The Fastest Gun Alive–to put it mildly and politely–is a turkey. I thought, given Glenn Ford in the lead, it was going to be at least a decent Western… but it’s not. Ford’s great (more on him later), but the script is atrocious. It’s rare to see a script so fail its cast; to the point there’s nothing they can do except ride the tide until it’s over. Russell Rouse isn’t much of a director either. He had a couple okay shots, but he seems far bettered suited for television. He doesn’t bring any personality to the visuals. As a director of actors, he’s a disaster. He can’t figure out how to shoot Jeanne Crain’s concerned wife shots and the performance Broderick Crawford gives is awful from the start. Only at the end, when Crawford gets to tread water for a while, is he all right. At the beginning, not even in speaking scenes, he’s terrible.
The script’s a silly revision on High Noon, an idiotic examination of cowardice. The Fastest Gun Alive does have some interesting elements, but they’re unrecognized. Ford’s character isn’t presented as a coward until after a big revelation scene, so before it, he just comes off as a weak-willed man who succumbs to peer pressure. Ford and Crain play these scenes beautifully–going through the film with those assumptions about Ford almost make him the villain, as he abandons pregnant Crain for his fellow men’s image of him. Then there’s Crawford’s character, who–we learn in the last act–is a villain (a fast-drawing villain, of course) simply because his wife left him for a Faro dealer. He’s overcompensating. Unfortunately, this detail is revealed after Crawford’s palled around with a kid, which added some depth to the character. The revelation just explains it.
But Rouse and co-writer Frank D. Gilroy aren’t interested in subtlety or rewarding a participating viewer. They’ve got a generic western and they follow it. The wheel ruts going through the town become a metaphor for the entire picture.
There is some further atrociousness, however. Not satisfied with a seventy-two minute picture, Rouse puts poor Russ Tamblyn on display for an involved, acrobatic dance sequence. It’s amazing what Tamblyn could do, he was a flexible guy, but it not only doesn’t further the story, it degrades Tamblyn. Besides that sequence, he doesn’t have a character. He’s around occasionally, but all as an excuse for a three or four minute dance routine. He’s good in the three or four unrelated deliveries he has. I hope he got paid well for it.
Rouse pads in other places too… introducing useless supporting characters and contrived relationships. Even with all the dressing, The Fastest Gun Alive is anorexic. The most interesting possibilities–like why Crain stuck with Ford for so long or how she got together with him in the first place–are never discussed, because it might reveal the big revelation too early.
There’s a brief moment, in the last scene, when the film could overcome all its defects and really be something, really put forth an idea, really make a statement about violence and the way people interact with each other, the responsibilities of community.