Though not a real Western fan, every once in a while I do enjoy films from this genre and then they remind me just how much I liked these films when I was younger. They really do have something and John Sturges’ "Last Train From Gun Hill" is no different, clearly marking one of the more memorable entries in the field.
It tells the story of small town Marshall Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas) who’s Indian wife is being raped and killed by two men in broad daylight with her son watching. The boy manages to escape on one of the men’s horses and the marshal immediately recognizes it as the saddle of his long-time friend, cattle baron Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn). Confused he decides to take the train to Gun Hill to visit his old friend, return the saddle and try to find out what happened. After a brief conversation with Belden, Morgan figures out that Belden is holding something back and that it was actually Belden’s own son and a friend of his who committed the crime. Not knowingly, of course, just seeing her as another disposable Indian squaw.
Determined to bring the two to justice regardless of his feelings for his friend, a battle of wills ensues between the two men that gets increasingly dramatic when Morgan manages to find and apprehend Belden’s son, only waiting for the last train of the day to leave from Gun Hill to take him to jail.
Director John Sturges, who is well-respected for his suspenseful and character-driven films, put together a wonderful Western here on the subject of racism, friendship, loyalty and respect. Never raising the admonishing finger, it makes its points nonetheless. It is very clear however that a lot of things have changed since then as Anthony Quinn’s character of Craig Belden, never even seems to ask himself how his own son could have fallen victim to such open racism – or maybe he did raise him that way? The sensibilities on the subjects in question were very different in 1959 when this film was made – and as such some issues that seemed to be acceptable then are simply out of the question today. But nonetheless, the film is not really affected by this change in social culture.
Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn are wonderful to watch, playing it tough. After recuperating from the initial loss of his wife, Douglas’ character shows a determination that borders on the fanatic. But he never loses sight of the risks he’s taking and the consequences they may have. It is a thin line he’s walking and in the hands of a less capable actor we would most definitely have seen a much more fervent, and overtly fanatic character than the oftentimes subtly underplayed Matt Morgan that Kirk Douglas delivers. Anthony Quinn is relishing in his good-guy-forced-to-be-bad role, and he is simply fun to watch whenever he enters the screen.
The movie is masterfully paced and contains plenty of suspense as the battle between the two sides heats up. The culmination is a series of tightly wrought moments that bring the drama to a satisfying conclusion. John Sturges certainly knew how to thrill movie audiences and he never fails delivering the goods, even upon repeat viewings.
Paramount Home Entertainment is presenting "Last Train From Gun Hill" in its original 1.96:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this release in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. Sadly the image has not been cleaned up and as a result the image is riddled with speckles and dust marks throughout. While the image contains a good level of definition with finely delineated details, the grain and speckles do distract from the viewing a bit. Color reproduction is solid and all the Technicolor hues and gradients are nicely represented in the transfer, giving the film the typical "classic" look of the era with lush costume designs and colors as well as natural, warm outdoor shots. A bit of edge-enhancement is evident as well, though no compression artifacts are distracting form the viewing experience.
The disc contains only the original mono audio track. The frequency response is limited and as a result audio sounds harsh at times. Especially dialog lacks the more natural bass roll-off found in remastered or newer productions, dating the film quite audibly. No hiss or pops are audible however, and apart from a bit of sibilance on occasion, no distortion stands out.
The release is absolutely bare bones without a single extra.
This is clearly an average release by today’s technical standards. It is just a movie slapped on a DVD without anyone really seeming to bother to care for it. No remastering, no transfer clean-up, no audio remix, no extras, no language tracks or subtitles other than English, well you get the drift. The disc may have a low $14.99 price point, but given that superstars like Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn play the leads in this film directed by Hollywood directing legend John Sturges, I just don’t understand Paramount’s philosophy. This is another example of a wonderful, classic movie that the respective studio just does not show any respect for. It is a shame, plain and simple, no matter how you look at it.