Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"She's a high-riding woman with a whip"

Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller)

The idea of Barbara Stanwyck galloping around the prairie in a stetson, cracking a whip, is disappointingly underplayed in Forty Guns. Also the potential Freudian and feminist elements are never explored past the surface (though the two female stars are as spunky as the men are handsome, Jessica Drummond is only waiting for a man to take charge). If you want a western with Freudian subtext and lesbians in spurs & chaps then see the superb Johnny Guitar instead.
It's still good fun and camp enough to make the already short running time whiz by. Stanwyck is always never less than watchable and Barry Sullivan's rugged presence does the job it's intended. The dialogue is sparky if a little ropey "I've never kissed a gunsmith before" "I need a strong man to carry out my orders... And a weak one to take them". And the visual effects are a bit of a treat: a big close-up of Sullivan's eyes, during a shoot-out, diminishs the desired dramatic effect as it causes us to titter but it's still a thrill. As is the scene when the burgeoning lovers spy each other lovingly through the barrel of a gun! (how romantic)
But the absolute highlight here is the two songs - both of which are unexpectedly and quite spectacularly sung in character. The Woman With a Whip number is especially ripe as it's sung by one of the male leads as his mates watch on, smiling nonchalantly, as they soap themselves in their bath-tubs! The other song, sung as a funeral rite, initially startled and surprised me in it's bravado of having a man sing a love song where the object of desire is another man. Of course the 'He' of his affections had to be God [damn!] but a guy can project can't he??
All this (vaguely homoerotic) campery had me thinking... Forty Guns is probably only two songs shy of an all-out musical! Now that would have been a lot more intriguing.

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