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More Dead Than Alive is a 1969 film directed by Robert Sparr and produced by Aubrey Schenck, starring Clint Walker, Vincent Price and Anne Francis.

An incarcerated killer named Cain (Walker) is released from prison after 18 years and wants to settle down as a rancher without ever having to touch a gun again. But no one will give him a job and people are after him for his earlier crimes. He finally takes an offer from a showman named Ruffalo (Price) to perform as "Killer Cain" in his traveling shooting show. However, after 18 years without practice, Cain is not as good as he once was with a gun. Cain tries to find redemption and peace when he falls in love and eventually marries Monica Alton (Francis), an artist from the east who came out west to paint. Yet Cain's reputation continues to dog him as past enemies try to settle old scores and a young sharpshooter rival with mental issues in Ruffalo's show named Billy Valence (Paul Hampton) looking to build his reputation by killing Cain.

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Tropes in More Dead Than Alive include:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Showman Mark Ruffalo speaks this way when drumming up business for his Shooting Show & Death Display:
    "Step right up and see the spectacular shooting show and death display. See the world's greatest gunslinger. He's sharp. He's a shootin' shark. So step right up and get your tickets here, ladies and gentlemen."
  • Badass Bystander: The prison break by Luke Santee's gang is foiled by one of the prison guards who does not go down as easily as expected. He instead kills several of the gang and buys the rest of the guards time to rally and repel the assault. This character has no lines and is not named.
  • Bodybag Trick: Members of Luke Santee's gang conceal themselves inside the coffins the Undertaker is bringing into the prison to collect the bodies of the executed prisoners.
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  • Breaking Out the Boss: Luke Santee and his gang break into the prison to free Luke's brother Wes.
  • Briefcase Blaster: the attorney Karma, who has been following Cain for most of the film, pulls a gun from his attache case and casually shoots Cain dead
  • Captivity Harmonica: One of the prisoners watching the execution is playing a harmonica. This serves as a diegetic soundtrack for the execution.
  • Destination Defenestration: After catching up with Luke Santee in the Ghost Town (just after Santee has killed Billy), Cain crash tackles him through a plate glass window and the pair of them crash out into the street.
  • Downer Ending: See Shoot the Shaggy Dog below.
  • Dramatic Ammo Depletion: The Gunfighter Wannabe Billy Valence beats outlaw Luke Santee to the draw, only for the hammer to fall on a spent shell in the chamber. He pulls the trigger again and agin with no reult, and he realises with growing horror, that he never reloaded his pistol after murdering Ruffalo. Earlier in the film, Cain had warned him to never holster an empty pistol, but Billy didn't listen.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Cain does not like his old nicknamed of "Killer" Cain as he is attempting to go straight, put the past behind him and make a new start. But he is forced to use it to earn a living while appearing in Ruffalo's Shooting Show & Death Display.
  • Evil Is Petty: After luring Cain into an ambush and beating him into unconsciousness, Luke Santee steals back the $2 he had paid Cain to trick him into the ambush.
  • Fatal Flaw: Billy's arrogance and refusal to listen. Following a discussion about gunfights in the old days, Cain tells him never to holster an empty pistol. He is eventually killed when he beats Luke Santee to the draw only to discover that he never reloaded his pistol after murdering Ruffalo, and he tries to shoot Luke with an empty gun.
  • Gatling Good: Much of Luke Santee's gang is killed by the Gatling gun at the prison during the attempted prison break.
  • Ghost Town: Cain first stumbles into the ghost town of Drywood as he is making his way back from the ambush at the mine. It is here that he first meets Monica, who is painting the deserted town as a symbol of the dying of the West. Later Billy flees here after murdering Ruffalo and stealing the cashbox, and it is here that Cain has his final showdown with Luke Santee after Santee has killed Billy.
  • The Gunfighter Wannabe: Billy Valance. A trick shot artist in Ruffalo's traveling shooting show, Billy believes that he is great gunslinger, but has never been in a real gunfight. Cain keeps showing him up by demonstrating that things are different when the target can shoot back: such as slapping him in the face before he can draw his gun.
  • Hollywood Costuming: Set in 1890s, but all of the women sport late 1960s hairstyles. Otherwise the costuming is pretty accurate.
  • Inexperienced Killer: Billy Valance. A trick shot artist in Ruffalo's traveling shooting show, Billy believes that he is great gunslinger and a ruthless killer, but has never been in a real gunfight. Cain keeps showing him up by demonstrating that things are different when the target can shoot back: such as slapping him in the face before he can draw his gun. The only person Billy manages to kill is Ruffalo who is unarmed. And this act puts Cain on his trail looking for revenge.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: The 'Winter' segment deals with Cain being just released prison. No one will give him a job and people are after him for his earlier crimes. He finally takes an offer from a showman named Ruffalo to perform as "Killer Cain" in his traveling shooting show.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Billy attempts to goad Cain and Cassidy into having a gunfight: first siding with one of them, and then the other, and even handing Cain a gun when he says doesn't have one. It is only Cain's steadfast refusal to pick up the gun that prevents a fight. As Billy's pleas for them to shoot each other become more desperate and pathetic, Cassidy realises how stupid the whole thing is and walks ways. Billy suffers a Villainous Breakdown as he sees that the shootout isn't happening: slumping on the ground and all but weeping.
