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'The Hired Gun' Is a Disposable B-Western Shot in Cinemascope

Although The Hired Gun may be of interest for those who like its lead actors, on its own terms it's a forgettable B-picture.

The Hired Gun

Director: Ray Nazarro
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Anne Francis
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1957
US DVD release date: 2015-04-21

The Hired Gun opens with a shot of a noose hanging over a scaffold in the early morning of a dusty "one-horse town" as the voice of Ellen Beldon (Anne Francis) informs us that today, for the first time in Texas, they'll hang a woman for murder -- herself. She assures us she's innocent, and hardly are her words finished when a tall, black-suited preacher (Chuch Connors) comes to offer solace... by busting her out and racing her across the border into New Mexico.

After this moderately interesting beginning, the story settles into a routine plod, about which the best can be said is that it doesn't take more than 64 minutes. Ellen's angry father-in-law (John Litel), whose son she supposedly killed, deputizes gunslinger Gil McCord (Rory Calhoun) to force her back to Texas. By journey's end, he'll naturally seek new evidence before she's strung up. If you're wondering too hard about why Ellen's ornery brother-in-law (Vince Edwards) is so gung-ho to see her hang, perhaps you've never seen a movie.

Shot in California's Lone Pine region (without much resemblance to Texas), this unexciting affair is advertised misleadingly with "Even the tough gun-slinger wasn't safe with the blonde wanted for murder!" The poster's image plays up the very mild tease of Ellen taking off her blouse (behind a rock) before bathing; it's fair to wonder if this scene was made strictly for distortion in the poster, and if Francis was cast strictly for her fitted jeans. No matter what, it's a disposable B-western, shot gratuitously though handsomely in Cinemascope; black-and-white widescreen is its own art, though in this case I suspect color would have improved it. The film's primary appeal is for fans of Calhoun and other stars who would become better known on TV.

Calhoun was taking his career in hand, producing this item for his own Rorvic Productions (co-produced with famous agent Victor Orsatti). All three of the Rorvic westerns were directed by Ray Nazarro, who spent most of his career in B-westerns. One year after The Hired Gun, Rorvic launched Calhoun's very profitable TV series The Texan. It was the same year Connors became a star as The Rifleman. Edwards was a few years away from the medical series Ben Casey. Although Francis made this only one year after the hit Forbidden Planet, from which The Hired Gun a major comedown, she too would find her lasting fame on TV, especially as private eye Honey West.


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