Story: The reputation of a skilled gun travels far in the realm of the western frontier, to the point some will venture to distant encampments looking to track down rumored quickdraw masters. George (Glenn Ford) is one such skilled duelist, but he has left that life behind and these days, no one in his small town even knows about his past. Of course, secrets have a way of being exposed and during a drunken spell, he spills the beans about his prowess on the draw. While his friends agree to keep his secret and support his decision to live a life of peace, the word of George’s past soon reaches the ears of violent men, which leads to real problems. Now George is being called to duel and prove he is the best, or his town could face severe consequences.
Entertainment Value: The Fast Gun Alive is indeed about finding the fastest gun alive, but the premise isn’t as simple or action packed as the title suggests. Instead, the narrative has a more psychological approach to the subject matter, so we learn about the characters, their motivations, and their places in the larger world, rather than watch an endless parade of shootouts. I don’t think I’d call the plot deep by any means, but it is more thoughtful than the stereotypical western and while it doesn’t dive deeply, it touches upon some effective themes. I think the characters seem believable and natural, so the story does what it needs to do, though I also think this general concept has done with better results. Even so, The Fastest Gun Alive makes a good effort and the emotional beats mostly land, while the gradual tension adds a lot to the picture as well. And while this is not an action driven movie, there are some gun duels and other smaller scale action set pieces, they’re just infrequent, but when they do appear, they’re used in service to the narrative. I wouldn’t rank this with my favorite westerns, but if you want more story than action, you’ll like find some entertainment here.
The cast here is called on to be dramatic, comedic, action oriented, and even musical, but on the whole, the ensemble comes through well. I’ve seen the musical routines criticized, but I think they’re fun and add some entertainment. Russ Tamblyn is front and center when the music starts and as always, he is a pleasure to watch and nails his routines. He doesn’t have much to do beyond the dance numbers, but that’s fine, as the movie showcases his talents regardless. Glenn Ford has the lead here and is capable, if unremarkable. The role has some light demands and Ford manages them, but doesn’t do much to spark extra emotion or depth. He more or less reads the words on the page and that results in a sufficient, but forgettable performance. Perhaps a more dynamic or invested lead could have elevated the less solid elements of the script, but we will never know. The cast also includes Jeanne Crane, Noah Berry, Broderick Crawford, and Leif Erickson.