A Gunfight


1h 29m 1971

Brief Synopsis

Two aging gunfighters sell tickets to their final shootout.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Western
Drama
Release Date
Jun 1971
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Harvest-Thoroughbred-Joel Productions; The Jicarilla Apache Tribe of American Indians
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New Mexico, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Synopsis

After a rattlesnake bites his horse, gunfighter-turned-prospector Abe Cross rides into a small Western town seeking help. The townspeople are immediately curious about the newcomer and when Abe goes to the bank to cash in his prospecting gold, his name quickly circulates. Having overheard that Abe is a well-known former gunfighter, young Bud Tenneray rushes home to tell his parents, Will and Nora, all about the new arrival, unaware that Will was also a gunslinger for many years. Meanwhile, at the general store, deputy marshal Tom Cater questions Abe, but when the marshal mentions Will, Abe assures him he has no interest in breaking the peace. That afternoon, Will walks to work at the Riata Palace Saloon where he is a bouncer, and saloon owner Marv Green tells him of the town's mounting excitement over the inevitable meeting between the gunfighters. Will feigns indifference, but expresses interest in any financial reward if the prospect of the meeting will bring more patrons to the Riata. When Abe arrives at the saloon, he is immediately introduced to Will and as the men shake hands the spectators burst into cheers. Over drinks, Will and Abe grow acquainted, joking that the town's continued speculation about them is so high they should sell tickets for a contest between them. Later, Abe shows interest in Jenny, a young saloon hostess, and the two spend the night together. The next day, Abe finds his horse ailing and shoots it to spare the animal further suffering. Refusing to sell the horse's carcass for meat, Abe instead leases a wagon to transport the body out of town to bury it. Will rides out after Abe and expresses envy at Abe's unfettered lifestyle, but Abe says Will is fortunate to have a family and steady job. After Will disparages his miserly salary at the saloon where he admits he is little more than a sideshow oddity, Abe confesses that before prospecting he spent a period of time doing trick shooting with a wild-west show. Will then excitedly suggests that they act on Abe's earlier jest about selling tickets to watch the two in a gunfight, pointing out that the winner would get all the money as the loser would be dead. Abe is stunned, then angered by Will's brazenness, and returns to town. Unable to afford a new horse with his remaining prospecting money, Abe looks for work around town but the general store owner, Franco Alvarez, tells him that only ranchers are hiring. When Abe admits he knows nothing about ranching, Alvarez advises him to do what he knows. Resigned, Abe spots Will walking down the street and calls out an agreement to a gunfight for money. The pair then make arrangements with Alvarez, who also works as a bullfight promoter, to stage the fight in the town's bullring on the following Sunday. Returning to his hotel room, Abe finds Jenny waiting and asks her about Will's wife, Nora. Jenny reveals that Will and Nora have been reunited for only one year after spending several years separated. Struggling to support Bud on her own, Nora spent three years working for Alvarez, prompting speculation that she had become his mistress. Meanwhile, at the Tennerays', Nora is dismayed to learn from Will of the gunfight and attempts to dissuade him. Will remarks bitterly about Alvarez's apparent enthusiasm for arranging the fight, then reflects that the money will give them the opportunity to purchase a ranch and make a new start. When Nora accuses him of actually craving a return to his gunfighting fame, Will slaps her and departs. The next day, Nora visits Alvarez to express her disappointment at his involvement with the gunfight and declares that she will not return to him in the event of Will's death. Over the next two days, wagers on the gunfight are made all over town and Abe negotiates for a new horse, to be paid off after the contest. El Paso Herald reporter Ed Fleury arrives on the afternoon stage, but Abe and Will refuse to pose for pictures or give interviews unless they are paid. Fleury agrees, and after he stages pictures with the men in the middle of town, a young cowboy confronts Will and Abe and challenges either of them to a gunfight so that he might also have a shot at the large pot of money. When Cater attempts to intervene, the young cowboy shoots him in the shoulder. As Abe helps carry the injured deputy away, Will decides to take up the young cowboy's challenge and quickly kills him as Bud watches in awe. A troubled Nora later argues with Will about leaving Bud a legacy of violence, but Will protests that gunfighting is the only thing he knows and insists he will survive and gain Bud's respect. Unknown to Will, Nora asks the recovering Cater to submit Will's name as his replacement, but that night the town counsel rejects the proposition, expressing uncertainty about Will's attitude toward the law. On the eve of the gunfight, Abe loses at gambling, but assures the winner he will be paid the next day. When Abe departs the Riata, Nora makes a feeble attempt to shoot him, but he is uninjured. Jenny rushes out to Abe and admits she is worried for him, but he tells her there is no way he can lose. The next day, the entire town, except Nora and Bud, attends the contest at the bullring. Will and Abe face each other as the stadium grows quiet and, with abrupt speed, the contest is over as Abe kills Will. The crowd is stunned and departs in silence. Abe pays off the horse and his gambling debts and invites Jenny to visit him in San Francisco, but she tells him he will never reach the city as his fame from the gunfight will provoke young gunslingers to pursue him. As Abe prepares to depart he sees Nora and Bud getting on the stage. Nora gazes at Abe, realizing that even had Will won the wager, he would not have settled down but sought new conflicts. Wearily accepting his own limited future, Abe rides out of town.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Western
Drama
Release Date
Jun 1971
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Harvest-Thoroughbred-Joel Productions; The Jicarilla Apache Tribe of American Indians
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New Mexico, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Articles

