Rose Hood: You're not bad, you're just no good.
When Marshal Hood of Oracle, Texas, is killed by a hired gunman, his quick-shooting widow, Rose (Garland), straps on his gun and star, puts on some pants, and aims to find out who did the hiring. She has her suspicions about the local saloon owner-slash-brothel madam Erica Page (Hayes), but doesn't have any proof. Still, Erica becomes worried about Rose interfering with her railroad real estate scheme, and sends for a hired gunman to take care of her.
The gunman, Cane Miro (John Ireland), hits it off with Rose soon after arriving in town, and begins trying to stretch the terms of his contract to avoid killing her. However, he has an old Civil War grudge against the town's mayor, and Rose finds her hands full trying to keep the man alive and Cane out of trouble. Can Rose stop Erica's plan? Will Rose redeem Cane before it's too late?
Gunslinger contains examples of the following tropes:
- Aborted Arc: The movie begins with Rose killing the two men who killed her husband but declaring she still has to settle with whoever hired themnote . That thread is pushed almost immediately to the background due to the concerns for the railroad letter and Cane being brought into town. Only after Jake tells Rose the truth does the plot return to the forefront... only to go right back to the back burner again as Rose notes Jake's testimony is not enough proof to act on. In the end, Rose doesn't actually settle with whoever hired her husband's killersnote because Cane shoots Erica just as she's getting ready to shoot Rose.
- Action Girl: Rose. She becomes the new marshal and easily handles her own in shootouts.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Cane assumes this of Rose. He's wrong.
- Atrocious Alias: Jake hates being called "Little Man"; it's Erica's pet name for him, and she uses it to literally belittle him.
- Author Appeal: Roger Corman loves strong female protagonists, and regular cast member Beverly Garland continued to fill that role.
- Artistic License History: Cane puts a lot of importance on the Battle of Lookout Mountain in his vendetta against the mayor, claiming that losing that battle lost the whole war. The actual battle was a relatively minor engagement in 1863, two full years before the end of the war, and after the decisive Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The engagement didn't even involve the entirety of the armies on both sides, and was fought solely between Hooker's Union XI corps, and three Confederate brigades under Stevenson. Of course, it could be more because he lost his brothers there and blames Polk for it, but uses that idea as an excuse.
- Bar Brawl: Rose starts one at Erica's saloon when the latter won't close her business for the night.
- Boom, Headshot!: How Rose kills Cane. Though...Joel: [As Rose shoots, his hat is knocked off and he slumps over.] Ohhh, shot him right in the hat.
- Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Cane and Rose's relationship, even though the latter isn't gentle with other criminals.
- Captain Obvious: Cane, when drunk, tries to woo Erica by saying she has "brown eyes." Nothing significant about them, just "brown eyes."Tom: [as Cane] And you got a neck.
- Cincinnatus: Rose quickly cedes the title of Marshal once the state-appointed Marshal arrives, but it's easy for her since she's wrapped up her revenge by then.
- Dating Catwoman / Star-Crossed Lovers: The main storyline between Rose and Cane. They're on opposite sides of the law, working at cross purposes — she upholding justice, he trying to fulfill a vendetta and also hired to assassinate her — and neither will back down from who they are or what they want (well, he does try to delay killing her). Naturally it ends tragically when Rose is forced to shoot Cane dead.
- Disposable Woman: Rare Male Example. Rose's husband is dead before the opening credits roll, and he only seemed to exist to motivate Rose to seek vengeance against his killers.
- Determined Widow: Rose. She avenges her husband personally and still aims to settle with whoever hired them.
- Establishing Character Moment: As soon as Rose hears gunshots and sees her husband go down, she immediately picks up his rifle and fires back.
- The Exile: Erica's saloon dancers are kicked out of the town after their ambush on Rose fails when Cane rides up.
- Failed a Spot Check: How many people in this film hide in plain sight? At one point, Rose and the Mayor discuss how they've hidden him from Cane at a safehouse, while not noticing him sitting on a horse, spying on them, just a dozen yards away in the center of the road.Joel: Apparently they hadn't invented peripheral vision yet.
Joel: Uh, cue the horses!
- In the beginning of the film, thanks to the poor camera angle, Rose slips into the sheriff's office while two criminals are waiting around the corner!
Crow: [Laughs] Corman...
Joel: [as the criminals ride up to the office] Boy, she is slick. How'd she get by us?
