FURY AT FURNACE CREEK Fox, 1948. Victor Mature, Coleen Gray, Glen Langan, Albert Dekker, Reginald Gardiner. Written by Charles G. Booth, Winston Miller and David Garth. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone.

   An unexpected delight from a team of generally undistinguished writers and a director best known for his work on Charlie Chan and Tarzan movies.

   FaFC starts out with both barrels blazing, as a mysterious order from General Blackwell reroutes a cavalry patrol, leading to the destruction of a nearby fort by hostile Indians in a well-staged melee. Fast-forward a few months, there is now a boom town near the site of the massacre, General Blackwell has died in disgrace, and his wastrel son (Mature) hits town, out to prove his dad never gave the disastrous order.

What follows is more than an hour of fast-paced action, mystery, and noirish cat-and-mouse as Mature maneuvers with and against the ruthless town boss (Albert Dekker), plots with a nervous witness marked for a quick back-shooting (Reginald Gardiner, very effective in an off-beat part for him), and faces down Dekker’s hired nasties (Roy Roberts, Fred Clark, Charles Stevens) — and then there’s Jay Silverheels as a murderous renegade circling around the scene……

   I don’t want to over-praise this thing, so let me hasten to add that Furnace Creek has none of the emotional resonance of a John Ford movie. Visually however, it’s right up there with Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine, particularly in a nighttime chase through the dark back alleys of a seamy mining town, a horseback pursuit across the plains, and a fine shoot-out in the ruins of the fort where it all started, as the wounded Mature crawls after the bad guys like a limping dog looking for the man that shot his paw.

   Two other things I want to mention: Coleen Gray, an actress who went from Red River to The Leech Woman, with stops along the way for Kiss of Death and The Killing, does remarkable work as the feisty heroine, and Charles Kemper (Uncle Clegg in Wagonmaster) contributes enjoyable comic relief as a guy who carries a tree trunk around with him.

   And finally, I just love the way gunshots always sounded in the old Fox Westerns; they had a flat, authoritative bang that was somehow evocative of danger and sudden death. Listen for them.