A Gunfight


By the early seventies, even the most die-hard Western fans began to grow bored with all the standard ingredients of the genre: The Good Guy, the Bad Guy, the Saloon Girl, the inevitable showdown. But in A Gunfight (1971), audiences were treated to a storyline that was decidedly different from the usual sagebrush saga. Closer in form to a three-act play than your typical Hollywood Western, A Gunfight was part Greek tragedy, part carny hustle (the surprise ending), with a dash of existential angst. It also worked quite well as a commentary on the fickle nature of celebrity.

At the opening of A Gunfight, down and out gunfighter Johnny Cash finds himself stranded in a small town when his horse dies on him. After he strikes up a quick friendship at the local saloon with Kirk Douglas, who is the town's gun-slinging "celebrity," the townspeople begin making bets on who would win if the two were to shoot it out. Since both gunmen realize they are near the end of their careers, they agree to stage a showdown, with the proceeds going to the winner. As the gunfight grows nearer, the town is brought to a fevered pitch, leading to an outcome which questions the whole concept of "winning."

In his autobiography, The Ragman's Son, Kirk Douglas recalled the making of A Gunfight: "Johnny Cash was very hot at the time. I called him up and pitched the part of the other gunfighter to him, and he agreed to do it. Jane Alexander played my wife. My son Eric made his debut playing my son in the picture, and he was quite good...One day, a horse stepped on my hand. Eric came running up. "Quick, Daddy! Bite a bullet!" But I had conflicting emotions. I didn't want Eric - or any of my sons - to become actors."

Even before production began on A Gunfight, the Hollywood trades were talking about the offbeat nature of the film, not only because of its plot but its unusual financing. The entire $2 million budget was put up by the Jacarilla Apache tribe of New Mexico, who agreed to back a bank loan for the picture. Wealthy from investments in oil, natural gas, and timber interests, the 1,800-member tribe looked to expand their financial interests into motion pictures and agreed to back the movie, reportedly due to their appreciation of Johnny Cash (who was one quarter Cherokee). The first film ever to be financed by an Indian tribe, the contract entitled the Jacarillas to a full recoupment of their investment, plus 25% of the accrued proceeds from the picture, evidence that the tribe financed A Gunfight purely for profit and not as propaganda as some people suspected.

While A Gunfight didn't qualify as a box office smash, the Jacarillas eventually got their money back and the film received mostly positive reviews. Featuring exemplary performances from Cash and Douglas, and a highly publicized twist ending, A Gunfight was called "a welcome surprise" and the "hit of the year" by some reviewers. Director Lamont Johnson, in particular, was praised for showing both the dynamics of "mob psychology" and the fickle nature of fans, without alienating audiences who might have felt they were the real villains. The only negative press was reserved for Paramount for not properly marketing the film during its summer release, a time traditionally reserved for less challenging fare.

But the film's controversial "dream sequence" ending continues to divide viewers over their interpretation of A Gunfight. Regardless of your verdict, it was the intention of screenwriter Harold Jack Bloom to "suggest that the town forced two good men into a fight neither wanted; that their need for money [and fame] made them accept their fate and that no matter which man survived, both were losers."

Producer: A. Ronald Lubin, Harold Jack Bloom
Director: Lamont Johnson
Screenplay: Harold Jack Bloom
Production Design: Tambi Larsen
Cinematography: David M. Walsh
Costume Design: Mickey Sherrard
Film Editing: Bill Mosher
Original Music: Laurence Rosenthal
Principal Cast: Kirk Douglas (Will Tenneray), Johnny Cash (Abe Cross), Jane Alexander (Nora Tenneray), Karen Black (Jenny), Keith Carradine (Cowboy), Dana Elcar (Marv Green).
C-89m.

