Forty Guns (1957): Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray]

Samuel Fuller’s “Forty Guns” is very much a B western but one filled with such eccentricities and ahead of its time role reversals that it’s hard not to be a little charmed by it. The idea of Barbara Stanwyck as a villain in the old west is appealing enough, but “Forty Guns” packs such a unique and fun premise. Along with it, there are so many weird twists and turns including two musical numbers, a wedding scene, and a premise that feels to have slightly influenced 1993’s “Tombstone” (?).

Jessicca Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) is an untameable baroness who rules over a small city in Arizona. The cattle queen is supported by a little army formed by forty loyal gunfighters. Her power will be modified by the arriving Bonnell brothers (Barry Sullivan, Gene Evans, and Robert Dix). One of them (Sullivan) is proclaimed sheriff and his idea of law and justice differs drastically from Jessica Drummond and her brother (John Erikson), a young gunman eager to take up a life of crime.

“Forty Guns” is quite the eccentric western which will likely stand out to fans of the genre, while also alienating others in the process. Fuller takes so many weird turns here that you never really know what’s coming around the corner. “Forty Guns” is through and through an action western about law and disorder, and Fuller manages to stage some riveting moments of action and violence. Barry Sullivan is the film’s central hero, Griff Bonnell who has a radical plan to restore some sense of sanity in the town.

Sullivan definitely commands the screen while Stanwyck’s role is more a side villain who pulls the strings from the background. I love the chemistry between Sullivan and his co-stars that play his brothers, and I wish “Forty Guns” would have expanded on that dynamic. That said, once Bonnell comes on the scene and people begin dying left and right, the power struggle is fascinating. And of course there’s a tornado in the middle of the chaos, which is not something you see too much of in a stern violent western. “Forty Guns” definitely doesn’t rank up there with “High Noon” or “The Ox-Bow Incident,” but it’s a pleasing, entertaining, and unusual entry in to the genre worth dabbling in.

The new Criterion Blu-Ray comes with the twenty minutes Fuller Women, a brand new video interview with Sam Fuller’s widow, Christa Lang Fuller, and daughter, Samantha Fuller, both of whom talk about the exact period in which the director made Forty Guns. They discuss the hilarious dialog and key themes, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance, his contract and great relationship with Darryl F. Zanuck, his love for the Wild West and the type of characters that he created for his films, etc. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in Los Angeles in 2018. The thirty five minutes Woman with a Whip is a new video interview with Imogen Sara Smith, author of Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City.

She deconstructs the narrative and style of Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns. The interview was conducted in New York in 2018. There are additional comments about the evolution of the western genre as well. The eighty one minutes A Fuller Life, directed and produced by Samantha Fuller, is a documentary that chronicles the incredible life and career of Sam Fuller while using his own words and footage that he shot over the years. There are readings by James Franco, Jennifer Beals, Bill Duke, Robert Carradine, Mark Hamill, Joe Dante, Tim Roth, et al. The documentary is based on the director’s memoirs, A Third Face. There is a Stills Gallery presenting a collection of photographs from the production of Forty Guns which were found in Sam Fuller’s archives.

Included amongst them are promotional items and set-design drawings. Finally, there is a seventy eight minutes recorded archival Q&A session with director Sam Fuller that took place at the National Film Theatre in London, in 1969. A wide range of topics are discussed, from the role that violence has in his films, his directing skills, the ways in which Hollywood treated writers, etc. Included for the collectors is a thirty page illustrated Booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Lisa Dombrowski and a chapter from Sam Fuller’s posthumously published 2002 autobiography, A Third Face, as well as full technical credits.