A criminally neglected Western deserving far greater notoriety is Day of the Evil Gun, released on March 1, 1968 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring Glenn Ford and his former Trial co-star Arthur Kennedy. The downbeat, unusually brutal film rates among Ford’s top five best Westerns in spite of only child Peter Ford pretty much dismissing it over three scant pages in the first biography about his father, 2011’s Glenn Ford: A Life. The younger Ford revealed that much of the cast came down with a nasty case of typhus after heavy rains perpetually delayed filming in Durango, Mexico, a remote location favored by John Wayne and maverick director Sam Peckinpah.
The quintessential under-player who served the scene rather than upstaging fellow actors had comfortably settled into Westerns by this stage of his film career. Ford’s screen debut was a Western entitled Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence, distributed 29 years earlier. In the 1970s Ford would translate much of his acting duties to television movies of the week and the exciting Cade’s County, a 60-minute, 24-episode modern-day Western series on CBS that featured a desert-beaten Jeep V6 and cantankerous sidekick Edgar Buchanan.
In Day of the Evil Gun Ford plays a prodigal gunslinger who returns home after a long absence and is forced to pursue Apaches who have kidnapped his wife and kids in an homage to John Wayne’s iconic The Searchers. Interestingly, Ford goes against the traditional grain and never shoots anybody in the movie. He is an observer, relying on his wits to navigate the violent savagery around him.
Five-time Academy Award nominee Kennedy — Kirk Douglas’s Champion , a blind World War II sergeant bound and determined to recover in Bright Victory , Trial , Lana Turner’s blockbuster Peyton Place , and Frank Sinatra’s Some Came Running  — brings to life a meek rancher who abhors firearms and has feelings for Ford’s wife, basically taking care of her while Ford roamed the prairie. Kennedy is determined to follow Ford on his quest, even if he remains uninvited.
After a thrilling fistfight in a river, the duo gradually come to begrudgingly respect one another. Various interludes exemplified by the partners getting staked out to die in the sun by Indians and encountering a band of less than noble soldiers defending a fort illustrate an uneasy proclivity towards violence as Kennedy comes to savor the feeling of power exhibited whenever he kills.
The end of the movie is kinda shocking as Ford renounces violence and his past. Kennedy just can’t bear the thought of Ford returning to his family. An undercurrent of dark, dry humor permeates many scenes.
The supporting cast is excellent including genre stalwarts John Anderson, Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Jagger, plus Paul Fix, best known as Marshal Micah Torrance on The Rifleman as well as John Wayne’s early, definitely influential acting teacher. Peter Ford also confirmed that Wolf Man Lon Chaney, Jr., was supposed to be in Day of the Evil Gun but was unceremoniously sent packing after being too inebriated to remember his lines.
The desert visuals are expertly photographed, the action — particularly the fort/Apache scenes — is thrilling, the direction by Jerry Thorpe is top notch, and the script was co-penned by Charles Marquis Warren, executive producer of three epochal Western series — Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and The Virginian. Warren should have quit while he was on top as subsequent project Charro!, a spaghetti western wannabe mainly notable as one of Elvis Presley’s final roles where he was not forced to sing halfheartedly, was dead on arrival and prematurely terminated Warren’s career. Incidentally, Thorpe’s father was frequent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer director Richard Thorpe [e.g. Presley’s ultra-sleek Jailhouse Rock]. The elder Thorpe’s ultimate movie was The Last Challenge, a by-the-numbers Western ironically starring Ford, an easy on the eyes Angie Dickinson, and distributed roughly three months before Day of the Evil Gun.
Periodically airing on Encore Westerns and available on Warner Archive DVD or streaming sites like YouTube, this wordsmith heartily endorses Day of the Evil Gun. A video containing the edge-of-your-seat, expertly choreographed river fistfight between Ford and Kennedy can be accessed below.
A six-gun salute to subtle cowboy star Glenn Ford
Glenn Ford was voted Hollywood’s number one box office attraction in 1958. Twenty photos and videos reveal Ford’s…
A rose among the thorns: Faith and healing with Steve McQueen’s widow
An interview with Steve McQueen’s salt of the earth widow Barbara Minty covers Christianity, paparazzi, marriage, Santa…
A little girl’s dream: Being on the ‘Tom Horn’ film set with Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen’s widow Barbara Minty grants a scoop interview about the halcyon months she spent in Arizona during the…
Scholar Paul Talbot chronicles badass action hero Charles Bronson
“Charles Bronson had a very interesting, rough face that was slightly scary,” confesses classic cinema enthusiast Paul…
Patrick Wayne unmasks extraordinary dad’s vulnerability in exclusive birthday tribute
Born 110 years ago on May 26, 1907, smack dab in middle America — the rural central Iowa community of Winterset — Oscar…
Two-lane backup: The steadfast friendship of Harry Dean Stanton and Warren Oates
Susan Compo, author of Earthbound: David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth, is also accountable for Warren Oates: A…
Peter Fonda looks back on father’s iconic performance in Sidney Lumet’s ‘12 Angry Men’
Peter Fonda on director Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” and the unstoppable fierceness which his father Henry Fonda had…
© Jeremy Roberts, 2015, 2017. All rights reserved. To touch base, email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it.