Money, Women and Guns

What’s in a title? Sometimes a lot and other times very little. On the most fundamental level, it’s one of the most prominent hooks upon which to hang a movie, or at least one’s expectations of a movie. It may encourage a sense of what’s coming up, tease you with anticipation or, if handled clumsily, dampen your enthusiasm. If successful, it will have conjured images in your mind, kindled a flame of curiosity and drawn you in. So what of a title such as 1958’s Money, Women and Guns? Does it paint visions of some freewheeling adventure, full of action and eye candy but not all that much depth? I ask this because that’s something like the way I first approached the film, but the reality is a little different. The title grabbed my attention, the opening even looked as though it might be bang on, and then the rest of the movie delivered quite a bit more.

It all begins on location in Lone Pine, with a botched robbery. Three masked men attempt to rob an ageing prospector, but make a poor job of it – two of them will die while the third is driven off by the mortally wounded miner. The incomplete or unclear dying declaration is one of the classic tropes of the mystery genre, the victim tantalizing us with broad hints towards the identity of his slayer before expiring. This time there’s a little additional spin in that, before he dies, the old man makes it known that the perpetrator is named as one of the beneficiaries of his will. Superficially, that is what the story is about, the search for a killer from a short list of suspects. Up to this point it looks very much like a standard, formulaic tale, and that impression is strengthened further when we’re introduced to the lead. “Silver” Ward Hogan (Jock Mahoney) is something straight out of a dime novel, a virtual caricature named for his fondness for silver bullets and accoutrements. Yet first impressions, like the pulpy title, prove to be misleading and the movies becomes much more interesting. Hogan is a detective retained by the prospector’s lawyer to track down the beneficiaries of the will and, using that cover, bring in the surviving member of the gang. So Hogan sets out to locate the names on his list, to give the good news of an unexpected fortune to most, and the less welcome news of a day in court to one.

The film is structured in an episodic fashion, with series of vignettes providing the backdrop against which everything unfolds. It is, as I stated, a standard and quite absorbing mystery on the surface, but with a redemptive thread running through it all that is typical of the era. There is the journey Hogan is on towards personal fulfillment, something he will e seen to have attained by the fade out. As each little drama is played out in the course of his quest, we learn a little more about all those involved, about the motivations of the old man who made this rather odd will and the seemingly disparate group named within it. Essentially, it develops into a succession of moral fables which are telling, touching and not entirely predictable. By the end, it’s the redemptive and restorative aspects that take precedence for us, even the discovery of the guilty party fits into this pattern and the result is a wonderfully positive experience. While the film never becomes overly sentimental, it does reinforce the better side of human nature and every negative consequence has a kernel of positivity within it. In short, you come away from this film with good feeling overall.

Richard Bartlett had already made the engaging Joe Dakota with Jock Mahoney and again used the star’s cool and relaxed persona perfectly. Along with cinematographer Philip Lathrop, he captured some terrific images from around Lone Pine and the whole movie looks very attractive inside the wide CinemaScope frame. However, it’s that powerful thread of salvation which permeates Montgomery Pittman’s script which stands out strongest and gives the film its heart.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a western starring Jock Mahoney that I haven’t enjoyed. He had such an easy-going and assured persona on the screen that you end up feeling confident yourself of what you’re going to get. he role of the master detective fit him like a glove and he handled the action the scenes, the romantic interludes and the occasional light humor with great style, making the whole affair a pleasure to watch. Of course he benefited from having a solid cast working alongside him; Kim Hunter, who had a long and illustrious career from her beginnings with Val Lewton in The Seventh Victim through her Oscar-winning work with Kazan on A Streetcar Named Desire and on to cult immortality in Planet of the Apes, is an especially accomplished figure to play off, a classy lady who brings a great deal of charm and grace to a pivotal role. I think Tim Hovey did well too and came across convincingly, which isn’t something you can always say about child actors. And there’s quality all through the cast with Lon Chaney Jr, James Gleason, William Campbell, Gene Evans and Tom Drake all turning in credible or better performances.

Money, Women and Guns has been released on DVD in France and Spain but nowhere else, as far as I know. I’ve had the Spanish edition for some time and it’s a good enough copy. It’s presented in the correct anamorphic scope ratio and the print used is in pretty fair condition. Colors are stable and bright and the image doesn’t suffer from much damage. There’s a little softness from time to time, but nothing serious, and some of the process shots look a bit rough – overall, it’s quite acceptable though. The disc, as usual, offers a choice of the original soundtrack or a Spanish dub and optional subs. Frankly, I think this is a delightful movie and one that is good for a number of viewings. That’s not something you can say about too many films with a mystery at the heart of the script. However, Money, Women and Guns, aside from that superb title, features the kind of theme that goes beyond the more mechanical elements of the plot. Perhaps it’s not all that well-known but I’d give it a recommendation.

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30 thoughts on “Money, Women and Guns

  1. The wisdom of titles deserves its own study. What sane producer calls his violent Depression-era movie The Emperor of The North Pole?
    Mahoney was a legendary stunt man, given homage in Burt Reynolds’ Hooper as “Jocko”, played by Bri an Keith.

    • Yes, you could talk at length about how titles get chosen, which ones work better and which ones don’t, even the way we approach them has shifted over time – practically a whole new areas of sociology!
      I guess Mahoney’s beginnings as a stuntman and the physical awareness that entails is a good part of what lent him his graceful fluidity on screen. And by the way, Hooper was a terrifically entertaining film.

    • Grabs the attention, doesn’t it? Whether that’s in a good or bad way will depend on the viewer I suppose, but the film has a lot more depth, and indeed heart, than the title might suggest.
      It’s ages since I saw Jocko’s Tarzan films. His, relatively small number of, westerns in the 50s are all very good, it has to be said.

