Day of the Evil Gun (1968)
Dir: Jerry Thorpe - Cast: Glenn Ford, Arthur Kennedy, John Anderson, Dean Jagger, Harry Dean Stanton, Paul Fix, Nico Minardos, James Griffith
The spiritual father of this small but interesting movie was Charles Marquis Warren, an illustrious name in the world of the western, often described as the man who brought the western to the small screen. He created Rawhide and adapted the radio series Gunsmoke for television. He had done a few directional jobs in the fifties and Day of the Evil Gun (for which he only wrote the story and the screenplay) marked his return to the big screen. The next year he would write, direct and produce the Elvis vehicle Charro.
Lorne Warfield (Ford), an aging gunman trying to forget his violent past, is told by his neighbor, the farmer Owen Forbes (Kennedy) that his wife and two young daughters are kidnapped by the Apaches. Warfield has been away from home for a couple of years, and Forbes tells him that his wife - who thought her husband was dead - has fallen in love with him. He therefore wants to accompany Warfield on his quest, even though the latter thinks his neighbor (who has never shot a man) will only be a burden. Both characters are well-defined and far from one-dimensional, and Ford and Kennedy are very convincing as, respectively, the philosophical gunman and the sullen farmer, who gradually begins to revel in the hunt and (even more so) the killings he's forced to do. What makes their characters even more colorful, is that they're both tormented by feelings of remorse: the gunman because he could've done something, but wasn't there, the farmer because he was there, but couldn't do anything.
The premise of the quest for family members kidnapped by Indians, will no doubt remind most of us of John Ford's The Searchers, but the moody and gritty atmosphere is closer to Peckinpah's The Deadly Companions. On their perilous journey the two men encounter the son of a Spanish nobleman, down on his luck, who has founded his private empire South of the Mexican border, a community of banished and agonizing cholera victims, and a group of Confederate deserters residing in a Mormon ghost town. In fact the journey is so eventful that the finale - the two men releasing the women and subsequently facing each other in an unusual confrontation - is a bit of a let-down.
The violence is quite potent and therefore some have suggested that the movie was influenced by the spaghetti westerns that were overflowing the market, but neither the action nor the score have a distinct Italian feel.