Sunday, March 13, 2016


The title "Four Fast Guns"(**1/2 OUT OF ****) refers to the hero's expertise with a six-shooter as well as the three pistoleros hired to kill him. "Hell Bound" director William J. Hole Jr.'s western melodrama "Four Fast Guns" qualifies as a low-budget but above-average 'town tamer' sagebrusher with a good cast, compelling characters, and several surprises. This black and white, 72-minute oater reminded me of the Wayne Morris B-western "Two Guns and A Badge." In "Two Guns and A Badge," Morris is appointed the deputy marshal of a lawless town. In reality, he isn't the man that the townspeople were supposed to have as deputy marshal. Similarly, "Four Fast Guns" protagonist Tom Sabin (James Craig of "Drums in the Deep South") has been run out of a Kansas by the hired gunman, Haggerty, who was paid to clean up the territory. The obnoxious 'town tamer' encounters Sabin along the trail. Haggerty warns him to steer clear of Purgatory where his next job is. Sabin ignores him so Haggerty goads Sabin into a gunfight. Indeed, Haggerty clips Sabin's arm between the shoulder and the bicep and then demands that Sabin show him the palm of his hand. Presumably, Haggerty intends to put a bullet through Sabin's hand and end his days as a gunfighter. Haggerty has his own gun drawn when Sabin surprises him and drops him dead in his own tracks.

Sabin rides into the town of Purgatory. Inscribed on an archway that welcomes visitors are the words: Purgatory: When you ride into Purgatory, "Say goodbye to God." The citizens have never seen Haggerty. When Sabin shows up, they ask him if he is the 'town tamer?' Like the Wayne Morris hero in "Two Guns and a Badge," Sabin tells them that the 'town tamer' Haggerty sent him to Purgatory all the way from Kansas. At first, Sabin isn't altogether sure that he wants to maintain this masquerade. The citizens offer him $500 for the job. When somebody suggests that Sabin may be afraid, our protagonist accepts the job. The townspeople want to see the owner of The Babylon Saloon, Hoag (Paul Richards of "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre"), run out of town since he controls all the killing, rustling and gambling in those parts. Sabin and the citizens strike a compromise. They will try him out and pay him after he cleans up Purgatory. When they want to know where to send the $500, Sabin gives them the address of the widow of Jay Cassavedas. Later, when Sabin prowls around the marshal's office, he spots a wanted poster of himself on the wall. He is wanted for the killing of Jay Cassavedas.

Hoag indulges in a hobby of importing works of art as well as minions of evil. The first work of art is a replica of Venus De Milo.
Ironically, Hoag is an invalid confined to a wheelchair. He spends his time plinking the piano in his bar. Later, Hoag's pretty wife, Mary Hoag (Martha Vickers of "The Big Sleep"), explains that a stagecoach wreck crippled her husband. Nevertheless, Hoag is a power neither to be trifled with nor ignored. Hoag is as cold-blooded as they come, and he antes up a thousand dollars to pay for Sabin's demise. Hoag sends one of his henchmen, Grady, over to kill the sheriff, but Sabin kills Grady. As each gunslinger botches the job, Hoag increases his offer, until the third gunslinger, Johnny Naco (Brett Halsey of "To Hell and Back"), arrives and takes the three thousand dollars to kill Sabin. One of the major surprises in "Four Fast Guns" occurs at this point and everything afterward clashes with the typical 'town tamer' western.

No sooner has Sabin arrives met Hoag that the crippled saloon owner sends a gunman to kill him. Sabin is in the marshal's office when his would-be assassin enters. Predictably, Sabin survives this encounter, but the twists are what distinguish this western. He has to contend with three gunslingers before he cleans up Purgatory and rides away to Tombstone. Along the way, Sabin befriends the alcoholic living in the abandoned marshal's office, Dipper (Edgar Buchanan of "Texas"), who wears a small cup around his neck that he uses to drink his whiskey. Despite his drinking, Dipper is a lot smarter than most people take him. Essentially, Dipper serves as the quasi-narrator of sort. Although he isn't seen until later in the action, Dipper provides narration at the outset. "This man came along the trail one Sunday morning back in '73 taking it slow and easy keeping his open eyes and his gun hand ready. Came
from nowhere I guess. Anyhow, he never said from where and we never asked. He was going to stop off in Purgatory, make his stand, like he lived alone. This is number one. He called himself Sabin." Dipper becomes Sabin's closest ally. Hoag's wife is another interesting character. She supports her husband, but her sentiments toward Sabin change over time. Ultimately, she grows to love Sabin, but she refuses to end her marriage to Hoag. The three gunslingers are worthy of note, particularly the Brett Halsey character. One of them is named Farmer Brown and he tries to shoot Sabin from under table as they are playing poker. Sabin outsmarts him. He pulls out his revolver and cocks it as
soon as he sits down so the weapon is on his thigh within easy reach. Since the outcome to this duel is such a foregone conclusion, director William J. Hole Jr., doesn't even show us how it happened. This strategy occurred in an earlier scene when a gunslinger entered the jail but the camera remained stationed outside. Shots were audible, and then the gunslinger walked outside and fell dead on the street.

"Ambush at Cimarron Pass" lenser John M. Nickolaus Jr.'s black & white, widescreen cinematography is an asset. "Four Fast Guns" qualifies as an above-average western that doesn't always draw things out to their inevitable conclusion and never wears out its welcome.

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