LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL is a 1959 western directed by John Sturges, starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and Carolyn Jones: four good reasons to watch it. Add a Dimitri Tiomkin score. No classic, but the terse, grim revenge saga is well acted and directed, and looks good thanks to cameraman Charles B. Lang Jr., who, like Kirk and Dimitri, had collaborated with Sturges on Gunfight At The O.K. Corral.
‘Matt Morgan’ (Douglas), sheriff of a peaceful small-town, has his stable life torn open when two drunk cowboys rape & murder his Cherokee wife (played by Israeli actress Ziva Rodann in the unsettling opening scene). His young son escapes on the horse of one of the men, with a saddle Morgan recognizes as belonging to an old friend, ‘Craig Belden’ (Quinn). Belden’s worthless whelp ‘Rick’ (Earl Holliman) is one of the perpetrators. Belden is de factor ruler of Gun Hill, from where Morgan intends to take the unrepentant brutes back to justice (served via noose). Belden’s abused lover, ‘Linda’ (Jones) has to choose who she’ll side with. The rest of the town bows to Belden; the sheriff has to go it alone.
The script, written by James Poe, from a story by Lee Crutchfield meshes elements of High Noon (lone lawman, wretched town), The Bravados (revenge for a loved one), Broken Lance and The Man From Laramie (powerful rancher, weak son) and 3:10 To Yuma (hotel standoff). Some of it creaks, but numerous pieces are pretty good, with at least some of the meatier stuff coming from rewrites by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, who Douglas (executive producing) brought in behind-the-scenes to punch things up.
“The human race stinks. I’m practically an authority on that subject.”
Location shooting in Arizona (on the Empire Ranch) and well-handled studio sequences balance, Tiomkin’s score has his signature flourish, and subsidiary bad guys get names like ‘Beero’ and ‘Skag’. (think now, have you ever met anyone named ‘Beero’ or ‘Skag’?)
All the principals are solid (fave Carolyn Jones gets to deploy some neat “withering looks”) and familiar faces from the era speckle the supporting cast: Brad Dexter, Brian G. Hutton, Val Avery, Bing Russell, Walter Sande, John Anderson, Glenn Strange,William Benedict, Dabbs Greer. Ty Hardin has a bit. It did moderately well, placing 36th for the year, grossing $6,700,000. 95 minutes.
Kirk taunts Earl: “They’ll tie your arms behind you. You’ll start blubbering, kicking, yelling for help. But it won’t do you any good. They’ll drag you out in the yard, heave you up on that platform, fix that rope around your neck and leave you out there all alone with a big black hood over your eyes. You know the last sound you hear? Kind of a thump when they kick the trapdoor catch – and down you go. You’ll hit the end of that rope like a sack of potatoes, all dead weight. It’ll be white hot around your neck and your Adam’s Apple will turn to mush. You’ll fight for your breath, but you haven’t got any breath. Your brain will begin to boil. You’ll scream and holler! But nobody’ll hear you. You’ll hear it. But nobody else. Finally you’re just swingin’ there – all alone and dead.”