Movies

Gunman’s Walk (1958, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter)

Gunman's Walk

Gunman’s Walk is a superior western family saga starring Van Heflin. The ageing star puts in a rock-hard performance as a veteran of the Wild West who’s failed to grow up with the frontier. His determination to mould his sons Ed and Davy (Tab Hunter and James Darren) in his gun-totin’ image backfires when Ed turns into a murderous desperado.

Heflin plays rancher Lee Hackett. A product of the Wild West, he’s a hell-raisin’, injun-baiting veteran gunslinger. Times have changed, and institutionalised law and order has been implemented on the frontier, but old man Hackett is darned if his two sons Ed and Davy are going to grow up like the lily-livered local children. Unruly Ed is only too happy to follow in his father’s footsteps, thrilled by his heroic exploits. To Lee’s distress, however, Davy has acquired the pacifist sensibilities of the modern age. He’s solid, dependable and studious, qualities that endear him to beautiful Clee (Kathryn Grant), the half-Indian girl for whom both siblings have fallen.

But Pa Hackett must reconsider his parental imposition when Ed turns bad in a series of murders. With Sheriff Brill (Robert F Simon) and his assistant Will Motley (Mickey Shaughnessy) heading up a posse to track down the desperado, Lee sets out to get to his son first. Their meeting is profoundly dramatic as, rather than see his son captured and hanged, he challenges the boy to a duel himself.

Phil Karlson’s film tackles a number of issues. The central, generation drama sits alongside a sincere examination of the motivations of violence (self-doubt rather than courage) and an intriguing racial discussion. The movie’s portrayal of Indians is surprisingly sophisticated for its time, and an “example of Hollywood’s slow march to maturity” as The Daily Telegraph put it.

USA / 1958

Director: Phil Karlson
Writer: Frank S Nugent

Cast: Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Kathryn Grant, James Darren, Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert F Simon, Edward Platt, Ray Teal, Paul Birch, Michael Granger, Will Wright, Chief Blue Eagle, Bert Convy, Paul E Burns, Paul Bryar, Everett Glass, Dorothy Adams