Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL. Paramount PIctures, 1959. Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Carolyn Jones, Earl Holliman, Brad Dexter, Brian Hutton, Ziva Rodann. Screenplay by James Poe, based on a story by Les Crutchfield. Director: John Sturges.

   Last Train from Gun Hill is a 1959 Western directed by John Sturges (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven) with a memorable score by Dimitri Tiomkin (High Noon). It features Kirk Douglas as a U.S. Marshal seeking justice for his murdered Cherokee wife (portrayed by the Israeli actress Ziva Rodann) and Anthony Quinn as a corrupt cattleman whose screw-up of a son is responsible for the horrific crime.

   The film, which co-stars Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family) and Earl Holliman (Hotel de Paree), is fairly standard American Western fare. The themes of frontier justice, domestic violence, the rights of Native Americans, and the relationships between fathers and sons all play prominent roles in James Poe’s solid, but not particularly novel, screenplay.

   The plot of Last Train from Gun Hill isn’t all that difficult to follow. The film begins with a somewhat lengthy chase scene in which two inebriated cowboys, Rick Belden (Holliman) and Lee (Brian G. Hutton) recklessly chase a wagon driven by a Cherokee mother (Rodann) and her son Petey.

   The mother, wanting to protect her son, uses a whip to fend off the attackers, leaving a brutal mark on Rick’s face. But it’s too little, too late. Eventually, the ruffians succeed in driving the two innocents off the road. Although we do not witness the crime directly on screen, it is clear that Rick both rapes and murders the Cherokee mother.

   Fortunately, Petey escapes and heads into town where his father, Matt Morgan, (Douglas) is a U.S. Marshal. Morgan rides to the crime scene and finds a horse with a saddle engraved with the initials C.B. He realizes it belongs to his old friend, Craig Belden (Quinn), and Rick’s father who is now a cattle baron in the town of Gun Hill.

   Prior to setting out for Gun Hill, Morgan has a brief exchange with his murdered wife’s Native American father, who urges him to seek vengeance and kill the culprit slowly, the “Indian way.” As a lawman, however, Morgan appears more concerned with justice than with revenge.

   Making his way to Gun Hill by train, Morgan meets Linda (Jones), Craig Belden’s estranged girlfriend on the trip. Unfortunately, what could have been a more exciting film devolves into a very slow-moving story in which Morgan and his old friend Craig Belden argue, debate, and fight each other over whether or not Morgan is going to bring the son, Rick Belden, to justice.

   Problem is: Belden has the whole town of Gun Hill in his back pocket, so it’s not completely clear at the outset how Morgan is going to pull this off. Still, he’s determined that he’s going to be on the 9 PM train out of Gun Hill — the last train out for the day — with Rick Belden and Lee in federal custody.

   The movie plods along for a good 45 minutes or so, with an especially lengthy sequence in which Morgan holds a whining Rick Belden captive in a hotel room. Finally, there’s a dramatic scene in which Lee burns down the hotel, forcing Morgan out into the town streets.

   The last ten minutes of the film, which features a final, inevitable, showdown between Morgan and Craig Belden, makes up for the fact that not all that much memorable happens for a good part of the film. Indeed, the biggest flaw of Last Train from Gun Hill is in its pacing. There are some scenes that go by far too quickly; others seem to take forever.

   In general, Douglas is solid in his portrayal of a U.S. Marshal. Initially, he isn’t particularly convincing as a grieving husband. That changes when he encounters a man in Gun Hill who thoughtlessly insults his deceased wife’s heritage. Indeed, nothing seems to enrage Morgan more than hearing men belittle his wife’s Native American ancestry.

   Quinn, on the other hand, seems just a bit out of place in this film. Still, his acting is perfectly fine and he portrays the character of Craig Belden as a man who is both extremely powerful and extremely lonely, a man trapped by his own success.

   Last Train from Gun Hill is by no means a work of cinematic excellence. That said, it’s not a bad film. Fans of Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn would likely appreciate the two men cast as friends turned rivals. In many ways, it’s a very American film, albeit not an especially cheerful one. It’s a movie about friendship, family, and frontier justice, the type of Western that one might enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon.