FOUR FAST GUNS. Phoenix/Universal, 1960,  James Craig, Martha Vickers, Edgar Buchanan, Brett Halsey, Paul Richards, Richard Martin, and Blu Wright. Written by James Edmiston & Dallas Gaultois. Directed by William J. Hole Jr.

   There ain’t much to it, but what there is works pretty well.

   James Craig, looking a bit dissipated since his days battling Satan at RKO, stars as Tom Sabin, a gunfighter kicked out of Abilene by a town-taming marshal. When they both head off to the distant town of Purgatory  – the marshal to take on a new job, Sabin just to get along  —  they meet by chance and Sabin guns down the town-tamer in a fair fight.

   In one of those coincidences reserved for pulp fiction and B-movies, Sabin arrives in Purgatory, is mistaken for the town-taming marshal, and decides to take the job. Whereupon the local dress-heavy (Paul Richards) summons three fast-gun dog-heavies to end Sabin’s career before it starts.

(PARENTHETICAL NOTE: “Dress Heavy” is a term used by Western fans to describe the bad guy in a Western who wears a fancy vest, runs a bank or a saloon, tries to buy the heroine’s ranch or swindle the locals, and says “Have the boys meet me at the hideout.” to nearby underlings. This as opposed to the “Dog Heavy” who does the grunt work and can usually be spotted somewhere on the trail, hiding in the rocks with a view to ambushing somebody. Dog Heavies look mean, but rarely win fist-fights and show remarkably poor aim when shooting from behind rocks.)

   Getting back to the movie, Sabin encounters the three adversaries separately, and writers Edmiston & Galtois do a fine job differentiating them, investing each potential killer with a distinct personality, subtly expressed by the actors themselves. It’s a lot more care than is normally taken with Dog-Heavies, and I found it pleasantly surprising.

   The result is a low-budget Western with plenty of action, and a bit of thoughtfulness – of Humanity, if you will – that goes down easily and stays on the mind longer than most.