|Directed by||Henry King|
|Written by||William Bowers|
|Produced by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Cinematography||Arthur C. Miller|
|Edited by||Barbara McLean|
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Color process||Black and white|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$1,950,000 (US rentals)|
The Gunfighter is a 1950 American Western film directed by Henry King and starring Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell and Karl Malden. It was written by screenwriters William Bowers and William Sellers, with an uncredited rewrite by writer and producer Nunnally Johnson, from a story by Bowers and screenwriter and director Andre DeToth. The film was the second of King's six collaborations with Peck.
It was nominated for Best Motion Picture Story for William Bowers and André de Toth during the 23rd Academy Awards.
A young, reckless cowboy named Eddie deliberately provokes an argument with the notorious gunfighter Jimmy Ringo, who is widely known as the fastest draw in the West, making him the perpetual target of every young gunslinger eager to become famous as "the man who shot Ringo". When Eddie draws his weapon, Ringo has no choice but to kill him. Eddie's three brothers seek revenge and pursue Ringo as he leaves town. Ringo ambushes and disarms them then drives off their horses. He tells them to walk back to town; instead, they follow him on foot.
In the nearby town of Cayenne, as Ringo settles into a corner of the largely deserted saloon, the barkeeper alerts Marshal Mark Strett. Strett is an old friend of Ringo's but nevertheless urges Ringo to leave, since his presence has already created a sensation and it is only a matter of time until trouble occurs. Ringo agrees to go as soon as he sees his wife, Peggy, whom he has not seen in eight years, and the son he has never met. Strett tells him Peggy has changed her surname to conceal their relationship and has no interest in seeing him.
Ringo must deal with Hunt Bromley, another young gunslinger keen to make a name for himself, and Jerry Marlowe, who mistakenly believes Ringo killed his son. A bar girl, Molly—another old friend—eventually persuades Peggy to talk to Ringo. Ringo tells her that he is now older and wiser, and wants to leave his gunfighting past behind. He intends to settle in California, where people do not know him, and he invites Peggy to come with him. She refuses but agrees to reconsider in a year's time, if he has kept his word and abandoned his past for good. Ringo meets his son at last, although he does not reveal that he is the boy's father.
Ringo's business in Cayenne is finished but he has lingered too long. The three vengeful brothers have arrived and lie in wait. Strett and his deputies intercept and apprehend them. Ringo bids farewell to Peggy and his son, but as he departs the saloon, Bromley shoots him in the back, mortally wounding him. As Ringo lies dying, he tells Strett that he wants it known that he drew on Bromley—that Bromley shot him in self-defense. Bromley protests that he does not want Ringo's help, but Ringo explains to his killer that he is doing him no favors. Bromley, he says, will soon learn as Ringo did that notoriety as a gunfighter is a curse that will follow him wherever he goes, making him an outcast and a target for the rest of his life. Strett orders Bromley out of his town, punctuating his order with a beating, which he warns is "just the beginning" of what Bromley has coming.
In death, Ringo has finally found what he sought for so long: his wife's forgiveness and reconciliation. At his funeral, as Peggy proudly reveals to the townspeople for the first time that she is Mrs. Ringo, a silhouetted, unrecognizable cowboy rides off into the sunset.
The film rights to The Gunfighter were originally purchased by Columbia Pictures, which offered the Jimmy Ringo role to John Wayne. Wayne turned it down, despite having expressed a strong desire to play the part, because of his longstanding hatred for Columbia's president, Harry Cohn. Columbia subsequently sold the rights to 20th Century Fox, where the role went to Peck. Wayne's final film, The Shootist (1976), is often compared to The Gunfighter and contains numerous plot similarities.
The script was loosely based on the purported exploits of an actual western gunfighter named Johnny Ringo, a distant cousin of the outlaw Younger family and enemy of Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers. As in the movie, Ringo sought a reconciliation with his estranged family, in California, in 1882; but unlike the film his conciliatory gestures were summarily rejected. After a ten-day alcoholic binge, he died of a gunshot wound, probably self-inflicted. Many of the circumstances and legends surrounding Johnny Ringo's life and adventures have been challenged in recent years.
The film was directed by Henry King, the second of his six collaborations with Peck. Others included the World War II film Twelve O'Clock High (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Bravados (1958) and Beloved Infidel (1959).
In the original ending, Hunt Bromley was arrested by the town marshal, but studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck was enraged at this resolution, so King and Johnson rewrote the final scene.
The western street set seen in the film was also used in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), starring Henry Fonda.
The studio hated Peck's authentic period mustache. In fact, the head of production at Fox, Spyros P. Skouras, was out of town when production began. By the time he got back, so much of the film had been shot that it was too late to order Peck to shave it off and re-shoot. After the film did not do well at the box office, Skouras ran into Peck and he reportedly said, "That mustache cost us millions".
Aside from its Oscar nomination, the film was also nominated for a WGA Award for Best Written American Western. Writing for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther noted in his June 24, 1950, review:
"The addicts of Western fiction may find themselves rubbing their eyes and sitting up fast to take notice before five minutes have gone by in Twentieth Century Fox's The Gunfighter, which came to the Roxy yesterday. For suddenly they will discover that they are not keeping company with the usual sort of hero of the commonplace Western at all. Suddenly, indeed, they will discover that they are in the exciting presence of one of the most fascinating Western heroes as ever looked down a six-shooter's barrel."
Variety's website review says "There's never a sag or off moment in the footage ...despite all the tight melodrama, the picture finds time for some leavening laughter. Gregory Peck perfectly portrays the title role, a man doomed to live out his span killing to keep from being killed. He gives it great sympathy and a type of rugged individualism that makes it real." Ronald Bergen says it "has gained in critical appreciation over the years and is now considered one of the all-time great westerns"
Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic described The Gunfighter as an 'excellent western'.
The film was nominated for Best Motion Picture Story for writers William Bowers and André de Toth during the 23rd Academy Awards. The award went to the husband and wife team of Edna Anhalt and Edward Anhalt for Panic in the Streets.
Another version of the story appeared in 1957 in the series The 20th Century Fox Hour entitled "The End of a Gun", with Richard Conte in the role of Jimmy Ringo.
Bob Dylan referenced scenes from The Gunfighter in his song "Brownsville Girl", co-written by playwright Sam Shepard. It appears on Dylan's 1986 release Knocked Out Loaded. Peck paid tribute to Dylan's words when Dylan received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997.