The Stranger Wore A Gun

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A former spy moves to Arizona to join a gold robbery, but when he gets there decides that it’s not for him and tries to change his life.

ACTORS :  Randolph Scott, Claire Trevor, Joan Weldon

YEAR OF RELEASE :  1953

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The Stranger Wore A Gun Having been a spy for Quantrill’s raiders during the Civil War, Jeff Travis thinking himself a wanted man, flees to Prescott Arizona where he runs into Jules Mourret who knows of his past. He takes a job on the stage line that Mourret is trying to steal gold from. When Mourret’s men kill a friend of his he sets out to get Mourret and his men. When his plan to have another gang get Mourret fails, he has to go after them himself.

They don’t make them like this . . .

The Stranger Wore A Gun  The location shooting was done at Movie Flats off Route 395 near Lone Pine, California, and, along with a lot of faces in this film, will be familiar to experienced moviegoers. They’ve been making movies up there for years. The rocks themselves are studded with bolts and adhesions of cement left over from early productions, which date back at least to “Gunga Din.” And it’s easy to see why it was used so often in inexpensive Westerns like this. The jumbo-sized boulders seem made of stucco and the Sierra Nevadas in the background include Mt. Whitney, as colorful as a painted backdrop. The whole place looks as if nature had put it there to be used as a spectacularly realistic phony movie set.

Yes, it’s alive with history. The ghosts of a thousand extras in sombreros haunt these rugged trails, and at night when the wind moans you can hear the hoofbeats of yesteryear. Zzzzz.

Some of the ghosts must surely include Randolph Scott, who spent so much time before the cameras here in so many movies. In this one, he’s an ex-confederate who allows himself to be hired out to save a stagecoach company that ships gold to — well, never mind.

Scott is in his burnished Western middle age and rides his usual horse, a beautiful mount, a kind of rusty brown animal with a white face, white maine, and white tail. (I was momentarily tempted to call the horse a “roan” but hesitated to do so because I don’t know what the word means.) Anyway, the horse will be almost as familiar as Scott. Scott’s hat will look familiar too. So will Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin, the two outstanding heels of “Bad Day at Black Rock,” but they don’t get enough screen time. Alfonso Bedoya, Gold Hat from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” has more screen time. He can’t act, but he doesn’t have to. If you think he did curious things to the word “badges” in “Treasure,” you absolutely must hear how he wraps his speech organs around “foreigner” in this one. George MacReady is the chief villain. I prefer it when his villainy is of a slyer, more boardroom-bound sort.

The Stranger Wore A Gun  Claire Trevor is a hooker with a heart of gold. I know it’s hard to believe, but hookers come in all different varieties. Joan Weldon is pretty and was a singer rather than an actress. There is a marvelous scene in which Scott introduces his old girl friend, Trevor, to Weldon, the new young beauty he’s just met, and the two women trade the kind of insults and suspicious queries that only women know how to sling about. “It’s funny he never mentioned you to me.” And, “From the way he described you, I thought you’d be much older.” Scott, meanwhile, is standing there with this dumb smile, looking back and forth at his two friends, as if pleased that they are being so nice to one another, giving an excellent impression of a man who hasn’t the slightest idea of what’s going on between them.

Movies like this don’t crop up on TV very often and sometimes, remembering how much I enjoyed them as a child, I find myself missing them. Then sometimes they DO show up, as this one did, and I watch it out of curiosity and wind up realizing that there are a lot of things to be nostalgic about but Westerns like this aren’t among them.

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