Shoot Out (1971)


shoot-out-1971I thought I’d give this lesser known Gregory Peck western, made during a time when tests were indeed change, the very style of the western had taken two paths, the dying classic and the revisionist. This falls into the first, a form that allowed old favourites such as Peck, John Wayne, James Stewart and their contemporaries to continue working, there was indeed still an audience and that is still here to this day, however there is a sense of tiredness, the actors aren’t spring chickens, audiences had also become more sophisticated. It shows in Shoot Out (1971) the change in tone of language from the beginning when ex-convict and bank robber Clay Lomax (Peck) is released from prison. The genre wants a new audience, even with younger characters that are employed to bring him in un-harmed.

With a simple set-up it should be straight forward, as the younger men lead by Bobby Jay Jones (Robert F. Lyons) are put to work in an older man’s world. The classic west still exists, allowing new life to breathe in it. Time has not been kind to the older men, one fresh out of jail, a saloon owner Trooper (Jeff Corey) an ex-soldier is now in a wheel chair, whilst the Jones employer Sam Foley (James Gregory) having made his lives fortune sits in waiting. Acting also as a new generation in waiting to make their own mark in film and the genre.

For Lomax he begins his freedom set out to exact revenge, yet before long he is in delivered a package that he had not bargained for, a reminder of his past, a possible daughter Decky Ortega (Dawn Lyn) who steals every scene she’s in, making up for genre that looks tired, a lead actor, whilst giving his best is just too old for the role. This coming from a period in films when older men were still being seen as fathers of young children. When in reality their own had grown up and left home. However you can still feel the drive to get to his destination and exact revenge against Foley who shot him in the back, landing him in jail for seven years.

It’s the young men who follow him who deliver most of the violence, as they stalk the man and girl across the same country that director Henry Hathaway used in True Grit (1969). If only a few more shots had been fired before Lomax finds them on his trail. A trail that sees him begin to beyond with the outspoken young girl who is already showing signs she’s seen and learned somethings in her short life, all courtesy of her now dead mother. Whilst he wants the best for her, he knows the open road is not a life for her, he starting to try and palm her off before settling for a life with her in it.

Having the children is highlight of this film, with her we have all the comedy, and the vulnerability. Yet without her we would have more danger than we have, even towards the end when everyone is at the Farrell ranch, the William Tell fun and games which delivers the real danger. It’s rare to see children being brought into the adult world of western violence, usually running for cover, or starring from the sidelines. The children do allow for different kind of violence, making us think about contemporary domestic lives, when we see children caught between adults, here directly in the firing line. Even violent crime where the child is put at risk. Bringing out the best and the worst in the characters to ensure justice is delivered at the end of the film. I just wish that after all that we had the showdown between Foley and Lomax thats where the real argument was supposed to be. It’s as if they ran out of film and made the best of the ending they could there is literally no shoot out between the two older men, more so the young and old, the kids sadly get in the way.

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