The Cursed Life of Jimmy Ringo
Does the name Jimmy Ringo mean anything to you, how about Johnny Ringo? Well if you have watched any of the movies which focus upon Wyatt Earp such as "Tombstone" and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" then the name may ring a bell as one of the bad guys which Wyatt fought. "The Gunfighter" is a movie about Jimmy Ringo, why Jimmy and not Johnny I am not sure, but before you get excited that this maybe some authentic look at the life of the notiously violent murderer I have to tell you it isn't. In fact this is almost a bog standard western about a gunman who has grown tired of having to watch his back and is looking to put his murderous ways behind him and start a fresh with the woman he loves. But whilst on one level it has that feeling of being a standard gunfighter storyline it has a surprising depth to it as we come to realise through Jimmy that being a legendary gun man is in fact a cursed life.
Legendary gunfighter Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck - Spellbound) has tired of the life he leads, not being able to go anywhere without being recognized and challeneged by some young upstart who wants to prove they are quicker than the notorious gun man. And so he heads to the town of Cayenne in the hope that he can start a new life with his sweetheart Peggy and their son who he has not seen for 8 years. But Peggy has a new life for herself and no one knows that she was oncle close to the legendary Jimmy Ringo. With the town's Marshal wanting Jimmy gone before any trouble starts and 3 men on his trail looking for revenge for the killing of their brother time is short for Jimmy and his job is made all the more harder with young upstart Hunt Bromley (Skip Homeier) wanting to make a name for himself as the man who killed Jimmy Ringo.
Ignoring the fact that "The Gunfighter" is about a legendary gunfighter for the moment and what you have is a rather obvious storyline and one which compared to similar gunfighter movies feels a little slow. It delivers this set up that Jimmy is looking to start afresh, put his life of killing behind him and he wants to do it with the woman he loves and the son he hasn't seen since he was a toddler. One element of this is that his sweetheart Peggy having created a new life for herself and her boy doesn't want him back in it and so you get the element of whether or not she will agree to see him and see that he has changed. And the other element of this is that he is also up against the clock not only with the townsfolk wanting the notorious Jimmy Ringo to leave but also 3 men on his trail for killing their brother. It is in fact a nice series of stories which delivers a bit of tension especially when there are others in the town who would like to take a pop out Jimmy but at the same time it does feel a little slow and also cliche.
But in many ways "The Gunfighter" isn't about entertainment from a gunfighter who is going to go straight and having to resist pulling his gun but highlighting what the life of a gunfighter is like. And it does a pretty remarkable job of demonstrating this from so many angles especially the part where Jimmy cannot go anywhere with out being known and hassled. We see how he can go into a quiet bar and not only does the barman know him from a previous saloon but there is always someone there who wants to make a name for themselves by being the one to be quicker on the draw than him. In many ways it is surprisingly eye opening and shows how the life of a notorious gun man was cursed, sentenced to spend the rest of their life having to watch your back and put up with being a celebrity.
Now the thing about "The Gunfighter" is that it isn't an authentic look at the life of Jimmy Ringo and twists the facts. For example Ringo was legendary as a ruthless killer yet here with we have Jimmy Ringo shown as a man who killed only when he had to, when he had to protect himself and in fact comes across as a good guy rather than a bad guy. In an early scene where he has to shoot a young man you can see that he is desperate for it to be seen that he was only defending himself rather than enjoying the murder. That is not the only twist on the truth as the outcome to "The Gunfighter", both a cliche but also a surprisingly good one, has no relation to what really happened to the real Ringo. Maybe that's why the character is called Jimmy Ringo rather than Johnny as this is not a factual look at the life of the gun man but a story built around his character.
With the character of Jimmy Ringo being a man looking for the quiet life the casting of Gregory Peck is spot on. The way Peck holds himself, the tiredness acoss his shoulders and the long quiet moments really delivers the aspect of a man who has growny weiry of having to put up with people trying to kill him. But at the same time he also makes Ringo a surprisingly good guy who has an element of charm about him, especially in the scenes where he ends up talking to the town's women folk who want him gone. In fact it is such a strong performances that the rest of the cast which includes Skip Homeier as young gunman Hunt Bromley, Millard Mitchell as Marshal Mark Strett and Helen Westcott as Ringo's sweetheart Peggy barely make their pressence felt.
What this all boils down to is that "The Gunfighter" is a surprisingly good movie which takes a real character, the almost cliche storyline of a gunfighter looking to retire and delivers a movie which opens your eyes to how being a great gun man was a cursed life. It does mean that if you expect "The Gunfighter" to be an action filled western you may end up a little disappointed but with a fine performance from Ggregory Peck and an interesting insight into the life of a gunfighter it is an above average western.