Directed by Andre De Toth
Produced by Harry Joe Brown
Associate Producer: Randolph Scott
Screen Play by Kenneth Gamet
Based Upon “Yankee Gold” by John M. Cunningham
Film Editors: Gene Havlick, ACE and James Sweeney, ACE
Musical Director: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Randolph Scott (Jeff Travis), Claire Trevor (Josie Sullivan), Joan Weldon (Shelby Conroy), George Macready (Jules Mourret), Alfonso Bedoya (Degas), Lee Marvin (Dan Kurth), Ernest Borgnine (Bull Slager).
This is my contribution to The Blogathon For Randolph Scott, which has seen some excellent writing from a group of learned film fans.
It’s easy to see The Stranger Wore A Gun (1953) as just another Randolph Scott movie. Not as good as some, better than a few. Of the six Scott pictures directed by Andre de Toth, it might be the least. (To me, 1951’s Man In The Saddle is the best.)
But what makes The Stranger Wore A Gun stand out today isn’t its convoluted plotting, what a slimy bad guy George Macready is, or how great Joan Weldon looks. It’s the picture’s technical aspects, the stuff it boasted about on its one-sheet: 3-Dimensions, wide screen and stereophonic sound.
Ernest Borgnine: “The director was Andre de Toth, who wore an eye patch, having lost an eye as a kid. But here he was, directing a movie in 3D!”
A solid, resourceful filmmaker, Andre de Toth was chosen to test-drive and fine tune a few of Hollywood’s technical developments of the 50s. The second of the De Toth Scotts, Carson City (1952), was the first Warnercolor film. House Of Wax (1953) was filmed in the Natural Vision 3D format and Warnercolor, with the added bonus of stereophonic sound. The first major-studio 3D movie, it’s still considered the best use of the process during the early-50s craze.
Randolph Scott (in the trailer): “I talked it over with my partner-producer Harry Joe Brown. Naturally, we didn’t want to be left at the post in this great new technical race in the picture industry, so we decided to go all out —3D, stereophonic sound and Technicolor. Now that’s a mouthful, and it was an armful to do, but exciting.”
Working titles were I Ride Alone and Yankee Gold.
Andre de Toth: “They asked me to do it in 3D. I had qualms about it, but the conceit that killed so many people won the battle. I knew I was better than the rest of the ordinary geniuses and I thought that, single-handedly, I’d be able to stop the exodus from 3D, revive third-dimensional pictures, and gain some more experience in 3D by doing a Western. But my conceit and hope didn’t resurrect 3D. It was dead and buried by the junk thrown at the public way before we started. Too bad.”
The film’s other distinction it that it was the first film composed and shot to be projected at 1.85. This aspect ratio is still the standard, in use in theaters and on video today. What’s a shame is that these technical amenities are completely absent on the 2D, full-frame, mono DVD. (The three-track stereo elements were lost years ago.)
Scott plays Jeff Travis, a Confederate spy attached to Quantrill’s raiders. Realizing that Quantrill and his men are little more than bandits and murderers, he flees and winds up in Prescott, Arizona, after the war is over. He becomes involved with an old flame, Josie Sullivan (Claire Trevor), and falls in with some stage robbers: the sophisticated ringleader Jules Mourret (George Macready) and a couple of his henchmen, Dan Kurth (Lee Marvin) and Bull Slager (Ernest Borgnine).
Ernest Borgnine: “No sooner had I finished From Here To Eternity and gone home to New York than, bam, I was asked to come right back again to shoot a Western, The Stranger Wore A Gun… The Stranger Wore A Gun was the picture where I met a lifelong friend, Lee Marvin.”
Back to the story. Scott befriends the Conroys, a father and daughter (Joan Weldon) who run the stag line and decides he wants out of the outlaw life. It all comes to a fiery climax in the saloon. And, of course, all sorts of things are thrown at the audience over the course of its 83 minutes.
Joan Weldon: “Warners had nothing scheduled for me so they decided to put me on suspension without pay. I ran into Randy somewhere, and he heard I was suspension and called my agent and said he had a part in a picture at Columbia and would I consider doing it… It was three weeks; work; six days a week. Then Warner Bros. said, ‘She’s under contract to us, we want the money from the loan-out.’ My agent said, ‘No way. You put her on suspension; she can do what she wants with the money,’ So I did get the money.”
The Stranger Wore A Gun is a mess. The performances are fine, some of the action sequences are very well done, it moves along briskly, and it all looks great in Technicolor. But it’s hard to follow — and some of Scott’s actions don’t make sense. De Toth, as good a director as he is, could only do so much with the script he was given. Maybe they thought 3D would overcome whatever shortcomings the picture may have.
The last of the De Toth Scotts, Bounty Hunter (1954), was also shot in 3D (for Warner Bros.). But by the time it was ready for release, the boom was over. It only played flat.
Sources: De Toth On De Toth by Andre de Toth, The Films Of Randolph Scott by Robert Nott, Ernie by Ernest Borgnine, and the wonderful 3D Archive website.
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