An Arizona rancher rules with her cowboy army until a U.S. marshal and his brothers come to town.
Forty Guns is the most rampantly sexualized Western ever made, and the most outrageous of Samuel Fuller's late-'50s B movies. Fuller's original title was "Woman with a Whip," referring to the hard-riding range baroness--Barbara Stanwyck, sporting silver hair and (most of the time) black, skintight man togs--who's "the boss of Cochise County" and a law unto herself. The forty guns are an army of pistoleros who accompany her just about everywhere, and Fuller misses no opportunity to exaggerate their macho assertiveness in black-and-white CinemaScope, whether thundering along the horizon or formed up on either side of a preposterously long dinner table with Stanwyck at its head. Barry Sullivan costars as a Wyatt Earp–like gunfighter who both threatens Stanwyck's empire and awakens her lust for something besides power. As one of his brothers, Gene Barry (soon to star in Fuller's mind-blowing Vietnam movie China Gate) enjoys a passionate liaison with a gunsmith's busty blond daughter (Eve Brent) whom he romances down the bore of a rifle--an image Jean-Luc Godard would memorialize in Breathless. In the relentlessly double-entendre dialogue and the blocking of scenes, everything takes on sexual overtones: power and impotence, political advantage and exclusion. Fuller and cameraman Joseph Biroc capture many sequences in single, minutes-long takes that often end in a death--and in one perverse instance, the revelation of a death that has occurred midway through without our knowing it. (It's a T.S. Eliot moment, though we won't insist on it.) Style is all in this movie, which will leave you either astonished or aghast. More likely, both. --Richard T. Jameson