“Town-tamer” films were a popular sub-genre of the Westerns in the 1950s, with numerous directors and scriptwriters exploring the dilemma of law-abiding citizens forced to resort to the questionable arrangement of hiring a gunman to clean up their town of outlaws.

“Man With The Gun” (1955) marked the directorial debut of scriptwriter Richard Wilson, who had a long association with Orson Welles in the two previous decades. The film is a fairly by-the-numbers account of gunman Clint Tollinger (Robert Mitchum) cleaning up a town that has for long been under the thumb of powerful land owner Dade Holman (Joe Barry). 

Holman surrounds himself with a bunch of brutal thugs who enforce his law in Sheridan City – we know this because Holman’s henchman Ed Pinchot (Leo Gordon) cruelly shoots down a boy’s dog merely for barking at him minutes before Tollinger rides into town.

The townspeople are tired of the violence of Holman’s men but aged Marshal Lee Sims (Henry Hull) has no desire to intervene. Blacksmith Saul Atkins (Emile Meyer), who is head of the town council, learns of Tollinger’s reputation and convinces the citizens to hire him to clean up Sheridan City.

As the film progresses, we learn Tollinger has another reason for being in Sheridan City – he came to the town seeking his estranged wife Nelly Bain (Jan Sterling), who manages a group of dancing girls, to find out about their daughter.

“Man With The Gun” is burdened with a talky script and stately score by Alex North that is all wrong. One can’t help but get the feeling that there’s just too much dialogue and too much music in some sequences.

Claude Akins thinks he has the drop on Robert Mitchum in “Man With The Gun”

Mitchum, in his first movie as an independent player after ending a stint with RKO Pictures, is not stretched by his role – he exudes an aura of menace even when he’s smiling, and is totally believable as a man who thinks he’s unfit to be anything other than a town-tamer.

There are bit parts for an uncredited Claude Akins and Angie Dickinson and a nice turn by Ted de Corsia as “Frenchy” Lescaux, the Bowie knife-wielding thug who runs Holman’s saloon. Another flaw is that the character of Holman is given only a few minutes on screen without any dialogue though most of the movie is spent priming the audience for the showdown between him and Tollinger.

“Man With The Gun” is available in a great transfer that showcases its black-and-white photography.

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