Directed by Felix E Feist; produced by Robert Sisk
Randolph Scott stars in this western - far western - about a U.S. Army officer going undercover in late 1850s California to investigate a possible rebellion being planned in the growing town of Los Angeles. He finds that there are plans afoot by those who control water-resources to break the southern part of the state away from the U.S., as a prelude to forcing the federal government to agree to statehood for southern California, which would then be controlled by the aforementioned water-barons. Scott, however, learns that discovering the scheme is the easy part of his mission.
I like Randolph Scott westerns, and find his ‘Ranown’ films, made with Budd Boetticher in the director’s chair and Burt Kennedy writing most of the scripts, to be top-notch entertainment. The Man Behind the Gun pre-dates these movies, and is not up to their quality. The story is more complicated than many westerns’, and I liked both the plot and the setting. There were a number of aspects, though, that offset these advantages, and which even the stalwart presence of Scott could not obviate.
Firstly, the supporting players are average at best, wooden at worst, and their characters uninteresting or even boring. Philip Carey, as an army captain and suspected plotter, displays little talent or range, while Patrice Wymore demonstrates why she is known more for having been Errol Flynn’s wife than for her acting. Dick Wesson and Alan Hale Jr are Scott’s sidekicks, in the film as comic relief, though the comedy they provide falls short of being actually funny.
The script as well is nothing special. The actual story, as I have mentioned, is interesting and intriguing, but indifferently worded. There are a few incidents that go unexplained, such as the attempt of two men at the beginning to kill Scott. I assumed that they are either enemies from his chequered past or connected to his undercover work, but their attack is never explained.
The direction is competent but no more. Feist’s other directorial work was almost exclusively on series television, where he may have been his forte; it certainly wasn’t cinematic direction.
There are other problems, such as accuracy. The film is set before the U.S. Civil War, but the weapons used are almost all from a period after the 1860s, including the Colt. 44 revolver (revolvers were in use during the movie’s time, but they were quite distinct from those the characters use) and lever-action rifles.
Randolph Scott is an actor whose films are almost always worth the time spent watching them. But, while The Man Behind the Gun is a mildly entertaining movie, it doesn’t reach the value of most of the star’s other efforts.