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Film / Forty Guns

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Forty Guns is a 1957 gothic Western film written and directed by Samuel Fuller, filmed in black-and-white CinemaScope and released by the 20th Century Fox studio. The film stars Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, and Gene Barry.

The three Bonnell brothers are federal marshals. They arrive in Tombstone, Arizona, looking for an outlaw who has robbed the mail. They soon have to confront Jessica Drummond (Stanwyck), a hard-edged female rancher who makes the law around town with her forty hired guns at her side. She agrees to deliver the outlaw, one of the forty guns, to Griff Bonnell (Sullivan), but Jessica's goonish younger brother Brockie wants to declare war on the brothers.

Tropes used in Forty Guns include:

  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Savage has lured Griff into an ambush. He has him in his gun sights. There is a shot, and Savage slumps forward, having been shot by Chico who has returned unexpectedly.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: During the final showdown, Griff shoots Brockie's pistol out of his hand. He then proceeds to gun down the unarmed Brockie.
  • Call to Agriculture: Griff keeps trying to persuade Chico to give up being a gunslinger and instead return to their parents' farm in California. At the end of the film, he takes his own advice and returns to Califirnia, allowing Chico to become town marshal.
  • Cattle Baron: Jessica is the most powerful rancher in Arizona territory.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Griff famed ability to shoot to wound.
  • Circuit Judge: Judge Macy is the circuit judge for Cochise County, and completely in the pocket of Jessica Drummond. However, not even he will attempt to make a charge of murdering a U.S. Marshal go away.
  • Coincidental Dodge: Brockie attempts to murder Griff at Wes's wedding. However, at the moment Brockie fires, Griff bends forward to kiss the bride. Brockie's shot goes over and kills Wes.
  • Dead Guy on Display: After Charlie Savage is killed, Brockie pays the undertaker to put his body on display in his window alongside a sign claiming he had been murdered by the Bonnells. All this does is make the Bonnells angry.
  • Death Glare: Griff Bonnell has a stare so intense that, when he fixes Brockie with it during a showdown, Brockie freezes up and is unable to draw; enabling Griff to walk right up to him and pistol whip him.
  • Driven to Suicide: Logan hangs himself after he realizes that Jessica doesn't love him and that he has thrown away his career for nothing.
  • Drum Bathing: The baths in Barney's Bathhouse are made from cut-down wooden barrels, although the bathhouse has wooden walls for some privacy.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: Brockie and his cronies do this when they shoot up the town after shooting Chisolm.
  • The Gunfighter Wannabe: Brockie likes to think he his good with a gun, but his only successes come from shooting from ambush. In his first attempt to face down Griff in a showdown, he balks and lets Griff get close enough to pistol whip him.
  • Human Shield: In their final showdown, Brockie uses Jessica as a human shield: mockingly telling Griff that he wants to see him shoot through her to get to him. To Brockie's surprise, Griff does just that: wounding Jessica in such a way that Brockie cannot hold her up. This forces him to drop her and leave himself exposed.
  • Ignored Enamored Underling: Sheriff Ned Logan is in love with Jessica Drummond and allows himself to be used as her catspaw; seeing himself as her partner and hoping that one day she will reciprocate his feelings. However, Jessica has no idea of his feelings and sees him only as an employee. On realizing this, and seeing that she has fallen in love with Griff Bonnell, Logan is Driven to Suicide.
  • Impairment Shot: A shot from Chisolm's POV as he attempts to sneak out of town shows the audience exactly how bad his eyesight really is.
  • I Own This Town: Jessica Drummond, through her wealth and her dragoons, controls all of Cochise County and, by extension, much of the Territory.
  • Iron Lady: Jessica is an unbending Cattle Baron who rules Cochise County with an iron fist (and a riding crop).
  • Murder by Mistake: Brockie attempts to murder Griff at Wes's wedding. However, at the moment he fires, Griff bends forward to kiss the bride, and the bullet hits Wes, killing him.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The movie ends with Griff and Jessica in a wagon riding out of town on their way to start their new life in California.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: When Griff first goes to face Brockie, he has just got out of the bath. Not having his holster, he shoves his revolver down the front of pants. Fortunately, he does not need to draw it till he is close enough to Brockie to pistol whip him.
  • Pistol-Whipping: When Brockie starts shooting up the town, Griff strides out to meet him. Griff's Death Glare is so intense, that Brockie freezes, allowing Griff to walk right up to him and knock him out with his pistol butt.
  • Public Bathhouse Scene: The first thing the Bonnell brothers do when they arrive in Tombstone is to visit Barney's Bathhouse to get cleaned up. A later scene shows them, along with the bride's father, bathing as they prepare for Wes's wedding
  • Sacrificial Lion: Wes Bonnell. Griff's brother is a major character for much of the film, and acts as Griff's 'second gun' in his showdowns. He is killed at his wedding by a bullet intended for Griff. This marks the point at which their is no going back for either side of the conflict.
  • The Sheriff: Sheriff Ned Logan is a weak, cowardly, venal, lovesick fool who is completely in the pocket of Cattle Baron Jessica Drummond.
  • Shoot the Hostage: Brockie uses Jessica as a human shield during his final showdown; mockingly saying that he wants to see Griff shoot through Jessica to get him. Griff does just that: shooting and wounding Jessica in such a way that Brockie is forced to drop her and leave himself exposed.
  • Twilight of the Old West: Although the film is set squarely in the Wild West (a comment from the telegraph operator indicates the date is around 1882), several characters can already see their time is ending. Griff foresees a time when gunfighters will be as anachronistic as Roman gladiators, and Jessica knows that Arizona becoming a state will spell an end to the way she does business and her use of a private army.
  • U.S. Marshal: The Bonnell brothers are a trio of U.S. Marshals who arrive in Tombstone to serve a federal warrant. When their prisoner is murdered while in their custody, they get drawn into the web of intrigue surrounding the county.
  • What a Drag: During the tornado, Jessica falls from her White Stallion. Her foot gets caught in the stirrup and she is dragged for a considerable distance along the ground. (Notably, Stanwyck did this stunt herself after her stunt double said it was too dangerous.)
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Griff refuses to help when Marshal Chisolm (supposedly an old friend) asks for aid in standing up to The Gunfighter Wannabe Brockie Drummond: instead suggesting that he leave town. Several characters call Griff out about this, but he never provides a satisfactory explanation for his decision. Even after Chisolm is shot, Griff only gets involved when his brother Wes goes to defend the townsfolk from Brockie's cronies who are shooting up the town.
  • Whip of Dominance: Ruthless Cattle Baron Jessica uses her riding whip to maintain discipline among her men, using it on any who displease her. She is even shown hitting her brother with it when he's being a dumbass.
  • White Stallion: Jessica rides a white stallion, and makes her first appearance in the movie upon it, leading the eponymous forty guns.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Wes and Louvenia leave the church following their wedding and pause for their photographs to be taken. Wes invites Griff to kiss the bride, and as he bends forwards, Brockie shoots at him. The shot misses Griff and hits Wes, who collapses on top of Louvenia. Louvenia spends the rest of the film dressed in black.
  • Wrench Wench: Louvenia Spangler is an expert gunsmith. This is a large part of what makes Wes fall in love with her.
  • Young Gun: Chico Bonnell has all of the skills needed to be a gunfighter—having been taught be his big brother Griff—but Griff wonders if he has the mindset needed to accompany it.