Death of a Gunfighter : In the turn-of-the century Texas town of Cottownwood Springs, marshal Frank Patch is an old-style lawman in a town determined to become modern. When he kills drunken Luke Mills in self-defense, the town leaders decide it’s time for a change. They ask for Patch’s resignation, but he refuses on the basis that the town on hiring him had promised him the job for as long as he wanted it. Afraid for the town’s future and even more afraid of the fact that Marshal Patch knows all the town’s dark secrets, the city fathers decide that old-style violence is the only way to rid themselves of the unwanted lawman.
How many times have I seen films on television which have astounded me with their depth and profundity and whose titles I have never heard before? Or which never come up in discussions of the classics? Death of a Gunfighter was one such movie. (The Devil’s Doorway from 1950 with Robert Taylor is another.) Gazineo from Brasilia rightly compared DoaG with the Shootist (John Wayne) as portraying the passing of the frontier into more modern political structures. Especially the sharply etched scenes in the town council showing all the ethnics (Cathoic priest, Jewish merchant) being led around by the nose by the progressive Episcopalian (or whatever denomination he’s supposed to be.) But there’s one movie nobody has compared this film to: High Noon (Gary Cooper). DoaG is like a “High Noon noir.” In High Noon the hero manages to conquer his enemies entirely on his own despite being deserted by the Establishment. But in DoaG the members of the whole establishment are the enemies and the hero does not manage to conquer them; on the contrary they get their own way most gruesomely in the end. This is somewhat of a unique plot in the history of westerns. Beautiful music by Oliver Nelson (1932-1975). What a loss to the movies! Imagine Carroll O’Connor in a pre-Archie Bunker role. That’s a rarity in itself! When classic westerns are discussed DoaG must be included..