The Gun Fighter (Triangle, 1917)
Bad guy turns good guy to save innocent woman. Boiled down, that’s the plot of The Gun Fighter (1917) and of 90% of William S. Hart’s filmography. He played the part well, his films remained popular, and with few exceptions, neither he nor the studio (Triangle-Kay Bee, in this case) saw the need to deviate from the formula.
Cliff Hudspeth (William S. Hart) is an outlaw in the goldfields of Arizona. A rival band, lead by a bandito known as El Salvator (Roy Laidlaw), tells him that he’s claimed the town of Desert Pass and that his band had better clear out. As a reply, Cliff kills one of El Salvator’s tough-talking men. The town milliner, Norma Wright (Margery Wilson), witnesses the murder and is disgusted by it.
The town is being ravaged by El Salvator, and Colonel Ellis Lawton (J.P. Lockney) knows that, outlaw or not, Cliff is the only man who can take him on. Cliff agrees to lead an attack, but the plans are overheard and El Salvator strikes first. Norma is kidnapped during the raid. Cliff promises her little brother Jimmy (Georgie Stone) that he’ll rescue his sister.
Cliff peers through the hideout window and sees Norma being menaced by El Salvator. Cleverly, he shoots out the exterior light so that he’s invisible from inside, then aims and takes out El Salvator. Norma escapes. Cliff, who had been injured during the raid, watches her ride off across the desert before collapsing.
Child actor Georgie Stone, a couple years older since his performance in The Doll-House Mystery (1915), turns in a more nuanced performance as Jimmy. J.J. Dowling’s active Ace High character here is quite a departure from the serene Patriarch in The Miracle Man (1919). William S. Hart is, as ever, William S. Hart – stonefaced and showing little emotion, very serious – entirely the opposite of his rival Tom Mix over at Selig studio (and later Fox). The only performance that really didn’t work was Roy Laidlaw’s El Salvator. The character is much too absurd to take seriously. He would feel more at home in a Speedy Gonzales cartoon.
Hart films did occasionally show a little variation (recall The Captive God (1916)), but the plot here is your standard good-bad-man. It’s a decent example. The Gun Fighter was written by the rather prolific scenarist Monte M. Katterjohn, and Hart, who also directed the film, had this style of story down to a science.
I wouldn’t suggest watching too many Hart films at a go – they kind of all blend together – but The Gun Fighter is well made and entertaining enough to recommend.
My rating: I like it.
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