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From Atomic Cinema, which has some of my favorite writing on movies:
Is 40 GUNS the weirdest Hollywood western? The question boils down to whether this is crazier than JOHNNY GUITAR. I think it is... JOHNNY GUITAR is crazy because Nicholas Ray wanted it to be crazy. Sam Fuller’s special gift was that he didn’t seem to know he was crazy. 40 GUNS is just Fuller’s honest idea of the best way to do a western. And that’s pretty damn weird!
The craziness of 40 GUNS:
- The Song: 1950s westerns always had a ridiculous theme song. “Chuck-a-luck” from RANCHO NOTORIOUS is pretty comical but it’s no match for “Lady with a Whip,” the love theme from 40 GUNS.
- Skewed sexuality: In Fuller movies interaction between the sexes tends to be confusing and smutty. (e.g. UNDERWORLD USA and PICK-UP ON SOUTH STREET) In Fuller movies the sexes interact on a pheromone level, forming life-long sexual bonds on sight. (or on smell, I guess) FORTY GUNS is a censor-baiting cavalcade of raunchy single-entendre “humor” that flirts with art because the most leering lines are delivered dead-pan, as if the characters have no idea what they’re saying. “She’s quite a girl. I’d like to stay around long enough to clean her rifle.” You’re probably thinking, “girls don’t have rifles!” Well, they do in this movie, as well as whips. It’s so far gone that Fuller manages to make the vagina a phallic symbol. The cute girl in FORTY GUNS is a gunsmith. Her rifle is a running symbol focusing on the ridged interior of the barrel cleaned with repeated thrusts of a brush. (The rifled barrel POV shot that opens every James Bond movie seems to have been originated in FORTY GUNS.) Every time our leading man goes to the gun shop it’s an outlandish pantomime of gun barrel stroking and jerking.
- Male Bonding: This is a manly movie for manly men, particularly manly men who want to scrub each other’s backs. No movie cowboys ever took as many baths as these guys! After every fight, shooting or romantic encounter it’s back to an open-air frontier bath house for sing alongs and towel snappin’
- Barbara Stanwyck: Stanwyck is one of my favorite actresses but even in the 1930s she was never very attractive. In 40 GUNS she's easily the ugliest romantic leading lady in any Hollywood sound movie. I’m not talking about “plain” here. I’m talking about something so startling it would be weird not to mention it. She looks exactly like Medusa in CLASH OF THE TITANS. But whether intended or not, it works. When men in 40 GUNS are drawn to her it’s so implausible is unsettling, like she’s a sorceress. [...]
- The 40 guns: Wherever Stanwyck goes she is followed by forty gunmen on horseback. It feels very Hong Kong film. (Very much like Lucy Lui and the Crazy 88s in KILL BILL.) If Stanwyck wants a pack of gum in town this whole battalion rides into town behind her, then follows her back home. The 40 guns eat dinner at a very, very long table with her at the head. When our hero shows up at dinner-time to further his romance with her she tells the 40 guns she’d like a little privacy so they all get up and march into a little side-room that can barely hold them, like they were toy soldiers being put in their case.
- Generic Cast: Can you tell Barry Sullivan and Gene Barry apart? Yeah, me neither. I've seen this movie many times and I still can't tell which brother is dating who or who's been shot.
- Miscellaneous oddness: At one point a man is shot in the leg. The doctor runs over to examine the leg. “How is he, doc?” Doctor says, “He’ll live, but he’s blind.”