Gunfighter, The (1950): Henry King’s Adult Psychological Western, Starring Gregory Peck

Considered to be one of the first mature (“psychological”) Westerns in the post-WWII era, Henry King’s The Gunfighter features Gregory Peck in top form, as an aging, over the hill gunslinger, who wants to lay down his gun but may be doomed.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

This was the second of six collaborations between director Henry King and star Gregory Peck, who also teamed on the superb World War II film Twelve O’Clock High (1949), the biblical kitsch David and Bathsheba (1951), the Hemingway adaptation The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), the western The Bravados (1958), and Beloved Infidel (1959), their last and weakest picture.

he Gunfighter
The Gunfighter.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The movie was deservedly nominated for its Motion Picture Story by William Bowers and Andre de Toth. 

Preceding Fred Zinnemann’s similarly-themed “High Noon” (starring Gary Cooper), by two years, “The Gunfighter” is ultimately a more compelling, less schematic Western, with striking, high-contrast visuals by ace lenser Arthur Miller, and moody score by Alfred Newman.

At his most handsome, Peck plays Johnny Ringo, a notorious killer who arrives in his town in order to settle down, or more specifically rekindle a strained relationship with the wife and boy he had selfishly abandoned. Nonetheless, the townsfolk see him as a threat to the status quo.

Ringo is in a no-win situation: While the youngsters, represented by Eddie (Richard Jaeckel, excellent as a two-bit punk), want to challenge him to fight to take his crown off from him, the older law-abiding citizens want to kick him out of town.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 1

Motion Picture Story: William Bowers and Andre de Toth

Oscar Context

The Story Oscar went to the husband and wife team, Edna and Edward Anhalt, for “Panic in the Street,” directed by Kazan. The other nominees were Italian Giuseppe De Santis and Carlo Lizzani for the neo-realist film “Bitter Rice,” Sy Gomberg for “When Willie Comes Marching Home,” and Leonard Spiegelgass for “Mystery Street.”



Johnny Ringo (Gregory Peck)

Peggy Walsh (Helen Westcott)

Sheriff Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell)

Charlie (Anthony Ross)

Eddie (Richard Jaeckel)

Mrs. Pennyfeather (Verna Felton)

Mrs. Devlin (Ellen Corby)


Directed by Henry King

Produced by Nunnally Johnson
Written by William Bowers and William Sellers
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Arthur C. Miller
Edited by Barbara McLean
Color process Black and white

Produced and distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: June 23, 1950

Running time: 85 minutes
Box office $1,950,000 (US rentals)