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Samuel Fuller
Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger
Writing Credits:
Samuel Fuller Synopsis:
US Marshal Griff Bonell confronts powerful rancher Jessica Drummond.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English PCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 80 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/11/2018

• Feature-Length Discussion with Director Samuel Fuller
• Interview with Widow Christa Lang Fuller and Daughter Samantha Fuller
• Interview with Film Historian Imogen Sara Smith
• “A Fuller Life” Documentary
• Stills Gallery
• Booklet


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Forty Guns: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1957)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 30, 2019)

From writer/director Samuel Fuller, 1957’s Forty Guns takes us back to the Old West. Rancher Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) acts as the main ruler of her Arizona territory, largely thanks to the 40-man posse she commands.

A challenge to her authority arrives when US Marshal Griff Bonell (Barry Sullivan) comes to arrest one of these hired guns. While Jessica resists Griff’s threat to her status, she can’t help but fall for him.

That synopsis leaves the impression that Guns provides a Western heavy on soppy “chick flick” tendencies. Given that overview, one might expect the film to emphasize romance more than the average oater.

To some degree, this proves true, but Guns goes down an oddly campy path. In this film, we see the proprietor of bathhouse wander and sing sappy ballads among naked men – not exactly realistic, is it?

Sometimes we read sexual innuendo into older efforts where it doesn’t exist, but Guns ladles it out so hot and heavy that I can’t imagine many of these moments occur accidentally. In one scene, Jessica wants to handle Griff’s pistol and he warns it could go off in her face.

Call me a dirty old man if you must, but I can’t believe those involved didn’t insert these sexual allusions unknowingly. These don’t dominate the film, but we get more than enough for them to turn into something of a theme.

The movie’s mix of camp and more straightforward action doesn’t really work, as the tonal shifts create a disconnect. Guns also tends to move at a surprisingly slow pace, so we go through a good 25 percent of the tale before we even meet Jessica.

Once she appears, the romance fails to ignite, partly because Stanwyck feels wrong for her role. We constantly hear of Jessica’s stunning looks, but at the age of 50, Stanwyck looked more like Bea Arthur than some kind of beauty.

Guns does offer some fine photography as well as a few effective action scenes. However, we get too much sappy melodrama and a generally flat story, so the end result sputters.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Forty Guns appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A big Cinemascope affair, the image held up well over the last 62 years.

For the most part, sharpness seemed fine. Softness affected some wider shots, though not on a consistent basis. The majority of the flick appeared crisp and concise.

No issues with jagged edges or edge haloes materialized, and shimmering was absent. Source flaws were absent, as I saw no specks, marks or other issues.

Colors looked quite positive. The movie featured a broad palette that showed up nicely here, as the various hues demonstrated nice clarity and vivacity.

Blacks showed good depth and darkness, while shadow detail presented nice smoothness and clarity. I felt pleased with this appealing image.

Though not as impressive, the film’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack seemed satisfactory. My biggest complaint with dialogue related to a high level of awkwardly looped lines, but they remained intelligible and fairly concise.

Music was reasonably lush and full, while effects showed acceptable accuracy and lacked notable distortion. This ended up as a perfectly workable soundtrack.

While Guns lacks a traditional audio commentary, it does include a feature-length interview with director Samuel Fuller. Recorded at London’s National Film Theatre in 1969, this chat covers the film’s running time and offers Fuller’s thoughts about his career and different movies.

Fuller is what we call a “colorful character”, and this discussion keeps us with it due to sheer force of personality. Fuller’s comments tend to go down such a stream of consciousness path that it often doesn’t seem clear where he’s going – or how he got there – but the result is so blunt and entertaining that the track’s worth a listen.

Under Fuller Women, we get a 2018 interview with widow Christa Lang Fuller and daughter Samantha Fuller. A 19-minute, 42-second piece, they tell us about Samuel as well as aspects of Forty Guns.

This becomes a decent overview but not one with a ton of depth. I like the glimpses from Samuel’s personal photo library, though.

Another 2018 featurette, Woman With a Whip gives a chat with film historian Imogen Sara Smith. It goes for 34 minutes, 12 seconds and includes Smith’s thoughts about the Western genre and specifics related to Guns. Smith creates an informative and insightful overview.

From 2013, A Fuller Life delivers a one-hour, 20-minute, 24-second documentary. Created by Samantha Fuller, it melds archival elements with Samuel Fuller’s autobiography, read by notables like James Franco, Buck Henry and Mark Hamill.

“Life” uses its unusual format to cover aspects of Sam Fuller’s life, and it works in a fairly effective manner, especially because it concentrates on his early life and his experiences during World War II. Some of the narrators overact too much, but the presentation still gives us an engaging take on Fuller’s autobiography.

A Stills Gallery provides 35 frames of material. We see ads, shots from the production, and concept art. While not extensive, it becomes a good collection.

Finally, the set includes a booklet. It provides photos, credits, an essay from film scholar Lisa Dombrowski and a segment from Samuel Fuller’s autobiography. As usual, Criterion gives us a good booklet.

Too campy and silly to boast real impact, Forty Guns delivers a mediocre Western. A few scenes leap to life but too much of the film drags. The Blu-ray brings strong picture as well as positive audio and a few informative supplements. Though I don’t care much for the film, this becomes a good release from Criterion.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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