WolfmanOz at the Movies #6

The Gunfight

One of the stables of the Western genre is the showdown/gunfight, often between the main protagonists. The fate of those involved is settled within a split second as to who was fastest on the draw.

Of course, the reality in the old West was that it was nothing really like this. Often gunfights were a flurry of shooting with accuracy usually taking a back seat to desperate panic and mayhem.

A good example is the often filmed Gunfight at the OK Corral . . . where in the older classic films like My Darling Clementine and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, the filmed gunfight bore little resemblance to the actual event.

Although the more recent staging of the gunfight in the more recent and under-rated film Tombstone was reasonably close to the mark.

But in terms of staging a gunfight in a movie, the absolute master was the spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone.

The following two clips, are amongst some of my favourite movie sequences of all time, in which the images and music combine to produce cinematic magic.

In The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Leone stages the climatic gunfight not with two gunfighters but with three and then strings it out for over five minutes as each man sizes up his two opponents.

The rhythmic editing is perfectly complimented by Ennio Morricone’s magnificent music where Leone utilises his trademark extreme close-ups to increase the tension as the cutting becomes more frenzied as we near the point of the gunfighters drawing their pistols.

Leone followed that up with another unique gunfight at the end of Once Upon A Time In The West, where the character Frank (Henry Fonda) finally gets to face Harmonica (Charles Bronson) where he hopes to find out who he is.

Again, this is uniquely staged by Leone where Frank walks in the background from right to left, and, you are anticipating to see Harmonica appear in the foreground to the left of the screen, but then he appears to the right facing away from Frank. Of course all this is again scored by Ennio Morricone’s marvellous music. Was there ever a better director/composer combination in

As the two men finally face-off, Harmonica’s reason for seeking Frank out is then revealed.

It’s just all great cinema, the such of which we just don’t see anymore.


34 responses to “WolfmanOz at the Movies #6”

  1. bemused Avatar

    The opening scene of ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ was a prologue to the ending.

  2. calli Avatar

    the such of which we just don’t see anymore.

    Star Wars was a reprise of the “bullets flying, hitting no one” gun fight. And everyone loved it, because it was so recognisable.

    And it transformed little boys’ play sound effects from “bang, bang” to “phew, phew” . A profound, generational change.

  3. bemused Avatar

    I think the Trinity westerns shouldn’t be forgotten either, ‘My Name Is Nobody’, which had Henry Fonda was one of the best.

  4. shatterzzz Avatar

    Not gunfights as in meeting out front of the saloon but the final “battles” from both Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid plus The Wild Bunch are memorable ……!
    favourite western .. evah! .. THE GUNFIGHTER .. Gregory Peck .. not a bang, bang shoot ’em up offering just class acting & script ……

  5. areff Avatar

    In regard to events in Tombstone, you can’t go past Costner’s Wyatt Earp. More or less accurate recreation of the OK Corral gunfight, the context of the conflict reflecting the real circumstances of the clash with the Clantons.

    What makes the flick is Gene Hackman’s performance as the Earp patriarch at the very start. You grasp early on that Costner’s Earp is no cleanskin Burt Lancaster-type but a troubled soul who has reconciled himself with his own deficiencies of character.

    Interesting, too, is that Costner plays pretty much the same character in Yellowstone.

  6. Tony Taylor Avatar
    Tony Taylor

    Good doogs, Wolfy.

    Once upon a Time in the West is my all time favourite film, while The Ecstasy of Gold and the final shootout in The Good the Bad and the Ugly are two of my all time favourite scenes. The shootout in For a Few Dollars more is pretty good too.


    I watched My Name is Nobody a couple of months ago, and it’s fair to say it doesn’t hold up well. Loved it as a 13 y.o. thought it was cringingly bad as a 59 y.o. The Trinity movies were even worse.

  7. Old School Conservative Avatar
    Old School Conservative

    (3rd attempt – no links this time)

    Gunfighters are portrayed to value honour as much as life. Hence the scheduled meeting in the street, allowing the opponent to remove clothing that could get in the way of a quick draw, and taking a stance a distance away that was challenging yet deadly.
    Immortalised in many movies, tv shows, and song.
    However The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence broke the cinematic mould with John Wayne’s character shooting the villain from the shadows during a gunfight.

    It would be interesting to read an accurate account of the reality of gunfights in the wild west.

  8. Old School Conservative Avatar
    Old School Conservative

    Well Wolfman’s post has ruined my day – gone down a rabbit hole of YouTube gunfighter videos, gunfighter songs, and associated country and western music.

