Samuel Fuller what a life, started out as a newsboy, fought in WWII and become one of the most idiosyncratic directors of the Hollywood studio system but also a pioneer of independent filmmaking simultaneously. He mostly known for his film noirs and war films but he also made an undeniable mark on Westerns despite only making 4 in his lifetime. Masters of Cinema has released his best and possibly most influential Forty Guns which stars Barbara Stanwyck and the barely remembered Barry Sullivan.
Forty Guns follows a pretty standard western plot, Barry Sullivan plays a Roman à clef of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp named Griff Bonnell. He arrives in Tombstone with his brothers to arrest Howard Swain but the land is run by the hard riding woman with a whip Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck). Griff becomes romantically involved with Jessica much to the anger of her brother Brockie who she lets terrorise the town.
The use of gender is the film is fascinating, Stanwyck had played strong western woman in films before but it doesn’t have the campiness of something like Joan Crawford in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar and only really Stanwyck had this niece in the classic era of westerns. She is badass woman outlaw and even the somewhat sentimental ending doesn’t make her lose her fierce nature. However Fuller is more interested in the non-violent ex-outlaw turned lawman Griff who is trying to not resort to violence, he makes it known he hasn’t killed for 10 years.
Much has been made of the shot of the blacksmith who Griff’s brother falls in love with and how Godard did an homage to it in his classic film À bout de souffle. However it can be traced to have sparkled the iconic opening of each film starring a certain 007. It also includes an extraordinary tracking shot which was the longest ever shot on the Fox lot, Fuller would make expert use of tracking shots throughout his career.
Forty Guns bridges the gap between the classic westerns of John Ford and the revisionist westerns of Sam Peckinpah (who used Barry Sullivan in one of his films) and the Spaghetti westerns that radically changed how violence was depicted in Westerns. It might not have the shocking homoeroticism of Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James but it’s one of the most inventive films to come out of the Studio system of westerns and one of the crowning achievements of Fuller’s filmography which has so many jewels.
The disc includes a lecture by Sam Fuller which Masters of Cinema has used a commentary track. The disc includes an interview with film critic Jean-Louis Leutrat and the trailer. The transfer is a new HD transfer and the film has never looked better and of course it has a lengthly booklet with writings on the films.