Directed by Earl Bellamy, the 1966 western Gunpoint is the last in a series of seven genre pictures actor Audie Murphy made with producer Gordon Kay. The flicks were generally low budget and had very similar plotlines. Gunpoint is no different. It was made in less than a month and cost a song.
As westerns go, this is a pretty mediocre movie. It’s good for killing time on a Saturday afternoon as part of a sawdust marathon, but it’s not going to change the world. It features the lovely Joan Staley, Playboy magazine’s Miss November 1958, in a prominent enough role and manages to work through some of the more common western clichés without rustling up much trouble.
Murphy is Chad Lucas, the sheriff of Lodgepole in Colorado. Working with his deputy Cap Hold (Denver Pyle), he tries to stop a train from being rubbed by the nefarious Drago (Morgan Woodward). Lodgepole is going through some hard times, so the money on the train is essential. When Lucas is believed dead in the robbery, Cap prepares to take over the post. Guess what? Lucas isn’t dead.
Lucas, Cap and a posse head out to round up the money stolen by Drago and his gang. Using the best girl (Staley) of saloon owner Nate Harlan (Warren Stevens) as cover, Drago gets away into the wild country and baits the Apaches with his blonde bombshell prize. This causes all hell to break loose until Lucas and his crew get held up when they try to “borrow” horses from a trio of buffoons.
Much of Gunpoint is gloriously dated and just plain wrong. Staley’s character Uvalde is Harlan’s prized possession. He refers to her as being from his “vault.” This impression is furthered when Drago essentially dangles her like a shiny object in front of the dreaded savages, who come running all hooting and hollering for their fair-haired reward.
The Apaches are but one of many problems facing Lucas and his good old boys. The horse-hunters make for some tricky business, with Bull (Edgar Buchanan) presumably the ring-leader. The other two dolts want to see the newly-rescued Uvalde in a dress because that’s what purty womenfolk look best in. Once again, she’s the prize in this mean and wild land.
Uvalde is a trophy amongst the protagonists, too, so no worries there. She used to date Lucas before he took off for a few years after heading out for a carton of cigarettes or something. And she’s now somewhat begrudgingly with Harlan, whose money is just the right shade of green. Will she end up with the hero with two first names or will the lure of the casino keep her safely in Nate’s cupola?
Other questions abound in Gunpoint, but the main selling feature is Audie Murphy. Here’s a real hero, born to a sharecropper family in Hunt County. He forged his documents to fight in the Second World War and enlisted in the Army, earning a boatload of honours for his efforts. Following the war, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder and embarked on an acting career.
Murphy was in over 40 feature films and Gunpoint is probably right in the middle of the road. He was first drawn into the Hollywood spotlight by James Cagney, who saw him in Life magazine and knew there was something to him. Gunpoint displays that solid, square-jawed charm Murphy has, even if he is kind of drab and ordinary.
In a sense, that makes him the ideal sheriff. He seems the sort to always do the right thing, unless it involves coming back on time for a dame, and he’s incorruptible. These things matter with men like Drago and Cap around. Messing around with one of those rattlesnakes is liable to get a good old boy shot in the back – or worse.