Updated: Jun 24
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Toward the climax, Marshal Matt Morgan, (Kirk Douglas) brings the man who killed his wife, Rick Belden, (Earl Holliman), on a one-way trip to face justice.
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PARAMOUNT PRESENTS: “LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL”
Blu-ray, Digital; 1959; Not Rated (contains rape and violence)
Best extra: A seven-minute+ “Film Maker Focus – Leonard Maltin on ‘Last Train from Gun Hill’”
TO PARAPHRASE that great late 20th-century philosopher Larry the Cable Guy, John Sturges could “Git-R-Done.”
Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, there is something about a John Sturges’ western that just grabs hold: Larger than life characters, furious action, and epoch visual scope. He was the man behind “Gunfight at the OK Corral” (1957), “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), and “The Great Escape” (1963) - all classics.
The story opens with a pretty Native American woman (Israeli beauty Ziva Rodann) traveling by buggy through the gorgeous Arizona countryside with her son. They are waylaid by two young louts played by Earl Holliman and Brian Hutton. The men give chase and she catches one of them across the face with a buggy whip, then crashes the buggy. She is raped and murdered by the Hollman character as his partner squeamishly looks on. All this occurs off-camera, keeping the film in that NOT RATED category.
The little boy escapes on Holliman’s horse.
(1) “Last Train from Gun Hill” a tense adult Western based on an original story by TV writer Les Crutchfield called “Showdown.” It opened in Minneapolis on July 9, 1959. (2-6) Catherine Morgan, (Ziva Rodann), Native American wife of Marshal Matt Morgan and mother to 9-year-old Petey, (Lars Henderson) is set upon by two drunken cowboys. Young Belden, (Holliman), bears the mark of her buggy whip. He chases Catherine into a deadfall and attacks her. Before he reaches her, she tells her son to make his escape and he takes Belden’s horse carrying the very distinctive saddle belonging to his father. (7) Marshal Morgan discovers his murdered wife.
Meanwhile, in the once wild town of Pawley, Arizona, legendary U.S. Marshal Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas) is recounting his exploits to the neighborhood children when his traumatized son rides up on a strange horse with a fancy saddle.
The saddle is quickly traced back to cattle baron Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn) – de-facto owner of the town of Gun Hill – and one of the Marshal’s oldest friends. Holliman is Belden’s son, Rick, a feckless weakling who borrowed dad’s fancy rig and, of course, lost it in the commission of a capital offense.
Morgan takes the night train to Gun Hill intending to bring the two young killers back to face trial. On the train, we meet Linda, played by Carolyn Jones, best known as Morticia on “The Addams Family” TV series, 1964. She’s a hard-luck woman returning to Gun Hill after spending some time in a hospital. Her character is easily the most interesting and sympathetic in this saga. We learn that Linda and Belden have had a romantic relationship, and the hospital stay tells us that the rotten Belden apple didn't really fall far from the family tree.
In almost no time at all, Douglas and Quinn’s characters are squaring off against each other since the Marshal has vowed to bring the killers back on the 9 p.m. train, hence the film’s title. Quinn has promised to stop him. It’s not “High Noon” (1952), but we're close to that spread.
(1) Days later, a shaken, surly Rick Belden returns to a Gun Hill saloon. (2) Town boss/cattle baron Craig Belden, (Anthony Quinn), owns Gun Hill and the future of every resident who wants to continue eating. He confronts his son about the missing horse and saddle and is given a half-baked tale of horse thieves. (3) Morgan takes the night train to Gun Hill, bringing the distinctive saddle, (his best clue to his wife’s killer), back to the Belden ranch. A woman passenger, (Carolyn Jones), returning to Gun Hill from a hospital stay, engages Morgan, letting him know that she’s aware of who owns the saddle. (4) Morgan has dropped the saddle at Belden’s ranch, it’s discovered by Belden and his right-hand man Beero, (Brad Dexter). (5) Over drinks, Morgan and Belden briefly catch up on old times, but in very short order, the men are facing off over the fate of Belden’s murderous son. (6&7) Belden and his men head toward Gun Hill to confront Marshal Morgan.
