Gunman's Walk

Phil Karlson's typically taut Western is a tragedy of masculinity that ties one family's violent legacy to broader histories of brutality and mistrust, the cultural legacy of the West. Lee Hackett (Van Heflin) is a gunslinger turned rancher who arrived in the territory before the law did. While Lee's younger son Davy (James Darren) cares less for guns than for half-Indian Clee (Kathryn Grant), big brother Ed (Tab Hunter) is dangerously determined to do his father's mythic past one better. Karlson and scriptwriter Frank Nugent (The Searchers) establish an unrelenting atmosphere of tension and one-upmanship among the three protagonists, building to an inevitable but still shocking conclusion. Heflin delivers a moving performance as a man who doesn't quite realize what he's wrought until it's too late. The cinematography beautifully visualizes the contrast between the confines of civilization and the golden open country, where wild horses and men roam in restless motion, their freedom tinged with desperation.

Phil Karlson's 99 River Street screens tonight at 6:30 in our United Artists series.

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