  9. duncanm Avatar

    Another great take on the gunfight is Clint’s “Unforgiven”

    Bullets flying everywhere.. but the man who keeps his calm wins. (Being drunk may have helped)

  10. duncanm Avatar

    January 27, 2022 at 8:15 am
    The opening scene of ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ was a prologue to the ending.

    seems like we’re shy one horse…

    no.. you brought two too many

  11. Mother Lode Avatar
    Mother Lode

    Another great take on the gunfight is Clint’s “Unforgiven”

    I liked the line below where he underscores just what a terrible thing killing someone is – after so many movies where you see people getting blown away merely as plot devices.

    It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he’s got and everything he’s ever gonna have.

  12. duncanm Avatar

    So many good Clint lines.

    From “The Outlaw Josey Wales” when talking to a bounty hunter.
    Dyin’ aint much of a living, boy

  13. jupes Avatar

    Well it’s a post about westerns so someone’s got to mention the great man. John Wayne in True Grit and a different take on the gunfight.

  14. bemused Avatar

    I watched My Name is Nobody a couple of months ago, and it’s fair to say it doesn’t hold up well. Loved it as a 13 y.o. thought it was cringingly bad as a 59 y.o. The Trinity movies were even worse.

    I haven’t seen a trinity movie in a very long time, but I remember them anyway and they always bring back good memories. My Name Is Nobody is a different style, less camp (in the original meaning of the word), like Once Upon A Time In The West and I suspect followed on from the latter. I guess all movies are a matter of taste.

  15. Mother Lode Avatar
    Mother Lode

    I have harped on about this before so I perhaps should not reprise it, but my poor impulse control and warped sense of propriety yields to no man!

    These days it is de rigueur among our enlightened betters to decry Westerns and their supposed instilling of a violent mindset. Yet, since they started burying them under rafts of ‘parental advisories’, ‘parental warnings’, restrictions and whatnot what has been the result? What kind of young men and women are growing up, freed from their influence?

    Are they less violent?

    That is because our enlightened betters, as usual, misunderstood what they were denouncing. These old Westerns and such featured heroes who patiently forbear insults and petty humiliations from the bad guy. They wished to avoid conflict and violence. They would only be stirred to action by violence against weaker people. If they acted with violence for themselves it was only in the most extreme situation and not gratuitous.

    Kids learned that:
    You defend the weaker. You do not hurt them. You will be marked as a coward.
    You do not resort to violence people for spiteful words or petty injuries.
    You look for peaceful solutions.
    Seek a lawful solution (speak to the sheriff).
    You don’t go hunting for a fight.
    If you do have to fight you do not hit a person when they are down. You stop trying to hurt them when they stop trying to hurt you.
    You do not use arms when your opponent is unarmed.
    You face the person you are fighting. You do not strike from behind, or shoot them in their sleep, or such.

    I think those kids turned out better.

  16. bemused Avatar

    As a further note about Trinity films being cringe worthy, it needs to be pointed out that these were movies of their time and were intended not to be serious and to represent realistic violence. They were movies made for every age group.

    These movies are a lot like Jackie Chan’s action comedies. Jackie himself gave an interview (can’t find it now) where he was asked about why he made these in such a way. he responded that he wanted these movies to be able to be watched by any age group, even though they had stylised violence, they were never to be taken seriously.

    Simpler times. I wish there was more of it today.

  17. vlad redux Avatar
    vlad redux

    Jack Palance said once that that image of the quick draw gunfight was all wrong, because in the Old West they took their time and aimed carefully before shooting the other guy in the back.

  18. Shy Ted Avatar
    Shy Ted

    The next great Australian fillum will be Hangings At Picnic Rock. It will feature politicians, journos and their ilk and the hanging scenes will be quite realistic.

  19. Pogria Avatar

    God, I love westerns! My whole life they have been my favourite genre.
    Tombstone is my absolute favourite, bar none. So too, a lot of the ones mentioned upthread.

    I would like to add a few of my own;
    3.10 to Yuma
    Comes a Horseman

    And an obscure one that some of you may remember. It gained a lot of attention at the time as it starred three sets of acting brothers.
    The Long Riders.
    I watched The Long Riders a few months ago. Had not seen it for at least thirty years, it holds up well.

    Will think on this subject some more while I catch up with my work.

    Great thread Wolfman!

  20. Kneel Avatar

    “Are they less violent?”