  • Match Cut: The scene cuts from an oil lantern in the barbershop in the small town of Las Rainas to a gas lamp in the modern city of Prescott. A later scene cuts from Ruffalo dropping a handful of coins to Billy dropping a handful of shells.
  • Meaningful Echo: Two seemingly casual lines return with a vengeance:
    • "Never holster an empty gun." The first time this is given as a piece of gunslinger advice from Cain to The Gunfighter Wannabe Billy as Billy is bragging about what a badass gunslinger he would have been. The second time outlaw Luke Santee says to Billy after Billy has beaten him to the draw only to discover that his pistol is empty because he didn't reload it after murdering Ruffalo. It seems Billy never listens. Luke guns him down.
    • "That's the cost of one life, not twelve!" First said by Cassidy in sour grapes mode when he doesn't think Cain should have been let out of prison even after serving 18 years. The second time occurs after Cain is gunned down by Karma. A hysterical Monica asks him why he had down that, when Cain had paid for his crimes by spending 18 years in prison. Karma coldly replies with this line and then rides off.
  • Meaningful Name: The protagonist Cain is steeped in blood that he can never wash away, no matter how hard he tries. His dogged pursuer is named Karma, and Cain cannot escape, no matter how far or long he runs. Eventually Karma strikes him down without warning or mercy, only explaining afterward that this was payback for the murders Cain had committed in his previous life.
  • Medicine Show: Showman Mark Ruffalo runs a variant, in that he doesn't hawk any medicines, but runs the Shooting Shoe & Death Display: essentially a miniature wild west show with marksmanship and trick shooting displays and a exhibit of items of dubious provenance purporting to be connected with the deaths of various famous denizens of The Wild West.
  • Name of Cain: The protagonist is named Cain. Just Cain. A gunslinger released from prison after 18 years, Cain is trying to go straight but finding it hard as people cannot see him as anything more than a brutal killer. Not helped by people continually referring to him by his old nickname: "Killer" Cain.
  • Only One Name: Cain. People sometimes refer to him by his old nickname of "Killer" Cain, although he does not like this. When he first meets Monica, he gives his name as 'just Cain'. He then clarifies that he means 'only Cain', and not that his name is 'Just Cain'.
  • Percussive Prevention: Cain stops Wes from joining the escape attempt, and probably getting killed, by punching him hard in the stomach and knocking him out.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: The Gunfighter Wannabe Billy Valance demands to know why he is being paid less to perform in the shooting show than Cain, especially as he is the better shot. His boss Mark Ruffalo curtly explains that he is just a kid who is a good shot, while Cain is the real deal, a veteran gunslinger who has killed men, and people will always pay more to see a killer. Unfortunately, this pushes the already unstable Billy over the edge.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The entire movie focuses on a guy known as "Killer" Cain trying to settle down with an honest living after spending 18 years in jail for a string of murders he committed prior to the movie. Being an ex-criminal, it's hard for him to find work. The only job he can keep is one at a shooting show. However there, he has to put up with an insolent young co-worker of his. To make things worse, he's made plenty of enemies in the past. By the end of the movie, he not only gets the ranch he wants, but he gets to marry the woman he loves in a classic Western movie fashion. But then one of his old enemies (apparently the guy's father was one of Cain's victims) shows up and guns him down.
  • Soft Glass: Cain crash tackles Luke Santee out through a plate glass window, with neither of them suffering a scratch. An odd application of this trope in a movie that otherwise does not shy away from showing the brutality of combat.
  • Super Window Jump: After catching up with Luke Santee in the Ghost Town (just after Santee has killed Billy), Cain crash tackles him through a plate glass window and the pair of them crash out into the street.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: When Cain finally has enough of Billy's whining, threats and generally being a Jerkass, he declares that from now own Billy will address him as 'Mr. Cain'.
  • Throwaway Guns: During the prison break at the start of the film, one of the gang members empties his revolver at the prison guards, and then casually tosses it aside as he draws another.
  • Twilight of the Old West: A major theme of the film is how much the West has changed in the 18 years Cain has been in prison. Cain is stunned the first time he sees a bicycle and a telephone, and Ruffalo says that men no longer wear guns unless they're traveling.
  • Undertaker: A typical Western undertaker is forced at gunpoint to aid the Santee gang in their attempt at Breaking Out the Boss.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Billy suffers one when he fails to goad Cain and Cassidy into killing each other in a gunfight: slumping on the ground and all but weeping. This is the first solid indication that Billy is not just immature and arrogant, but actually mentally ill.


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