Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.


Week Sixty Two: Man with the Gun


Talk about suspense, this is one of the most tightly-wound Westerns I’ve seen. Director Richard Wilson holds the tension from beginning to end in this near perfect film. I just looked up Wilson and was surprised by two things: 1. He only directed a handful of films. 2. In that small group, there’s another great Western I saw recently, Invitation to a Gunfighter. I regret that Wilson didn’t make more.

Included in Criterion Channel’s recent “Western Noir” series, Man with the Gun certainly features the same dark tones as the other I watched from that program, Blood on the Moon (also starring Mitchum). But what I like most about this movie is that most of the dark things happen in the daylight. In deep focus with terrific blocking, we see the systematic “town taming” happen on bright sunny days. This contrast works incredibly well and matches with Mitchum’s performance, which is all hero on the outside and all haunted man on the inside. In the film’s darkest scene, he goes crazy and burns down the town saloon. It’s a wild moment and one that I won’t soon forget.

This film unexpectedly connects with my upcoming film Heart of the Gun and I plan on having the team watch it for reference and inspiration.

Seen on Criterion Channel.