LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL, 1959
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Carolyn Jones, Earl Holliman, Brian G. Hutton
A marshal tries to bring the son of an old friend, an autocratic cattle baron, to justice for the rape and murder of his wife.
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One of the most underrated westerns but certainly one of the best, The Last Train from Gun Hill is a captivating, compelling and gripping story of a man looking not for revenge, despite the horror that destroyed his wife, but justice. Kirk Douglas is at the top of his game in a performance that calls for subtly, but with enough power in his determination to see the job done without going overboard in ridiculous or unbelievable.
An Indian wife of a respected Marshal Matt Mason (Douglas) is raped and murdered in front of her son. Vengeful, but seeking justice, Mason heads out to locate the men responsible for the death of his wife. His travels lead him to an old friend, Craig Belden (Quinn), who sympathizes with Mason offering help. But when he realizes that the person responsible received a cut during the initial rape, Craig discovers that his son, Rick (Holliman), is the culprit.
Mason asks for Craig to give up his son so that he can face trial and be held accountable for his actions. But Craig refuses, knowing that his son would be hanged if convicted. Both Douglas and Quinn are excellent as two friends not looking to harm or end their friendship, but are opposite sides of the law for personal reasons.
Craig understands and knows Mason deserves justice, but he can’t give up his son even despite the truth about what kind of a person Rick really is. He’s a sociopathic coward who lacks honor and has a low degrading opinion of women, particularly Indian women who he refers to as “just an Indian squaw.”
But that doesn’t matter. Blood runs deeper than friendship, and Craig refuses to give up his only son. Craig warns Rick and his partner-in-crime Lee Smithers (Hutton) to lay low, however Matt manages to apprehend the arrogant cowboy. Holed up in a hotel room, Matt must fight off the ambush attempts of Craig and his gang until the 9:00pm train home arrives.
The film is not huge on the gun battles, although as soon as Mason and Rick reach the hotel a few skirmishes break out. However for the portion of the film, Sturges relies on tension and drama to pervade the film rather than nonsensical gun battles for sake of entertainment.
We watch both Douglas and Quinn agonize over their dire situation, in particular Quinn who tries to reason with Douglas by pleading with him to leave his son and walk out of the hotel. He has no intention of killing or even harming Douglas, he just wants his son back. But Douglas is adamant about taking Rick to trial.
The film does have its flaws. Carolyn Jones is seemingly underused as the vengeful girl who wants to see the town slip a little out of Craig Belden's control. But she never fully develops as a love interest. However, that’s a minor quibble and the film itself is truly a classic that embraces the western genre, not by producing the clichéd battles and one note villains seen in the typical western, but rather, Sturges brings out engaging performances in Douglas and Quinn to create sterling western film.