In the early to mid-1950’s, Hollywood struggled to put butts in theater seats lost to television. CinemaScope, Cinerama, and 3-D all came out to make movie viewing a more immersive experience, along with “Gun Hill’s” VistaVision. They were the means to make a wider screen picture without the physical modifications and accouterments that Cinerama and 3-D required.
Paramount Presents “Gun Hill” in a new 6K film transfer, 1.78:1 aspect, to Blu-ray that is very good. The picture is exceptionally sharp with a warm and rich color palette, excellent detail and contrast, with fine inky blacks and natural film grain. Complexions are realistic and the video continuously runs in the 30-plus megabits per second range.
Sadly, there’s been reports that some viewers are seeing noticeable motion artifact with fast-moving objects. All movies are captured at 24 frames per second and the peak action will have blurriness. We examined “Gun Hill” from start to finish and the motion artifacts are evident within the individual frames as they should, but in some cases, they are more visible on “Gun Hill” (more details below). Still, this 1080p production is the best the film has looked since its theatrical debut.
Some 15 years after “Gun Hill” was filmed at Arizona’s Old Tucson Studio and Ranch, I had occasion to visit that area. Frequent shots of sky and mountain horizons in the distance of rough Arizona scrub capture the feel of the area like a Remington painting.
24 frames per second artifacts
When an object moves super fast within the motion picture frame you’ll see a blurred artifact, most evident when you hit the pause button on the remote and advance the movie frame-by-frame. It happens hundreds of times in every single movie but viewed at normal speed the artifacts are blended together to make the motion seem normal. But for some reason, it’s more obvious to some viewers with Paramount’s “Last Train From Gun Hill.” Could the large format VistaVision process be the culprit since the film runs horizontally through the camera causing the artifacts to be more noticeable as light exposes the film through the camera shutter?
ABOVE: Two frame shots are cropped super-tight as Marshal Morgan fights for control of a silver barrel shotgun, and a blurred artifact runs from Morgan’s hand to the head of Rick Belden. Also, a slight ghost blur is evident above the main blur on the right frame shot. The artifacts are embedded into the VistaVision frames and not caused by your TV or player. Three High-Def Watch reviewers watched the Blu-ray disc and only one saw the artifacts during normal playback.
Clear and crisp. The Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mono mix is perfect, providing an excellent blend of dialogue, effects, and score by Russian composer Dimitri Tiomkin (“High Noon,” 1952; “The Guns of Navarone,” 1961; “Strangers on a Train,” 1951). Douglas never had any trouble making himself understood, but Quinn would sometimes throw away lines in an off-hand delivery to make the audience lean in to hear. I had no trouble at all understanding even a whisper. Subtitles are provided.
Critic Leonard Maltin gives a short but detailed “Filmmaker Focus” on John Sturges, describing the hard feelings between Douglas and Quinn following Douglas’ Best Actor Oscar loss for “Lust for Life” and Quinn’s win for Best Supporting Actor in the same film. The hostility these two had for each other in the film is an example of the flip side of screen chemistry.
The original preview trailer for “Last Train from Gun Hill” is included along with ones for “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” “The Black Orchid” and “The Furies,” which was filmed on the same Arizona ranch in 1950.
There is also an online digital coupon from Paramount if you want to stream this film on any of your electronic devices.
— Mike Reynolds
(1) Literally a “marked man” Rick Belden is apprehended by Marshal Morgan. (2) As Morgan and his prisoner are holed up in a hotel room waiting for the 9 o’clock train, Belden pleads and threatens for his only son’s release. (3) The Marshal is having none of it. Belden’s son and his partner Smithers are going to be on that train. (4) Smithers sets the hotel on fire in a hare-brained attempt to free his friend. Morgan marches his prisoner right out the front door. (5) Facing down his oldest friend and a town hell-bent to stop him, Morgan and his prisoner move to the climax of “Last Train From Gun Hill.”
The excellent packaging for the Paramount Presents series.