Talk About a Talkative Western
As someone who is a western fan I have long accepted that many westerns work with a few cliches, mixing and matching to create new versions of old tales. And I have also accepted that whilst it is not impossible to make these often used cliches feel fresh movies which achieve this are few and far between.
That brings me to "Invitation to a Gunfighter" a 1964 western which amongst the cliches it uses it has Matt Weaver a civil war soldier returning to town to discover his home and land have been sold, the woman he loves has married someone else and a local businessman basically owns the town. We also have the iconic cliche of Yul Brynner playing a strong, enigmatic gunfighter although in this case hired to rid the town of the returning soldier. There is nothing wrong with any of that and in the mixing and matching of cliches we have some nice if not unexpected twists. Brynner as gunfighter Jules Gaspard d'Estaing falls for Ruth the former lover of Matt who married a one armed man called Crane out of pity and we have the half of town which is inhabited by Mexicans who like Matt and plead with Jules not to kill him.
But here is the big problem with "Invitation to a Gunfighter", in trying to put a new spin on old ideas we have one of the most loquacious westerns I have come across. There is a lot of talk, there is more talk and there is even more talk but very little action and whilst those who enjoy wordy movies might enjoy the plethora of dialogue I found it made it boring. It is a mindset thing, westerns to me were at their heart about heroics and action and so one which skimps on the action and over indulges on dialogue is not my sort of thing.
What is a pity is that because "Invitation to a Gunfighter" ends up so loquacious that it distracts from some nice underlying themes. We have the element that Ruth married Crane out of pity rather than love and on meeting the educated Jules is strangely drawn to the man who plays piano and sings in a variety of language yet murders for a living. We also have the curiosity of Jules himself, a stereotypical cool character one which played on a character already established by Brynner in other westerns but then there is this generosity to him, a sense of what is right which conflicts with his coolness making him go from being icy to almost flamboyant the next. And then we have the fact that the people of the town are basically in the pocket of Sam Brewster and have become so neutered by him that anyone could ride over them rough shod.
In the end "Invitation to a Gunfighter" fails because it is far too wordy and the only time it comes close to being interesting is when it focuses on Matt Webster played by George Segal. At least Segal plays Matt as a more traditional character with a rifle permanently in his arms and is ready to fire at anytime. Yes there are times when Matt has far too much to say and acts more like a man of education rather than a farmer but it is the most traditional of western characters. And whilst as Ruth Janice Rule gives up conflicted love as she feels something for 3 men Matt, Jules and Crane it is sadly an underwritten character who ironically is too silent.
What this all boils down to is that story wise "Invitation to a Gunfighter" is just a variation on some familiar themes and does a nice job of mixing and matching them. But unfortunately rather than sticking with being traditional this is a western which tries to be different by skimming on the action and over indulging on the dialogue which sadly makes it boring.