Sometimes the story of the making of a film can be better than the film itself. And sometimes the writer can’t really add much to the source material they’ve managed to dig up.
Roger Corman: “I did four Westerns, all distributed by AIP. Two of them were my ideas and two were AIP’s ideas — the titles alone will tell you which were which. The two that were my ideas were Five Guns West and Gunslinger (both 1956). The two that were AIP’s ideas were Apache Woman and The Oklahoma Woman (both 1955).”
Charles B Griffith: “Roger suggested a Western in which a sheriff dies trying to clean up a town and his widow carries out his work. That became Gunslinger, the first of many pictures I wrote for Roger.”
Corman: “Gunslinger was made around February 1956, just as LATSE and the studios renegotiated a five-day work week instead of six. So I decided to squeeze in one last low-budget, six-day western before the new contract went into effect.”
Beverly: “There were no frills on Roger’s pictures; you put up with a lot, but you were young and you laughed and you certainly weren’t anywhere close to being a star. You just believed that that’s how people worked… You were out there moving furniture with the grips and everybody else… There were no stars, there were no egos; we all did our thing and worked hard at it, and we all loved it and that’s what made these pictures work!”
Corman: “My brother Gene and I co-financed this movie. We had a lot at stake and not much money. Of course, the movie was a disaster from the beginning… The shooting was dismal. Rain. Overcast skies. Wind. It was so dark outside there was almost no exposure on the camera. You couldn’t see the background scenery in any of the shots, either. Sometimes I’d have to shoot an entire sequence with actors huddled under the overhead tarp.”
Beverly Garland: “The first scene we shot of Gunslinger was an unforgettable one. It was a love scene where John Ireland and I were leaning on this tree. It was 6:30 in the morning, we were colder than good God’s head and our teeth were chattering. When it was time to say our lines we somehow had to manage to stop the chattering. And as we started to do our love scene, these huge red ants began crawling all over us — so not only was it freezing cold, but these ants were biting the hell out of us! You can actually see the ants on us when you watch the film!”
Corman: “It rained five days out of six and it was the only time I ever went over schedule — I took seven days… I stretched a tarp over a makeshift stand and shot the actors beneath it, with the rain in the background… Whenever the sun broke through, I stopped whatever I was shooting and raced to set up some long shots from my list of priority exterior shots. The rain forced me to shoot almost everything in close-ups or medium close-ups. We rewrote exterior scenes for the interiors of the ranch’s buildings.”
Allison Hayes broke her arm and had to leave the set.
Corman: “Her horse slipped in the mud and she fell off and broke her arm. While we waited for a car to get down through the mud and take her to a hospital, I shot a reel of close-ups of Allison looking left, looking right, and so on… I’d have to finish her scenes with a double and this was my only chance to get some close-ups of her. I’d figure out later how to cut them in.”
Beverly Garland: “I always wondered if Allison broke her arm just to get off the picture and out of the rain.”
Miss Garland didn’t come out of the picture unscathed.
Beverly Garland: “I was supposed to come running out of a saloon, get on a horse and ride out of town as fast as I could, I looked at this horse, and it was quite large! And I said to myself, the only thing I can do is make a flying leap and get on him and go. So I come out of the saloon, down the stairs and I leap — and over the horse I go! I went right over the side of the horse! Roger said, “Okay, let’s do it again.” Oh God, I thought! So I came running down the stairs again in those boots, and as I did my ankle just twisted underneath me and I sprained it badly — but I managed to get on the horse! When I went home that night I thought it would feel so good to put my ankle in a warm bath, so I did — and I left it there for about an hour. And the next day, my ankle was about twice its normal size! And I had to work! This was toward the end of the picture, so I couldn’t be replaced, and practically all the remaining scenes were fight scenes — you know, all the prostitutes, getting them out of town and such. Somebody had to drive me to work. When I got there, Roger looked at it and said, “Well, we have to start shooting.” Naturally, Roger! You could be dead and Roger would prop you up in a chair! So I said, “All right, what do we do? There’s no way I can walk.” I couldn’t even get my boot on! So Roger agreed then to call a doctor, and the doctor brought this giant novocaine needle. They shot the novocaine into the bone, which was the most painful thing… But then I felt marvelous! So they took the boot and split it in the back and taped it on my foot, and I worked all day. I did all the fight scenes, and I ran and jumped and did whatever — and I couldn’t walk for a week after that! I had screwed up my ankle so bad!”
Corman: “It was one of the worst experiences of my life.”
Beverly Garland: “Of all my films for Roger Corman, Gunslinger is my favorite. The picture was made under miserable conditions… there was rain, it was cold, and I injured my ankle. But I loved the part; I loved playing the sheriff and I loved working with John Ireland. Everybody tells me how much they love It Conquered The World or Not Of This Earth; they’re OK, but I like to get down and dirty. In Gunslinger, I had some good fights, I got to wear pants, I got to carry a gun — I got to be the sheriff!”
SOURCES: How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime by Roger Corman & Jim Jerome; The Films Of Roger Corman by Ed Naha; The World Of Roger Corman by J. Philip di Franco; Fast And Furious: The Story of AIP by Mark Thomas McGee; I Was A Monster Maker by Tom Weaver; Filmfax #46; and Scarlet Street #10