Ford and Kennedy become Searchers
When you watch "Day of the Evil Gun" and end up thinking it is all very familiar you wouldn't be wrong as to put it simply it is another western which works a similar theme to the classic "The Searchers". Characters may have changed and so the relationships but what you have is two men hitting the trail to try and find a wife and children who have been taken by the Apaches. And just to be a little bit more cliche these two men don't get on, they have reason to dislike and distrust each other and so whilst they have to battle what ever heads their way they also have to watch their own backs. As such it is impossible to ignore the fact that "Day of the Evil Gun" is cliche but it is entertaining if you just want to watch a western which stars Glenn Ford, Arthur Kennedy and a few other familiar faces.
Having been gone for years former gun fighter Lorn Warfield (Glenn Ford - Torpedo Run) returns to his family home to discover that not only have his wife and children been taken by Apaches but she had given up on him and was planning to marry Owen Forbes (Arthur Kennedy - Nevada Smith). Determined to find his wife and children Warfield hits the trail and whether he likes it or not Forbes was going with him. But as they try to track down the Apaches these rivals are forced to work together to deal with the various troubles that come their way.
So as already mentioned "Day of the Evil Gun" is a western which works a similar storyline to "The Searchers". You have Warfield returning home after years away to discover that his wife and children have been taken by Apaches and then you have him and Forbes hitting the trail to try and track down the Apaches and save his family. It's not an exactly a new idea and whilst the various trouble that these men find themselves in may differ with a town infected with Cholera and a run in with some other Indians it doesn't cover up that it feels like you have seen it all before.
Even the antagonistic relationship between Warfield and Forbes doesn't feel any different to what you can watch in hundreds of other westerns. And in many ways it's a lost opportunity to be original with Warfield returning home after years away as a gun fighter to learn that Forbes was about to marry his wife. It could and should have lead to a more tense relationship than what we get because it all seems a little cliche, even the ending, which is in fact the best part, is not that much of a surprise.
Now whilst all of this is all very unoriginal there are elements of originality one of which is the ambiguity over Warfield. Here we have this legendary gun fighter who has been killing people for years yet for some reason he just stops and whilst we learn that he is the son of a preacher we never get a reason for his sudden epiphany over killing. It should make him a character of intrigue and we should be drawn to the edge of our seats to see if he will revert to his old ways as trouble comes his way but it is a wasted opportunity because you get none of this, no excitement as to whether he will draw his gun again or to why he suddenly quit. The wasted opportunity also extends to the landscape with it all seemingly dull, except for one fiery sunset which magnificently silhouettes Warfield and Forbes.
And keeping up the theme of being cliche and familiar the various actions scenes, and there are a few, for the most feel run of the mill. Director Jerry Thorpe paces them all nicely and there is a decent level of violence for an old western as arrows fly through the air and often into people but there is little which feels like you haven't watched it somewhere else. Although having said that there is a scene where Warfield and Forbes find themselves staked to the baking sand in the desert and as the vultures land gives a sense of foreboding, even something a bit Hitchcock like as the congregate on the nearby rocks watching the men as they bake in the sun, waiting for them to die before they rip them apart.
Sadly where "Day of the Evil Gun" could have made up for all the familiarity is still let down by some ordinary characters. There is nothing really interesting about Warfield and Forbes despite a bit of ambiguity about their pasts and to be honest Glenn Ford and Arthur Kennedy deliver very workmanlike performances, doing the necessary but nothing more. It's a shame as it is the characters which could have made it so more interesting and ironically small parts for Dean Jagger and Harry Dean Stanton end up being the more entertaining because they are different.
What this all boils down to is that "Day of the Evil Gun" is an okay western, but it is a workmanlike western which never rises above average. The biggest issue is that it is all too familiar from the set up of the women being taken by apaches through to the antagonistic relationship between Warfield and Forbes and as such it feels like just another imitation of the brilliant "The Searchers".