by Bill Goodman
A Gunfight

A Gunfight

By the early seventies, even the most die-hard Western fans began to grow bored with all the standard ingredients of the genre: The Good Guy, the Bad Guy, the Saloon Girl, the inevitable showdown. But in A Gunfight (1971), audiences were treated to a storyline that was decidedly different from the usual sagebrush saga. Closer in form to a three-act play than your typical Hollywood Western, A Gunfight was part Greek tragedy, part carny hustle (the surprise ending), with a dash of existential angst. It also worked quite well as a commentary on the fickle nature of celebrity. At the opening of A Gunfight, down and out gunfighter Johnny Cash finds himself stranded in a small town when his horse dies on him. After he strikes up a quick friendship at the local saloon with Kirk Douglas, who is the town's gun-slinging "celebrity," the townspeople begin making bets on who would win if the two were to shoot it out. Since both gunmen realize they are near the end of their careers, they agree to stage a showdown, with the proceeds going to the winner. As the gunfight grows nearer, the town is brought to a fevered pitch, leading to an outcome which questions the whole concept of "winning." In his autobiography, The Ragman's Son, Kirk Douglas recalled the making of A Gunfight: "Johnny Cash was very hot at the time. I called him up and pitched the part of the other gunfighter to him, and he agreed to do it. Jane Alexander played my wife. My son Eric made his debut playing my son in the picture, and he was quite good...One day, a horse stepped on my hand. Eric came running up. "Quick, Daddy! Bite a bullet!" But I had conflicting emotions. I didn't want Eric - or any of my sons - to become actors." Even before production began on A Gunfight, the Hollywood trades were talking about the offbeat nature of the film, not only because of its plot but its unusual financing. The entire $2 million budget was put up by the Jacarilla Apache tribe of New Mexico, who agreed to back a bank loan for the picture. Wealthy from investments in oil, natural gas, and timber interests, the 1,800-member tribe looked to expand their financial interests into motion pictures and agreed to back the movie, reportedly due to their appreciation of Johnny Cash (who was one quarter Cherokee). The first film ever to be financed by an Indian tribe, the contract entitled the Jacarillas to a full recoupment of their investment, plus 25% of the accrued proceeds from the picture, evidence that the tribe financed A Gunfight purely for profit and not as propaganda as some people suspected. While A Gunfight didn't qualify as a box office smash, the Jacarillas eventually got their money back and the film received mostly positive reviews. Featuring exemplary performances from Cash and Douglas, and a highly publicized twist ending, A Gunfight was called "a welcome surprise" and the "hit of the year" by some reviewers. Director Lamont Johnson, in particular, was praised for showing both the dynamics of "mob psychology" and the fickle nature of fans, without alienating audiences who might have felt they were the real villains. The only negative press was reserved for Paramount for not properly marketing the film during its summer release, a time traditionally reserved for less challenging fare. But the film's controversial "dream sequence" ending continues to divide viewers over their interpretation of A Gunfight. Regardless of your verdict, it was the intention of screenwriter Harold Jack Bloom to "suggest that the town forced two good men into a fight neither wanted; that their need for money [and fame] made them accept their fate and that no matter which man survived, both were losers." Producer: A. Ronald Lubin, Harold Jack Bloom Director: Lamont Johnson Screenplay: Harold Jack Bloom Production Design: Tambi Larsen Cinematography: David M. Walsh Costume Design: Mickey Sherrard Film Editing: Bill Mosher Original Music: Laurence Rosenthal Principal Cast: Kirk Douglas (Will Tenneray), Johnny Cash (Abe Cross), Jane Alexander (Nora Tenneray), Karen Black (Jenny), Keith Carradine (Cowboy), Dana Elcar (Marv Green). C-89m. by Bill Goodman

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Although there is a copyright statement on the film, the film was not registered for copyright. According to a February 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item, A Gunfight was originally slated to be filmed in Spain. A March 1970 Daily Variety article announced that Ronald Lubin and Harold Jack Bloom's Harvest Productions, in conjunction with Kirk Douglas' Bryna Productions, would receive $2 million in financing from the Jicarilla Apache tribe for A Gunfight, keeping production in the United States, rather than abroad. The article indicated that the tribe had oil, natural gas and timber on its land and other diverse financial interests, and the business deal with film producers had received the approval of the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The piece stated that a European consortium of Dimitri de Grunwald and Alberto Caraco had originally offered to finance the production in Spain, and was offering $1.7 million for distribution rights in Europe. Joel Productions, which is listed onscreen, along with Harvest and Thoroughbred, was a Bryna subsidiary named after Douglas' son Joel.
       Lubin hoped to use as many Apaches as possible on the film crew, as no Native Americans appear in the film about two veteran gunfighters squaring off in the film's climax, set in a bullring. An April 1970 Daily Variety article noted that A Gunfight had been banned by the Mexican Film Bureau from Mexican territory on the "basis it would present a false image of Mexico and the Mexican people." There is no information that the production intended to shoot any part of the film in Mexico. A May 1971 Hollywood Reporter item noted that a special screening of A Gunfight would take place in Albuquerque, NM for the leaders of the Jicarilla Apache tribal leaders. A Gunfight marked the feature film debut of Eric Douglas (1958-2004), another son of Kirk Douglas, and of Keith Carradine, son of long-time character actor John Carradine. A Gunfight was shot on location in New Mexico.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1971

Released in United States 1971