THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE. MGM, 1956. Glenn Ford, Jeanne Crain, Broderick Crawford, Russ Tamblyn, Leif Erickson, John Dehner, Noah Beery Jr. Written by Frank D. Gilroy and Russell Rouse from an original teleplay (The Last Notch, 1954) by Gilroy. Directed by Russell Rouse.

FIVE GUNS TO TOMBSTONE. United Artists, 1960. James Brown, John Wilder, Walter Coy, Robert Karnes, Della Sharman, Willis Bouchey. Written by Richard Schayer and Jack DeWitt, from an original screenplay (Gun Belt, 1953) by Arthur E. Orloff.

   Two films I happened to watch back-to-back, and they go me to thinking….

   The Fastest Gun Alive was based on an early television drama, and it has the pared-down self-importance of that time. Where Shane mythologized the clichés of the Western, this seeks to codify them, with Glenn Ford as the eponymous pistolero, trying to resist his addiction to firearms until called on to save his community.

   According to the story, if anyone is known as a fast gun, every other gunfighter in the known universe will come after him, and they will meet on Main Street with guns holstered for a fair fight. Pure bosh of course, conveyed with a great deal of talk, but MGM saw fit to stretch the thing out by ringing in Russ Tamblyn for an acrobatic and completely extraneous dance number. There’s also the usual nod to High Noon, with the townsmen cowering for safety (and more talk) in a church as they hide from fast-gun Broderick Crawford and his back-up group.

   On the plus side, Director Russell Rouse opens it out well, Glenn Ford delivers a fine performance, and there are a lot of familiar B-Western faces around. Best of all, there’s John Dehner in a very well-written part as Brod’s lieutenant owl-hoot. This, with Man of the West, puts Dehner at the top of my list as Best of the 2nd-String Bad Guys.

   Five Guns to Tombstone, on the other hand, boasts no self-importance at all, and the players will be familiar only to the most devoted of B-Western fans. Directed by that veteran hack Edward L. Cahn (The She Creature, It: The Terror from Beyond Space) it moves with an uncomplicated simplicity that celebrates, rather than solidifies, the familiar paces of its story.

   The story? Ah yes. Something about another ex-gunfighter (James Brown) trying to get along peaceable-like until his outlaw brother drags him into a Wells Fargo robbery fraught with treachery and sudden endings. No memorable acting here, but everyone is more than competent, and the parts only require as much depth as a strip of celluloid – that and the ability to ride, fight and shoot convincingly. And speaking of shooting: In this movie, everybody, good guys and bad, pull out their irons at the first sign of trouble and go in shooting.

   Five Guns is hardly memorable, but as I watched it zip through its allotted time, after listening to Fastest Gun talk its way along, it was like a breath of fresh and simple Western air. Not a great western, maybe not even a very good one, but I found it refreshing.