By Chuck Ross
Back in the late 1960s I watched, or at least partly watched, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It starred the wonderful singer Roy Orbison — he was best known for singing "Pretty Woman" and dozens of other delightful songs — in a musical Western wherein he played/carried a guitar that doubled as a rifle. Don’t ask. It wasn’t so bad that it was a hoot, it was so bad it was horrible.
So from then on, whenever I saw that this movie, “The Fastest Gun Alive,” was going to be on TV, I avoided it. Then, one day when I was in college I was at a friend’s house and he was all excited because "Alive" was going to be on TV that night. I said no way are we going to watch it, that It was the worst piece of cow manure I had ever seen. “I love Roy Orbison, but he’s a joke in this movie, and It’s not a funny joke.”
My friend started laughing. “What? You’re thinking about ‘The Fastest Guitar Alive.’ I said we’re going to watch ‘The Fastest Gun Alive.’”
Oh boy, he was right. I had been avoiding the wrong movie for years. As it happens “The Fastest Gun Alive,” which I saw for the first time at my friend’s house that night, and which I have now watched repeatedly, is an exceptional Western. It stars Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford and Jeanne Crain, and all deliver the goods in “Alive.” Ford particularly gives a nuanced reading to his densely written character.
It’s the first movie I saw from the team of Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, who were responsible for a small number of really smart, stellar movies, most of which are not familiar to most folks: “The Well,” “Wicked Woman,” “The Thief” and my favorite of theirs, “New York Confidential.”
“The Fastest Gun Alive” will be shown Tuesday morning, July 9, 2013, at 8 a.m. Pacific Time and 11 a.m Eastern Time on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). And it’s available to rent or buy anytime on Amazon’s streaming service. Unfortunately, it’s not available for streaming on Netflix.
Rouse and Greene also have one true classic to their names: They were the screenwriters of the film noir standard “D.O.A.,” which was released in 1950 and starred Edmund O’Brien.
They also produced a terrific noir TV series, “Tightrope,” in which Michael Connors starred as an undercover cop in a pre-“Mannix” role. Unfortunately, “Tightrope,” produced by Columbia’s Screen Gems for CBS, lasted only through the 1959-1960 TV season.
The movie critic David Thompson, in his encyclopedic “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film,” has said of Russell Rouse, who both directed and co-wrote (with Frank Gilroy) “The Fastest Gun Alive,” that he was “a mysterious privateer whose handful of films are all trembling with some crazy ingenuity.” Nowhere is this “crazy ingenuity” more evident than in “The Fastest Gun Alive.” It’s a winner. And I loved the fact that when I first saw the movie I never saw the twist at the end coming. Check it out.