Forty Guns (1957)

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Released 13-Apr-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Anna Karenina, Pickup On South Street, The Call Of The Wild
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1957
Running Time 76:47 (Case: 79)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Samuel Fuller

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Barbara Stanwyck
Barry Sullivan
Dean Jagger
John Ericson
Gene Barry
Robert Dix
Jidge Carroll
Paul Dubov
Gerald Milton
Ziva Rodann
Hank Worden
Neyle Morrow
Chuck Roberson
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Harry Sukman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Griff Bonell (Barry Sullivan) is a US Marshal sent to Arizona with his brothers Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix) to arrest a man named Swain. Swain works for Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), a local cattle queen who dresses flamboyantly in black and rides with forty men (the forty guns of the title).

    Griff arrives in town to discover that the nearly blind marshal Chisum (Hank Worden) has been threatened by Jessica's brother Brocky (John Ericson) to get out of town or else. Well, he doesn't, and Brocky shoots Chisum, which results in Chisum becoming blind. Then Brocky and his gang proceed to shoot up the town before Griff is stirred into action, disarming Brocky without a shot being fired. Brocky is locked up, but not for long, as Jessica uses her influence to get Brocky out of gaol.

    Griff goes out to the Drummond ranch to serve a writ on Swain and takes him to be locked up in the gaol. Sheriff Logan (Dean Jagger) is in cahoots with the Drummond clan, and Swain is mysteriously shot in the back. But worse is to come on Wes' wedding day.

    The plot sounds like a standard Western melodrama, but this film from cult director Sam Fuller is quite unlike most period pieces of the 1950s. The drama is played out with considerable intensity, but at the same time there is a lot going on. There seems to be a subtext about male potency when confronted with a strong female. Griff hasn't killed a man in ten years, as if he was impotent, but Jessica gets his trigger finger itchy. When she says to him "can I feel it?", one is not sure whether she is referring to his gun. Especially when his reply is "careful, it might go off in your face". As one of the songs in the film says, "she's a high riding woman... with a whip". And forty guns, or should that be "forty studs"? One character says of Griff: "there's only one man who walks like that".

    The sexual subtext is not limited to Griff and Jessica. Wes falls for the gunsmith's daughter Louvenia (Eve Brent), about whom he says "I'd like to clean her rifle". The lust they have for each other is palpable, and later he looks at her through a gun barrel, much like the opening sequence in any James Bond movie. I think the symbolism here was intended. As was that in the wedding scene, with their love consummated in death.

    Filmed in Cinemascope, Forty Guns shows that Fuller knew how to make full use of the wider screen. Some of the best examples are the first appearance of Jessica, riding at the head of her forty thieves across a hillside, and the dining room scene at the Drummond ranch, with the dining table filling the entire width of the screen. Throughout the use of the larger screen is exemplary, showing that directors and cinematographers adapted quickly after a shaky start to the demands of the new configuration. The scene in which Griff first confronts Brocky is masterfully edited.

    The performances are all fine, though at 50 Stanwyck seems a little old for the role. Attempts to use lighting to make her look younger are mainly unsuccessful. Ericson is good as Brocky, a juvenile delinquent type, but Dean Jagger, slightly miscast, is a little too mannered as the conniving sheriff.

    What is enjoyable about this kind of film is that it is much like Douglas Sirk's Technicolor melodramas of the same era. You can sense that within the constraints of 1950s censorship and conventions that Fuller is trying to pack as much subversive material as possible into the narrative without going to excess. This gives the film an intensity that many Westerns, indeed many films, of the era lacked. Well worth seeking out, even if only for a rental.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in the original Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. It is in glorious black and white.

    An excellent but not quite perfect transfer. The transfer is quite sharp, with a lot of detail visible. The video is bright and contrast levels are very good, with blacks and whites well rendered and a fine grey scale in evidence. Shadow detail is not quite so good, with not much detail in shadows or dark objects.

    Aliasing is visible in quite a few scenes, for example at 9:59. Any straight edges other than those which are exactly horizontal seem to shimmer to some degree when the camera moves. There is sometimes a slightly jagged appearance to edges. Moiré is also visible at 11:48.

    Film artefacts are few, with tiny white flecks appearing regularly.

    No subtitles are provided. The disc is a single layered one, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

    This is a good mono track. There is no hiss or distortion, with the audio clear and dialogue distinct throughout. Effects and music are well conveyed.

    Music is by Harry Sukman, not especially distinctive but there are two songs: High Ridin' Woman and God Has His Arms Around Me, the latter by Victor Young.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    The main menu is displayed while the hoofbeats of forty gun-packin' riders can be heard.

Theatrical Trailer (2:07)

    A trailer that is even more dramatic than the film, and is also 16x9 enhanced.

Trailer-Anna Karenina, Pickup On South Street, The Call Of The Wild, Topper (12:07)

    Trailers for other Umbrella releases. A couple of these are not really trailers, but are just the opening titles plus a short excerpt from the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The US Region 1 disc is not released until 24 May 2005, and at the time of writing there are no pre-release reviews available, but it appears to be as bare-bones as the Region 4 in terms of extras.

    The UK Region 2 release seems to be the source of the Region 4, though it does not include the trailer. Despite conflicting information on, this is a 16x9 enhanced transfer.

    The German Region 2 release has the theatrical trailer and an alternative German soundtrack.

    The Region 2 release in France has the best extras of the lot. A making of documentary, an analysis of the film and a featurette about the director comprise about an hour of extra features. Unfortunately these are all in French and there are no English subtitles. It is also reported that initial pressings of this disc had forced French subtitles.

    At this stage there is no reason not to choose the Region 4, unless you speak French.


    Not the greatest Western ever made, this is still very enjoyable, something of a precursor to the Leone epics of the 1960s and quite subversive of the genre.

    The transfer quality is excellent and unlikely to be improved upon in the foreseeable future.

    Not much in the way of extras, sadly.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, May 23, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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Rewind info corrected. -