The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) [Warner Archive Blu-ray review]

Troy watches The Fastest Gun Alive for the first time courtesy of this Warner Archive Blu-ray.
Video - 8.9
Audio - 8.8
Movie - 9.1
Special Features - 8.6

Westerns ruled the roost in 1950s Hollywood, with studios churning out movies by the dozen to meet audience demand. But not all horse operas are created equal, and many fine efforts have fallen into obscurity over the decades. One overlooked gem receiving new attention is Russell Rouse’s 1956 curio The Fastest Gun Alive, now available on Blu-ray through Warner Archive. Starring Glenn Ford and Broderick Crawford, this atypical Western defied conventions to deliver a morally complex tale far ahead of its time.

The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) [Warner Archive Blu-ray review] 18

Subverting The Western Formula

By the mid-1950s, the Western genre had settled into a comfortable but predictable formula. White hat-wearing heroes with quick-draw skills battled villainous outlaws or marauding Indians across dusty towns and prairies. Films like High Noon and Shane perfected this basic framework, cementing Western iconography in the process.

But director Russell Rouse and screenwriter Frank D. Gilroy sought to upend these well-worn tropes with The Fastest Gun Alive. Early on, the film seems like standard fare. Glenn Ford plays Jesse Dalton, son of notorious outlaw “Widowmaker” Walt Dalton. Despite trying to live peacefully, Jesse can’t escape his lightning-fast gun skills, or the challengers seeking fame by killing a Dalton. After his wife is murdered, Jesse sets out for revenge against those who wronged him.

So far, a boilerplate Western revenge tale. But Gilroy’s script holds surprises in store, subverting genre expectations at every turn. The inciting murder happens off-screen, denying easy catharsis. Vengeful widows and orphans guilt Jesse over his deadly prowess. And Jesse’s final confrontation builds not to a flashy gunfight, but an anti-climax steeped in moral reckoning. Every trope gets upended in pursuit of a thoughtful message about the cost of violence.

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Glenn Ford Against Type

Rouse’s gamble on unconventional Western storytelling depended heavily on his leading man. Glenn Ford was certainly no stranger to these films, having headlined hits like 3:10 to Yuma. But Ford built his career playing charming, light-hearted heroes — making him an unexpected choice for the haunted Jesse Dalton.

Yet Ford embraces the role’s gravitas and simmers with intensity. Dressed in black and sporting a wicked scar, his Jesse truly seems like a reformed killer denying his past. Ford handles action with customary swagger when needed. But he pivots effortlessly to Jesse’s reluctant anguish in more dramatic scenes. It’s a layered, affecting performance against Ford’s affable type.

Matching Ford scene-for-scene is Broderick Crawford as his blustery father Walt. Crawford epitomized brutish machismo in films like All The King’s Men, making him ideal as the Widowmaker. Playing grizzled outlaws clearly came naturally to Crawford, and he owns every second he’s on screen, bringing texture to a role that could have been one-note. Amidst their clashing egos, Ford and Crawford form one of the most compelling father-son pairings in any Western.

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Thoughtful Deconstruction of Western Mythology

With its two leads firing on all cylinders, The Fastest Gun Alive has freedom to deconstruct the genre from a place of authority. The film takes deadly aim at America’s romanticized obsession with vigilante justice and the cult of the gunfighter.

Walt views his own reputation as a folk hero granting him immunity, shocked when normal people reject his disruptive presence. And Jesse spends the film grappling with the human cost of skills granting him god-like power over life and death. The Fastest Gun Alive poses a provocative question in 1956: Are quick-drawing heroes truly righteous…or just killers getting by on charm?

This critical examination of Western lore remains relevant even now. Recent Westerns like The Power of the Dog and The Harder They Fall have continued to tear down tenacious John Wayne mythology. The Fastest Gun Alive was hardly the first oater to challenge orthodoxy. But its frank, psychologically-rich take on America’s gun culture was prescient for its day, providing a revisionist template still followed decades later.

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Stunning Technical Presentation

Beyond its unconventional narrative, The Fastest Gun Alive also impresses thanks to Russell Rouse’s stylish direction. Tasked with making the film on a modest budget, Rouse utilizes tight framings and moody lighting to heighten tension. His sharp eye for composition wrings maximum atmosphere out of spare sets and locations.

The film’s striking visual aesthetic dazzles anew on Blu-ray, with Warner Archive’s 4K restoration popping on all fronts. Lush grain and high detail bring craggy Western vistas to life. Depth within the 2:35:1 CinemaScope frame is exceptional, with multiple planes of focus enhancing the sense of scale and depth.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo soundtrack also impresses, with crisp dialogue and robust flavor for Max Steiner’s score. Gunshots crack with authority, and subtle environmental cues make the most of the stereo image. For catalog title without surround sound, this remaster demonstrates outstanding sonic range.

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An Overlooked Landmark Worth Remembering

Though initially overlooked upon release, The Fastest Gun Alive stands tall when revisited decades later. Russell Rouse crafted a visually arresting and thematically rich Western that interrogated America’s love affair with gunfighter mythology. Glenn Ford and Broderick Crawford also deserve kudos for embracing unconventional roles. This film proved the oater genre still held potential for evolution.

While traditional shoot-em-up Westerns faded by the 1960s, The Fastest Gun Alive pointed the way forward. Its DNA lives on through questioning latter-day Westerns, demonstrating concepts ahead of their time. Now on Blu-ray, Rouse’s film can hopefully find renewed appreciation as a landmark that defied conventions and challenged assumptions. The Fastest Gun Alive wasn’t just faster on the draw than its contemporaries – it took dead aim on the very contradictions that defined them.

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You also get some classic Tom and Jerry cartoons and a trailer for special features.

The Fastest Gun Alive is now available from the Warner Archive Collection. Purchase your own copy at MovieZyng!

Written by
Troy Anderson is the Owner/Editor-in-Chief of AndersonVision. He uses a crack team of unknown heroes to bring you the latest and greatest in Entertainment News.

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