  2. Your review is leading me to get it. Agreed it is one of the least known Jock’s westerns, which could be due to an ‘ unenticing’ title! Best regards.

  3. His Tarzans were shot on location. He caught the local diseases in his last. Persevered, finished it, despite visibly wasting away onscreen. The real Greystoke couldn’t have done better.

    When Ron Ely talked to him, Mahoney accused him of stealing his role. When Ely said he’d done Tarzan, Mahoney said “No. Doc Savage”.

    • I see, interesting. I didn’t know that, or if I did I’d forgotten, about Mahoney coming down with an illness. The “artistic differences” are news to me too.

  4. This is great, Colin! Generally reviews of this film tend to be rather lukewarm and Bartlett’s direction criticised as lackadaisical so it is a real pleasure to read your very positive review. It is not going to go down as one of the ‘classic’ westerns but I also find it very enjoyable, as well as beautiful to look at. I have the Spanish transfer and it is just fine.

    I am perhaps (perhaps??) a little older than some of your other commenters so I came to Jock (Jack) Mahoney as a child completely enraptured by the exciting adventures of “THE RANGE RIDER” on the small box in the 1950s. His fluidity and amazing stuntwork were given full rein in 78 rip-roaring episodes, and one should not overlook his easy relationship with Dick Jones whose own stuntwork came close to equalling Jock’s.
    I thoroughly enjoy all the westerns Mahoney made for Universal through the 1956 – 1959 period and would recommend them to all lovers of westerns.
    Mahoney became VERY ill during the 2nd Tarzan film shoot but continued and completed the film. However, his health never really recovered sadly and the best was behind him.
    He will always be one of my ‘heroes’.

    • Jerry, I’m happy any time I see Jock Mahoney’s name in the credits of a film, he hasn’t disappointed me yet and his Universal-International westerns are tops – still have to watch Showdown at Abilene though.
      I’m not sure how others feel about this film but I think it has has real heart and is built around the kind of positive theme which appeals to me greatly. And the western/detective mix works very effectively in it too.

    • 😀
      Yes, that title could be open to a whole lot of diverse interpretations!
      As you can see, I like the film quite a bit and suggest you give it a look if you have the opportunity.

  5. Haven’t seen this one but will be on the look out. I too like Mahoney and that’s probably because I liked his pair of Tarzan films that offered plenty of adventure to this youngster on Sunday TV many years ago.

  6. It’s a pleasure to read a thoughtful and appreciative piece on this much underrated Western. It’s rarely had any serious critical attention, but I’ve always had affection for it (this reminded me I mean to get the Spanish DVD) and it has a solid place in my top 10 Westerns of 1958, which those who know that year and period generally will know is very high praise. The genre was peaking then, with so many wonderful movies.

    The script for this packs a lot of nicely woven story material into its concise length, and it all works as played out in the film. My favorite part of it as an individual story made part of the whole is the William Campbell/Judy Meredith one–the errant/outlaw figure with the sweet, moral woman he loves inspiring him to find his better self. This could be the back story of Claudia and Will in UNFORGIVEN, before the present story of that film takes Will back to what he had been before Claudia (an absent presence in the film) has died. Here, in the 15 or 20 minutes they get, we see a sensitive presentation of what such a couple might be and it’s beautifully realized by the two actors and by director Bartlett.

    It must be said that Richard Bartlett–who I always champion–is a director deserving of wider recognition, and really very individual. He sustained relationships with several writers and partners over more than one movie (Montgomery Pittman is one of these) which shows he wanted to create movies he believed in. His moral and even spiritual convictions run deep and the understated religious allusions are something he sought out when he could in a career that one wishes had been a better one (he made the most of opportunities but there were not a lot–and I’ve seen all nine of his 50s films as well as all his Wagon Train episodes). Along with his sensibility, and in line with it, his style is quiet and unshowy but rich with nuance. That’s a virtue. Many here revere Jacques Tourneur for his understated artistry and rightly so, but there are others–maybe not quite on his level–that are at least in that line. Hugo Fregonese is a good example of it, and I’d say the same of Bartlett.

    By the way, Bartlett used Jock Mahoney in 4 of 5 of his U-I movies–the actor, a favorite of mine, and similarly losing opportunities once this level of production (modest but not threadbare) diminished in the 60s, plainly hit just the right note for the director and is in one of his Wagon Train episodes too.

    It seems like a lot of folks here don’t like MONEY, WOMEN AND GUNS as a title. I love it! Sure, it doesn’t really suggest the tone and character of this movie that well, but after all, those three elements do all play a part in the action, so it can’t be said to mischaracterize it. But mostly, it’s just good for a movie to have this title because it evokes the lure of so much cinema, at least genre movies, and a lot of what one always hoped to see in those movies.

    • Really good to hear from you, Blake, and to read your thoughts on this one. I especially enjoyed your comments on the Campbell/Meredith sequence. It’s an especially well done piece and one I appreciated all the more since I haven’t always been impressed by Campbell – he’s just fine in this role though and it’s evidence of how good he could be. Your linking in of that section to Unforgiven is quite appropriate when you stop and think about it, so thanks for positing that interpretation.

      The title. I see where some will have problems with it, there are negative allusions which can be drawn to violence and superficiality. However, I’m inclined to agree with you in seeing it as the most generic of genre titles,, but in a good and attractive way.

  7. Colin
    Wow! It is not often that I can admit to never even hearing of a film title before, but this one has me beat completely. Nice find, Colin. On the list it goes! Sounds pretty good from what you say.

    Gord

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