    Also, the violence used to be “off stage” or “out of shot” in many cases, a la Hitchcock movies. No longer – it’s all makeup and special effects. But I’ll tell you one thing – “hiding” that stuff means it lives in your imagination, which is much more vivid than seeing it explicitly (from several angles, and in slo-mo).

    Should start seeing a lot of claims of “deep fake” soon too , I would expect – where peoples faces and words are composited onto a scene they were never at. These are close to being so good now that it is very hard to detect. Which of course makes “the camera doesn’t lie” obsolete.

  21. Miss Anthropist Avatar
    Miss Anthropist

    The best gunfight was High Noon.
    Tactical awareness.
    I have said this before on this blog.
    Easy to see who was paying attention.

  22. areff Avatar

    Somewhat off topic, so I hope Wolfman will forgive me.

    Several cats have mentioned True Grit, the film of the novel written by Charles Portis. Another of his books, Gringos, is no western but is first-rate.

    Recommended reading. One day, if we’re lucky, the Coen brothers (preferably) will make a movie out of it, as they did with the second (and better) True Grit. It’s their kind of story.


  23. areff Avatar

    Open Range has a decent shoot out and, apart from the out-of-period lady doctor, is a pretty good way to waste two hours.

  24. Eyrie Avatar

    Jack Palance said once that that image of the quick draw gunfight was all wrong, because in the Old West they took their time and aimed carefully before shooting the other guy in the back.

    The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.

  25. Bar Beach Swimmer Avatar
    Bar Beach Swimmer

    Thanks WolfmanOz.

    + lots for True Grit but, as Miss A notes, High Noon is magnificent in the fight and the suspense. Good gunfights need also to explore the aftermath. In High Noon, all the townsfolk are found wanting and as a result the lawman leaves. Left hanging in the air is how they will face each other afterwards or dealt with the next gunfighter, who will sooner or later become a presence in the town.

    The Magnificent Seven has a great gun fight sequence as well (plus for the music like The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, cannot be ignored). But The Magnificent Seven, like other gunfight films, is grounded in a great moral story; being prepared to stand up for one’s rights, despite lacking some of the skills necessary. In the middle of which is an atonement for one’s past (the gunfighter/s).

  26. GoTiges Avatar

    Pale Rider is another good western starring Clint at his enigmatic – man with no name best.

    Westward the Women is also a very good film – not really a shootout but an excellent story of the wild west.

  27. Bruce in WA Avatar
    Bruce in WA

    I still rate very highly the final shootout in Quigley Down Under.

    Tom Selleck obviously had a more than a passing familiarity with handguns.

    Of course, some of the other supposed feats of marksmanship, like shooting a water bucket offhand at 780+ yards, are pure Hollywood.

  28. Justabloke Avatar

    It always intrigued me how the original gun duels started back to back and they walked the designated steps before turning to fire whereas the later gun fights faced off and waited for the moment, much like samurai sword fights. I love my westerns but I wanted to tip my hat to the Gun Fighter Ballads as well. Marty Robbins and Big Iron is hard to beat.
    As an aside, Sammy Davis Jr was known to be a quick draw master and had a beautiful colt single action revolver made especially for him.

  29. Louis Litt Avatar
    Louis Litt

    Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven
    Terrance Hill – Man from the east
    John Wayne/Lee Marvin – man who shot liberty valance

  30. Bruce in WA Avatar
    Bruce in WA

    Winchester 73

  31. Bruce in WA Avatar
    Bruce in WA

    Rio Bravo

    El Dorado

    And of course, The Searchers.

  32. WolfmanOz Avatar

    In regards to High Noon it would be in my top 5 westerns, although the climatic gunfight/shootout for me is not its strong point.

    The tension built up during its short running time (the film’s duration matches the length of time in the events shown in the film) is superb and the moral questions it raises are timeless. Gary Cooper gave the performance of a lifetime, although his anguished look was probably helped by an ulcer he was suffering at the time.

    Other favourite westerns of mine would include The Big Country, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and Hombre.

    I also didn’t raise/include my favourite western – The Wild Bunch – as it’s climax is not so much a gunfight but a full blooded carnage of blood-letting. I’ll save that movie for a future post.

  33. Tony Taylor Avatar
    Tony Taylor

    On the off chance anyone is still reading this post, there’s a fantastic modern western from just a few years ago called Hell or High Water. Do yourselves a favour.

  34. Aaron Avatar

    Shootout to start the Aus movie “The Proposition” is pretty cool.

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