THE MAN BEHIND THE GUN. Warner Brothers, 1953. Randolph Scott, Patrice Wymore, Dick Wesson, Philip Carey, Lina Romay, Roy Roberts, Morris Ankrum, Katharine Warren, Alan Hale Jr., Douglas Fowley, Robert Cabal. Screenplay: John Twist, based on a story by Robert Buckner. Director: Felix Feist.

   An unusual sort of western, one that place in the burgeoning small town of Los Angeles, circa 1850 or so. The town is a lot more elaborately laid out than most western towns that sit in the middle of a prairie for no great reason to be there. References to Santa Monica to the west, the La Brea tar pits, and the importance of water to the growing community all are intended to add to the historical authenticity, as are references to whether California should enter the Union as a slave state or not, along with the presence of a young bandit named Joaquin Murietta.

   The plot is too complicated to go into (I didn’t understand it) but boiled down to as small a nutshell as I can manage, Randolph Scott (Major Ransome Callicut) comes to town undercover disguised as a schoolteacher (the latter being the result of some quick thinking on his part) to root out a gang of secessionists who also want to control the area’s water supply.

   There are several other major threads to the plot, however, including killings, desperate ruses and several lengthy scenes of singing and dancing in the local saloon, not to mention some ineffectual efforts in the way of comedy by Dick Wesson and Alan Hale Jr.

   There too many twisted threads in this movie’s tale, in other words, taking place mostly in cramped indoor sets. This is made all the more noticeable when at last the director takes the movie outside, for a big shoot-em-up finale. Scott is stiffer than usual in this one, looking far too old (55) for young Patrice Wymore (26), the real new schoolmarm in town. (I forgot to mention the rolling on the floor catfight the latter has with songstress Lina Romay, who also has eyes on Scott).