene Coon
, it's also a bit Anvilicious about kind of trite things: corruption is bad, paranoia is bad, killing people for money is bad. It's directed by Jack Arnold, who did the first Creature From The Black Lagoon
, so it's about at that level of competent thrillerness. An interesting movie, not a spectacular one.
The main attraction is Murphy himself as the gunman, who regrettably doesn't have quite enough screentime for my taste. He says little, shoots less, but he prowls about like a big cat. Something of a Manipulative Bastard
, he is coldly amused by the fear he inspires in people, and coldly angry at the sleaziness and vindictiveness of human society, even if it does pay his bills. His performance here is a good litmus test for whether you can buy into Murphy's Memetic Badass
status enough to enjoy his movies in general. The first time I saw this movie, I had little or no knowledge of Audie Murphy, WWII combat soldier
, but at the same time I had no trouble believing that this short man with the soft face and the childish-sounding voice was a Badass
par excellence. And yet, I've read plenty of reviews of this movie that said basically: "nope, I don't care WHAT he did in the war, I'm not buying that babyface as a badass gunman." So you'd have to make up your own mind there. It's available on dvd in the US.