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.