A key forerunner of the new breed of dark, brooding westerns that would cast a shadow over America’s frontier folklore, this subversive psychological saga sounds a death knell for the myth of the outlaw hero. In one of his most morally complex roles, Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, an infamous gunslinger looking to hang up his holsters and start a new life, but whose reputation draws him inexorably into a cycle of violence and revenge from which he cannot escape. Directed with taut efficiency by the versatile studio-era craftsman Henry King, and shot in striking deep-focus style by master cinematographer Arthur C. Miller, The Gunfighter forgoes rough-and-tumble action in favor of an elegiac exploration of guilt and regret that speaks to the anxious soul of postwar America.
The Criterion Collection presents Henry King’s western The Gunfighter to Blu-ray, delivering the film on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The presentation is sourced from a 4K restoration conducted by Fox in 2015, and scanned from a 35mm duplicate negative.
There’s a slight softness to the image throughout that more than likely just comes down to the source, but outside of that it’s a remarkable looking presentation overall. Details are still quite crisp (tight patterns even looking clean and distinct) with sharp looking close-ups, the image still featuring a wonderful film-like texture, grain looking terrific. Grayscale looks incredible, further enhancing that photographic look, and blacks appear rich and inky without destroying detail, while whites come off pretty bright without blooming.
The film is also incredibly clean, no severe signs of damage present, and the picture is smooth and stable throughout. A lot of work has obviously gone into this and the end results show all that hard work has paid off.
The lossless PCM mono track is above average for the time. Range ends up being pretty wide, the film’s score showing some decent highs and lows. Everything else is leveled out but it never comes off flat, dialogue still sporting some depth and range itself. Outside of some minor background noise the track is free of any severe damage and distortion.
Criterion throws in a few supplements that are more specific to the film’s director, Henry King, and its editor, Barbara McLean. Filmmaker Gina Telaroli first pops up to talk about King and his career, who built up a lot of his sensibilities (particularly in using locations and getting things accurate) while working in Italy. She then talks a bit about the film’s production, King’s attention to detail around everything in it, right down to the look of Peck’s character (though it comes up throughout the supplements that he and others were very unsure on Peck’s moustache). She also touches on the film’s simple yet effective editing. Her interview runs 23-minutes.
This last point then leads nicely into J. E. Smyth’s 23-minute visual essay about McLean’s editing of the film, her career at Fox, and how her push for specific technologies and her eye for details led to her becoming one of Daryl F. Zanuck’s “star” employees. Smyth looks at her film work and her editing techniques, and then breaks down the editing for a few sequences from The Gunfighter. McLean apparently thought this film was an incredibly easy one to edit, but Smyth perfectly explains (and shows) how some of her simple looking cuts, that even cut out specific actions, increase the impact of a sequence. It's an engaging and nicely edited essay.
To accompany those two features, Criterion then includes two separate audio interview excerpts, one featuring Henry King and the other Barbara McLean, running 34-minutes and 33-minutes respectively. Both were recorded by Thomas R. Stempel for a research project on Zanuck for the AFI. Both talk a little about Zanuck (King explains how he would ask for forgiveness instead of permission when dealing with execs) but King ends up getting quite in-depth about location filming and all of the planning that needs to go into that. McLean talks about how she learned editing and how she made her way up through Fox before talking about her work with King. Both interviews also cover The Gunfighter to a surprising extent, with both humourously recalling the concerns around Peck’s moustache in the film.
The included insert then features an essay by film critic K. Austin Collins on the quality of the film's storytelling thanks to King and editor McLean. Disappointingly there isn’t anything else, Criterion not even porting over the couple of features around the film found on Fox’s Western Classics DVD, which featured the film. Even then, the release is aiming to introduce newcomers to King and McLean, and the supplements to do a wonderful job in that regard.
Not a packed special edition by any means, but the features do a fantastic job examining the work and techniques of both director Henry King and editor Barbara McLean, while the disc also delivers a superb looking presentation for the film.