Yellow Hunter wants to Rule
"Gun for a Coward" is just one of a number of westerns which had plenty going for it but ended up being not so much dull but forgettable. Here we have the interesting storyline of 3 brothers the elder, fatherly figure, the youngest hot headed one and then the one in the middle, labelled a coward due to an event in his past. Add to that a sticky love triangle and an overly protective mother as well as a cattle driver and there is plenty going on to make a good western which just creeps in under the 90 minute mark. But sadly whilst the storyline idea is good and so is the casting everything ends up lacking energy because there is far too much boring stuff filling in the gaps between the stories. It's because of this, the meandering moments of nothingness that "Gun for a Coward" ends up forgettable and ordinary.
After being left emotionally scarred by something which happened as a young child, Bless Keough (Jeffrey Hunter - The Searchers) would rather walk away from trouble leading many to think he is a coward. It doesn't help that his Ma treats him special and expects him to leave the family ranch and move to St. Louis with her. But Bless also has other problems to contend with as he is secretly in love with Aud Niven (Janice Rule - American Flyers), who just happens to like him but has sort of been promised to Bless's older brother Will (Fred MacMurray). And then there is Bless & Will's younger brother Hade (Dean Stockwel) whose enthusiasm and attempts to act tough cause them all problems especially when they hit the trail to drive cattle across country.
As storylines go whilst I like the one pieced together in "Gun for a Coward" it's not the most original with the various dynamics having appeared in other westerns over the years but with 3 brothers, their mother and a romance with Aud Niven there is plenty going on. We get Bless Keough who thanks to something in his past would rather walk away from a fight than get involved and we also get the element of him being special in his Ma's eye causing conflict as she expects him to go with her to live in St. Louis. But then we have the beautiful Aud Niven who has is expected to marry Bless's elder brother Will but secretly Bless and Aud are in love with each other. And then there is Hade, Bless's younger brother whose youthful enthusiasm causes many an issue as he tries to act big.
Now all of these issues basically merge as the Keough brothers set about riding cattle. Bless is made fun of by many for his perceived cowardice whilst Hade's enthusiasm to act big causes a split as does the fact Will learns about how Bless and Aud feel towards each other. And when disaster strikes it causes a divide between Will and Bless who had always been there for each other with Will standing up for his younger brother.
The trouble is that all of this is good and there is plenty of tension built from the various conflicts but what happens in between these various conflicts is quite dull. The cattle drive lacks both energy and excitement as does the brothers joshing each other before things kick off between them. Because of this all that is good about "Gun for a Coward" ends up wasted and forgettable.
Despite this issue the actual performances are solid through out with Fred MacMurray having this nice fatherly element to Will whilst Dean Stockwell's youthful enthusiasm may be a bit too enthusiastic at times at least brings his character to life. But to be honest it is Jeffrey Hunter who is the star of "Gun fro a Coward" and he is good at delivering Bless's personal conflict, his fear of trouble and anger at being branded a coward, his love of Aud but fear of upsetting Will. It's because we can feel Bless's inner turmoil that you do feel for him even when he is a bit weak.
What this all boils down to is that "Gun for a Coward" is an entertaining western with a good premice but it ends up very average because what goes on in-between all the personal turmoil is dull.