Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ride, Obvious Plot Points and Moldy Old Script, Ride!: "The Gunfighters" (1987)

This lame 1987 Canadian made for television western is one of the most predictable films I have ever seen.

Brothers Cole (Art Hindle) and Matt Everett (Anthony Addabbo) and their cousin Dutch (Reiner Schone) run a small Kansas ranch. The local town is run by Deke Turner (George Kennedy), who is buying the surrounding land and causing the Everetts trouble. Matt idolizes Billy the Kid, and gets pretty good with a gun before shooting one of Turner's men in self defense. Matt goes on the run, as Turner puts the squeeze on Cole and Dutch.

Matt is eventually captured (rendering about twenty minutes of this film pointless), and Cole and Dutch rescue him and another criminal, Jake (Howard Kruschke), from a train (and a certain hanging if they were to return). Turner's men dress like savage Indians and burn the Everett's ranch down, and the family joins Jake's gang, robbing any trains or stagecoaches carrying Turner's money, and politely not killing anyone. The trio sign on for one more job, which goes horribly wrong, and are saddled with a pregnant woman, and a newly hired Pinkerton detective hot on their trail.

Seriously? A ruthless tyrant running an entire frontier town? Villains dressing like Indians? One more holdup before the protagonists retire? Really? Writer Jim Byrnes trots out all the cliches, desperately trying to make them new and different. I left out the dangling subplots and finale; this was obviously a television pilot that hoped all of this unfinished business would be taken care of in subsequent episodes. The viewer is also assaulted with the worst theme song since...well, since I watched the lousy western "She Came to the Valley" yesterday. Here, the song pretty much recounts the plot, so if you come in late, you can pick up on what is happening.

Director Clay Borris does a very nice job considering the script he was handed. Dutch doesn't use a gun (of course...that's Byrnes' idea of characterization), and participates in a nicely shot bullwhip fight. Hindle, Addabbo, and Schone are all fine, delivering the expositional lines well. Kennedy appears distracted, like he's trying to figure out the exchange rate for his paycheck. The western settings look like touristy frontier villages, but Borris can stage an action scene pretty well, and he is given plenty of opportunities.

Once again, I watched this film on one of those dollar DVD's that specializes in public domain films. "The Gunfighters" isn't as bad as most of those, but I knew exactly where it was headed before the characters did. (* *) out of five stars.