The Good, The Bad and The Far too Beautiful
"Gunsmoke" looks like a very stereotypical western which revolves around a landowner trying to take a rancher's land from him. And to be honest it is but the storyline and various western cliches such as a romance are all worked surprisingly well to make "Gunsmoke" a little more than average. It does have its problems most notably that all the stars are just too good looking to be believable but as it works through and embellishes a list of western cliches it moves along at a good pace, serving up a nice blend of humour and action which ultimately does what it sets out to do and that is entertain.
Having evaded capture by a group of cavalry men, hired guns Reb Kittredge (Audie Murphy - The Duel at Silver Creek) and Johnny Lake (Charles Drake) go their separate ways with Reb heading for a job working for landowner Matt Telford (Donald Randolph) who wants him to scare the Saxons of their ranch even if it means killing Dan Saxon (Paul Kelly - Springfield Rifle). But when Dan Saxon loses his ranch to Reb in a game of cards the tables are turned as the gunslinger does everything he can to keep the ranch out of the hands of Telford even when Johnny is hired to try and stop him.
"Gunsmoke" starts with what appears to be a stereotypical western storyline or at least a stereotypical one once we get pass the quick intro which establishes Reb and Johnny as friends whilst a hired hand called Curly taking a dislike to the hired gun before he's even met him. So we get lead into this storyline where on one side we have rancher Dan Saxon the last independent who is trying to keep going despite pressure from evil landowner Matt Telford who wants his land and will stop at nothing to get it, including hiring Reb to kill him. But the good thing about "Gunsmoke" is that it's not that simple because Reb ends up siding with the Saxon family, when Dan lets him win his ranch in a card game. It's a slim twist on any western where a stranger comes to town to help the under dogs but it does make it a bit more entertaining.
And to be honest whilst the movie then plays out along the lines of so many westerns as Reb and the Saxons try to keep control of their ranch and land there is some cleverness to it. The fact that Reb is a man who dislikes being bossed makes him an interesting character especially when it comes to the over confident Telford initially thinking he was going to work for him. And the sub plot about the ownership of the ranch adds another nice angle to the storyline which helps to enhance the expected romantic sub plot between Reb and Dan's attractive daughter Rita. Basically "Gunsmoke" takes a traditional western storyline and various cliches but embellishes them and works them better than so many others, not to the point that it becomes a great western but at least an entertaining one.
Now with "Gunsmoke" using such a traditional storyline it has to be said that the outcome is always going to be obvious even when Telford hires Reb's friend Johnny to try and stop him and the Saxons. You can even guess that Curly will end up swapping sides and helping Telford but it all works especially various moments of action. The initial demonstration of Reb's gun slinging ability is a snappy little scene and further gunfights and beatings are all effective. But what is a shame is that director Nathan Juran doesn't capitalize on the stunning scenery preferring to focus on the photogenic stars instead.
And that leads me to one criticism of "Gunsmoke" and Audie Murphy is just to good looking to be a notorious gun for hire, he just doesn't have that grittiness you expect but trades on being charming and basically very pretty. And it is a shame as whilst Murphy may not look like a notorious gunslinger his characterisation of a man who hates being bossed around and has a hidden cleverness about him makes him quite fascinating as is the fact that Murphy makes Reb not a trigger happy gunslinger but someone who looks for another way out first.
The same criticism of looking just too beautiful extends to the attractive Susan Cabot as love interest Rita Saxon, no matter how long they spend on the trail she still looks stunning and it's just wrong. Fortunately Paul Kelly as Dan Saxon fairs a bit better and is convincing as this rancher who has seen it all before and would rather out wit someone than fight them, although that criticism of looking to immaculate still crops up.
What this all boils down to is that "Gunsmoke" is an entertaining western which works the cliche storyline of a ruthless businessman trying to take a ranchers land quite effectively. It works because it embellishes the cliches so that they aren't so ordinary and whilst everyone ends up looking to handsome and beautiful for a storyline which sees them hit the cattle trail it moves along at a perfect pace and delivers just the right mix of action, romance and humour to make it all work and more importantly entertain.