Known primarily for his war films and crime dramas, American director Samuel Fuller also directed a quartet of westerns, the last of which being 1957’s Forty Guns. The film was part of a deal struck with 20th Century Fox after the success of Fuller’s breakout film, about the Korean War, The Steel Helmet. Wooed by the studio’s dedication to making “better movies” rather than lining their own pockets, Fuller signed a seven-picture deal.
I had put off watching Sergio Leone’s final western for many many years, believing it to be a lesser film in the director’s canon, but in fact it’s an incredibly dense and weighty affair, buoyed up by a pair of delightfully larger-than-life performances. Both Rod Steiger and James Coburn impress, not only with their Mexican and Irish accents, but in the versatility of their characters and the nuanced interplay of two reluctant partners propelled forward by their camaraderie and passion for rebellion. Beautifully shot, with an eccentric yet intoxicating Morricone score, this is definitely a film I will enjoy revisiting in the future.
Definitely has moments of laugh out loud humour throughout, but in between (and some of the gaps between laughs are agonisingly long) we are forced to watch what is simply a bad film. It’s a gratingly cliched romance, barely registers as a western save for when it wants to level jokes at the easy target that is 19th century frontier living, and lacks any excitement as an adventure. McFarlane simply isn’t cut out to be a leading man, but to his credit, he does gift his actresses – Charlize Theron and Sarah Silverman specifically – enough material to walk away with the film. Passes the time, but fans will be left wanting, while casual audiences will simply forget it the moment it’s all over.
While there’s no denying the Disney/Depp relationship went stale a long time ago and his clownish buffoonery has entirely consumed the once-great screen actor, there is still plenty to appreciate in Gore Verbinski’s beautifully realised, mean-spirited western. Quite why $250 million was pumped into it, or why anyone thought this was a suitable topic for a summer tentpole release is baffling, but William Fichtner is a gleefully malevolent villain the film features some of the very best train sequences ever committed to screen. An ill-judged mess, no doubt, but the Old West itself never looked so good.
Some of you may remember that I watched this as recently as January, in preparation for a feature I was writing for the Hong Kong Film Archive. Well, now the reason for that article has come to fruition and the HKFA has begun its season of classic westerns. The opportunity to see John Ford’s masterpiece on the big screen was a rare treat indeed and it mattered not at all that I had seen the film so recently and under such scrutiny. Not only could I now marvel the luminous cinematography on the scale it was originally intended, but to see the film with an audience (including my girlfriend who had never seen it) was a delight. Next month it will be Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, and I cannot wait.