The Donna Pass

As the holidays encroach upon us, we 3-D fans have an extra reason to rejoice, via the recent stereoscopic release of Raoul Walsh’s 1953 western classic GUN FURY, now available in a limited-edition Blu-Ray from the galoots at Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries.

What makes GUN FURY a key 3-D item is not only the high-octane cast (of then one-rung-short-of-major-stardom players Rock Hudson and Donna Reed), but the behind-the-scenes frame-composing and depth-defying talents of auteur director Raoul Walsh (in his only 3-D outing).

GUN FURY flat is a serviceable, action-packed oater with some stinging dialog and typical Walsh double-entendre lust (both versions are included).  In 3-D, it’s a prime late work – all the more remarkable, as the director (like fellow 3-D master Andre DeToth) had only one eye (losing a peeper during the In Old Arizona shoot in 1928), and could never see the amazing in-your-face effects of his labors.  Yet, he gets it right (and left), doing things with objects, foreground and background, that had (at the time) never before been attempted.  And boy, does it work!  The framing shots of the spooky, arid Arizona landscapes are a given (but even more so with cactus and tumbleweeds doing double duty, creating a visual three-dimensional sandwich tableau); however, Walsh peaks the process with tracking camera shots of stagecoach drivers cracking their whip at the camera – which he then TOPS by doing a reverse angle of the coach team of horses galloping into the lenses (and, seemingly, toward viewers).  Later POV shots of a steep incline trail are sure to give you that This is Cinerama rollercoaster feeling.  And, for good measure, Walsh tosses furniture, arrows, and rocks (but not Rock) at you as well.

The plot of GUN FURY, as intimated above, is pure Walsh.  Scripted by Roy Huggins (later TV icon of Maverick, The Fugitive, Baretta, and The Rockford Files fame) and (of all people) Irving Wallace, (author of The Chapman Report, The Prize, The Word, The Man and scores of other 1960s bestsellers), the narrative is based upon a gritty novel by the Grangers (Kathleen, George and Robert) with the amazing title Ten Against Caesar (in this movie, it’s three, then four, like the dimensions plus one, so I imagine the book was envisioned on a grander scale).  Here goes:  the Arizona territory is being ravaged by post-Civil War renegades (translation: psychopaths) led by the notorious Confederate officer Frank Slayton (a dashing and dangerously charming Phil Carey).  His band of ex-Rebs strongly adhere to a take-no-prisoners policy a la Quantrill, but there’s an additional kink to Slayton’s raids.  Frank, you see, is a sexual predator, who can’t complete an offense without raping (and often killing) some poor unfortunate female.  On the plus side, he’s an equal opportunity scumbag, and his victims comprise a veritable rainbow coalition of abused women.  This is most alarming to his capo, Jess Burgess (Leo Gordon), who increasing tries to curb his leader’s dementia prey-cocks – and eventually is staked in the blistering Sedona heat to die for his trouble.

When (uh-oh) gorgeous Caucasian Jennifer Ballard (Reed) happens upon their stage en route to meet her peacenik rancher fiancé Ben Warren (Hudson), Carey’s chest starts to heave before she even gets a chance to cross her legs.  Regardless of the plans for their next and biggest heist, Slayton has already decided to kill Warren and ravage Jennifer.

This seems to work in his favor, except that Ben isn’t killed, and stumbles across a barely-breathing Jess, whom he nurses back to health.  They are later joined by Johash (Pat Hogan), a disgruntled Native American, out to likewise terminate Slayton, due to the rapist having defiled and murdered the brave’s sister.

Meanwhile, Frank enters his secret safe haven, where he is greeted by his love slave Estella (the hot and feisty Roberta Haynes); Slayton had previously taken the senorita (in every sense of the word) and was pleasantly shocked to discover that she liked it.  Soon, Haynes realizes that she’s now been relegated to pre-Reed warm-up girl appetizer and rebels against the rebel.  His solution:  exterminate her.  In one of the movie’s Walsh-iest scenes, Carey instructs henchman Lee Marvin (with the WTF moniker of “Blinky,” the name usually reserved for characters played by Phil Silvers) to open fire upon the vengeful, sweaty Haynes, who is following the gang on an equally frothing mount.  “You want me to shoot her or the horse, or what?” inquires a perplexed Blinky.  “Suit yourself,” sneers slimeball Slayton.

Eventually, the outlaws end up at Mel Welles Mexican whorehouse, where the “girls” are instructed to wash down a dust-covered Reed for her initiation, aka the Carey treatment.

Hudson, Gordon and Hogan do track them down, but not before a libidinous Carey has had his way with Rock’s betrothed.  The climax is chock full of guts, flying fists, thundering hooves and six-shooter justice.  Which is apt, because, like we said, it’s 3-D to die for.

GUN FURY has long been on 3-D collectors’ want lists, and it was well worth the wait.  It’s every bit as great as we three dimension fans suspected it was.

The gorgeous new transfer (in the then new widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1) is stunning (popping out Lester White’s Technicolor visuals, in both its clarity and hue-and-tone resolution.  The 3-D is pert’ near 100% perfect, with only slight registration problems minutely evident in some background mesas and some portraits hanging in a boarding house way station.  In fact, it’s possibly the best-looking vintage 3-D title Twilight Time has ever put out.  The extras are sparse, but worth a mention.  The usual TT IST is an option, but why one would want to have that Mischa Bakaleinikoff/Arthur Morton Columbia stock music as a separate keepsake is a riddle for the sands (that said, one strain of a guitar theme for the lovers is quite nice, and, I suspect might be the uncredited efforts of George Duning, who was coming into his own as a composer for the Harry Cohn company).

What’s really cool is the original theatrical trailer, also in 3-D, with the hysterical hyperbole narration concerning rising star Reed (“surpassing her role in From Here to Eternity!”).  The performances in general are raw and natural.  Hudson’s perennially pained expressions are perfect for his character, and, sadly, had little to do with acting.  He felt ill during most of the shoot, finally collapsing on the last day of production with acute appendicitis.  Carey and Gordon are just swell, as are thug cohorts Marvin (in one of his THREE 3-D appearances) and Neville Brand.  Hudson, by the way, had been a Walsh discovery; the director caught sight of the good-looking extra in his 1948 military drama Fighter Squadron.  He put the eager 23-year-old under personal contract, an amiable working partnership that lasted into the early 1960s.  After GUN FURY (and a stay in the hospital) Hudson returned to his home studio, Universal-International, to begin work on his second and final 3-D movie, the vastly underrated Taza, Son of Cochise, directed by (wait for it) Douglas Sirk!

GUN FURY is one of my favorite Blu-Rays of the year, a claim that, no doubt, will be heartily “HEAR, HEAR!”-ed (or “SEE, SEE”) by any 3-D buffs within your local vicinity (Can DeToth’s Randolph Scott 3-D Columbia hit The Stranger Wore a Gun be in the works?  Me hopes so).

GUN FURY.  Color.  Widescreen [1.85:1; 3-D and regular 2-D versions; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA.  Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries; CAT# TWILIGHT295-BR. SRP: $29.95.

Limited Edition of 3000.  Available through Screen Archives Entertainment [www.screenarchives.com] and Twilight Time [www.twilighttimemovies.com].

gunfury_COVER

 

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