- Gambit Roulette: Erica's real estate scheme amounts to gambling. She's buying up land in the hopes that a railroad being built through town will make her rich but there's no indication that she has insider knowledge (and if she does, it's obviously bad information) and there's no indication that she's trying to sway or fix the results. She's simply betting on a possible outcome. She seems to know this: before the final act, she starts prepping to run for it, in case the plan goes bad.
- Hat Damage: Cane's hat is shot off in the final confrontation as he's shot in the head, killing him, though, when shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000, we get this little gem:Joel: [As Cane slumps over dead] Oh, right in the hat.
- Her Heart Will Go On: Rose was widowed for maybe a month before Cane rode into town and she fell in love with him.
- Hollywood Costuming: The dancers in Erica's saloon are clearly wearing pink nylon stockings. For those playing along at home, that's a fashion that didn't exist until the 1920s, made of material that didn't exist until 1935, dyed a color that would be far too expensive for anyone in that town to afford.
- Ignored Enamored Underling: Jake is in love with Erica while she couldn't care less about returning his feelings. She does, however, claim to love him in order to string him along and do her dirty work when he's capable of pulling it off.
- In Love with the Mark: Cane's feelings for Rose
- Job Title: Rose becomes the gun-slinging Marshal of her town.
- The Load: Mayor Polk. He talks about how bravely he fought in the war, but when the actual pressure is on, Cane's depiction of him as a stinking coward comes true and he needs Rose, Joshua, or his wife to protect him.
- Love Dodecahedron: Rose, Cane, Erica and Jake. For those keeping score, Rose and Erica love Cane, Cane loves the both of them, Jake loves Erica but Erica will never give him the time of day.
- Miles Gloriosus: Mayor Polk for constantly telling war stories that made him look like a hero, but he's revealed to be a complete coward the moment Cane catches up to him.
- Murder the Hypotenuse / You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: When Jake blows up at Erica, she kicks him out, threatening to kill him herself. He then tries to ambush and kill Cane. After a gunfight between the two men, Jake is killed and Erica claims Cane was acting in self-defense when Rose confronts them.
- Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight: At the climax, when all else has failed, Mayor Polk finally stands up to confront Cane... with a pitchfork. Naturally, it doesn't end well for him.
- Number Two for Brains: Jake can never live up to Erica's expectations.Jake: Want me to do it?
Erica: Do what?
Jake: Kill 'em?
Erica: No, little man, you'd get caught and that would lead them right to me.note
- Reformed, but Not Tamed: Cane thinks of himself as this. He's not reformed either.
- Revenge Before Reason: Cane's obsession with Mayor Polk proves his undoing.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Marshal Scott Hood is dead before the opening credits, and his widow Rose has dealt with his two killers by the ten-minute mark, but the mystery of who ordered his murder drives much of the rest of the plot..
- Stay in the Kitchen: Kind of a weird example: When Rose is importuning Mayor Polk to anoint her Marshal, Mrs. Polk urges him to just do it and get it over with. Her reason? She has a roast in the oven. It's entirely possible this was meant as a clever contrast between Rose's progressive attitude and Mrs. Polk's more traditional mindset, though Mrs. Polk has zero issue with Rose being an authority figure.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Mayor Polk. The only reason Cane didn't kill him earlier in the film was because somebody was around to bail him out every time, and he continues to stay a sitting duck right up until he's finally killed.Mayor Polk: I figured if [a jail cell] could keep a killer in, it could keep a killer out.
Tom Servo: Well he could shoot ya!
- The surviving killer, who's identity is completely unknown and made a clean getaway, shows up to Scott's funeral for no apparent reason. Rose recognizes him and shoots him on the spot.
- Joshua gets his moment during the showdown at the climax when he chooses the wrong target. He first aims at Erica (and misses), giving Cane- who already had his gun drawn- time to aim at and shoot him.
- Mayor Polk. The only reason Cane didn't kill him earlier in the film was because somebody was around to bail him out every time, and he continues to stay a sitting duck right up until he's finally killed.
- Zany Scheme: The Mayor sees Erica's plot (buying up all the land in town in hopes that a new railroad will make property values skyrocket) as this. Particularly since it's not even guaranteed that the new railroad will run through Oracle. It won't.Polk: Why, it's the height of speculative gambling! If the railroad doesn't come through you'll be wiped out.