Last Train from Gun Hill (1959)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Western  |   Release Date - May 31, 1959 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Last Train From Gun Hill is one of John Sturges' less well regarded movies from the late '50s, for reasons that are difficult to fathom. That it should stand in the shadow of The Magnificent Seven (1960), with the latter's all-star cast and epic storyline, is understandable, but it also enjoys a less substantial reputation than Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), which is ironic since Sturges himself never thought of the latter as much more than a somewhat profitable directorial assignment. In terms of its story, Last Train From Gun Hill offers striking parallels with Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), which is usually regarded as Sturges' masterpiece. Both movies' plots unfold around acts of violence committed for racist reasons; both involve lone heroes, trapped in isolated, unfriendly towns where they've come to do a job setting some injustice right, and end up fighting for their lives; and both involve villains who, despite enjoying the support of most of the townspeople around them, end up not only losing their respective battles but inadvertently causing the death of the person closest to them. Kirk Douglas has a role that is an ideal vehicle for the intensity that he can bring to the screen, as the aggrieved town marshal looking for the two men who raped and murdered his wife. And Anthony Quinn, playing a part filled with great moral ambiguity than was customary for this era in movies (especially Westerns), is his match as the basically decent man whose biggest crime was raising a rotten, cowardly, murderous son, but who will do anything to protect that son. Earl Holliman, graduating to major roles after supporting parts in movies such as Sturges' Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, gives one of his best performances as the spoiled, sniveling coward of a son, who ultimately evokes a slight degree of pity to go with the obvious contempt that he deserves. Carolyn Jones turns in one of her always on-target performances as a fallen woman seeking to restore her dignity and independence, and Brad Dexter -- who was so strangely invisible in The Magnificent Seven -- gives one of the best performances of his career as Beero, the tough, calculating foreman of Quinn's ranch. With a suspense element similar to that of High Noon -- the clock is ticking in the viewer's consciousness from the moment that Douglas' character vows to take Holliman's Rick Belden out of town and to trial on the last train, at 9:00 p.m. -- the result is a highly suspenseful film built around a fascinating array of characters.