Hunter on the Gunman's Walk
If you are new to the western genre and just got use to the fact that many 50s westerns were little more than quickly produced tales because the public love a hero on a horse I urge you to watch "Gunman's Walk". It may not look like the most spectacular of westerns and the storyline of two rival brothers doesn't do it justice because in reality this is less to do with rival brothers than one brother who is tired of living in the shadow of their father. And it is a stunning performance from Tab Hunter as the angry brother whose constant battle to be the best and better than everyone especially his father is what makes it so good, seething, jealous, and frustrated this is a character who you feel the hatred lying inside. That isn't to say the rest of the movie and performance are poor, far from it but Tab Hunter embodies everything about a son tired of living in his father's shadow.
Ed (Tab Hunter - The Burning Hills) and Davy Hackett (James Darren) are brothers who have been raised to be cowboys by their father Lee Hackett (Van Heflin - Shane) who having established himself in the days where gun law ruled raised them in the same way. But for Ed that is a problem as Lee is a larger than life character who everyone knows and respects meaning that he is always in his father's shadow no matter how hard he tries to prove himself. Totally opposite is Davy who is much gentler and has feelings for Clee (Kathryn Grant - Anatomy of a Murder), a half breed. When Ed kills Clee's brother whilst rounding up horses things explode as Ed becomes more determined than ever to eclipse his father.
Now when "Gunman's Walk" starts it does not bode well because the opening music and song mixes in with Ed and Brother Davy on their horses with one of them whistling the tune. It is a touch corny and it does initially feel like just another western. But then we get to understand something very quickly and that is Ed acting the big I am, a total alpha male who hates being beaten. And after we quickly learn this as he tries to chat up Clee in a very dominant way it is compounded to how he acts around his father back at the ranch, seething at being rebuked by his father and trying to outshine him when it comes to gun skills.
It is very much Ed's character who remains the focus of the story as an incident whilst out rounding up horses leads to trouble in the town of Jackson and leads to Ed once again feeling like he is in the shadow of his father unable to eclipse him. I won't go into detail other than to say that whilst his father Lee is protective of Ed because he acts more like him than his youngest son Davy, Lee does learn that the anger in Ed is dangerous. But there are other stories which interweave with this because there is Davy, being of a more gentle nature being a bit of a disappointment to his father especially when Davy announces he plans to marry Clee a half-breed. These sub stories which also include murder, treachery and purgery combine to create a nice story which is fascinating because of the way Ed becomes increasingly dangerous and conceited.
In fairness the storyline is not the only good thing about "Gunman's Walk" and director Phil Karlson delivers a very good western. There is a really wonderful pace to the movie which never once feels like it is jarring with itself. And he creates a real sense of tension as Ed's anger builds with a great scene in the saloon when he is confronted first by the Sheriff and then Lee.
But whilst "Gunman's Walk" features good performances from Van Heflin and James Darren as Lee and Davy Hackett as well as Kathryn Grant who makes a change from Natalie Wood when it comes to playing half breed Clee it is Tab Hunter who delivers the most impact. Right from the start you can sense that Ed is a young man who constantly feels like he has to prove himself the best and when his father talks down to him you can sense that anger building up in him. And you watch Hunter lift the intensity of this as he becomes increasingly angry and dangerous but cold with it which makes the saloon face off such a marvellous scene.
What this all boils down to is that "Gunman's Walk" may have the initial look of being just another 50s western but it isn't. It is a decent storyline directed by someone who was trying to make a good movie rather than knock one out and feature a great performance from Tab Hunter which is full of intensity making it a 50s western which deserves to be better known.