Classic Film Guide

Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) - full review!

The title of this above average Western refers to a train that Kirk Douglas's Marshal Matt Morgan must make at the end of the drama. But first, the lawman wait most of the day for the train and then face a gauntlet to get to the station with his prisoner - Earl Holliman as Rick Belden - much like Van Heflin had to with Glenn Ford in 3:10 to Yuma (1957). Whereas Ford was the big man outlaw in this other film, Holliman's character is the big man's son in this one; Anthony Quinn plays rancher Craig Belden, who owns much of Gun Hill including its sheriff (Walter Sande), the Horseshoe saloon, and Harper House hotel. The only thing Belden doesn't own in town is Linda (Carolyn Jones), who meets the Paulee Marshal while returning to Gun Hill. John Sturges (Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)) directs the action written by James Poe (Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)) from a story by Les Crutchfield.

The story begins with the rape and murder of Morgan's squaw (e.g. Indian) wife Catherine (Ziva Rodann), an incident witnessed by his preteen son Petey (Lars Henderson, uncredited). She had the misfortune of driving their carriage past a couple of half drunk ruffians, Rick and Belden ranch hand Lee Smithers (Brian Hutton), who'd decided to take advantage of her. Petey had escaped with Rick's horse to his father. After discovering his wife's half-naked dead body, Matt recognized the specialized silver studded black leather saddle on the horse, initialed CG; it was the property of an old friend that had saved his life, Craig Belden. So Matt returns the saddle to his friend in Gun Hill; Craig tells him that some horse thieves had stolen it from his son while he'd been in a Paulee saloon the previous Sunday. But when Matt tells of his wife's rape and murder and the fact that one of the perpetrators should have a cut to the bone on his face from her defensive whip, both men soon realize that Rick's story was a cover for his own guilt: Craig had seen a new cut on his son's face and Matt, knowing that Paulee bars are closed on Sundays, had noticed a change in his friend's demeanor. As a widower for the past nine years, Craig had raised Rick with a tough hand, and his son had a tough time living up to his father's reputation. In an earlier scene, father had encouraged son to fight back against another ranch hand's (Brad Dexter) insult, which Rick did so poorly. Apparently, the only people Rick can beat up on is women. In fact, Craig's girlfriend Linda was returning to Gun Hill after suffering & recovering from a beating at his son's hands.

The brave and inventive marshal is able to capture Rick despite his bodyguards but, since the sheriff won't help him, then has to hole up in the hotel all day until the 9 PM train is to arrive in order to take his prisoner back to Paulee for trial. Aided by Linda, who's naturally never liked Rick and admires the marshal's bravery and idealism despite earlier ridiculing it, Matt gets a shotgun which, along with his handcuffs, enables him to exit the now burning hotel - the fire being (unnecessarily) set by the other guilty party Lee - with Rick. This leads to two climactic showdowns, one of which is a bit too conveniently resolved while the other is as predictable as it is (unfortunately) necessary.

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