Friday, December 9, 2011

Shoot Out (1971)

If the idea of a cuddly revenge picture strikes your fancy, then the middling Western thriller Shoot Out is for you. The picture starts out well enough, with brooding bank robber Clay Lomax (Gregory Peck) getting released from jail and setting out to find his former partner, Sam Foley (James Gregory), a double-crossin’ varmint who’s got a date with the business end of Clay’s six-shooter. Aware that Clay is out for blood, Sam hires a group of thugs to keep tabs on Clay, but misjudges the character of the gang’s leader, Bobby Jay Jones (Robert F. Lyons). Turns out Bobby Jay’s a psycho looking for trouble, so when Bobby Jay starts endangering innocent people, Clay decides to take care of Bobby Jay before his showdown with Sam. So far, so good. But then the real plot kicks in: A former lover of Clay’s saddles him with a young girl who may or may not be his daughter, forcing Clay to juggle caregiving and gunplay. Whereas the logical narrative choice would’ve been to portray Clay as a reluctant father figure who can’t fathom how to keep a child amused, the filmmakers instead depict Clay as a natural parent who looks after the girl’s diet and hygiene, and even knows silly games and stories with which to keep her amused. This is the deadly criminal at the center of our story? Illogically softening Clay’s characterization drains nearly all the tension from Shoot Out, transforming the film from a guns-a-blazin’ oater to a softhearted family picture. To confuse matters further, Shoot Out returns to its original dark-and-nasty vibe toward the end of the story, because Bobby Jay goes on a killing spree that sets Clay’s blood a-boilin’. The climax of the picture is actually quite exciting, but the sudden flurry of high-stakes action seems to drift in from another movie. Still, Peck fans might dig the way Shoot Out bridges the actor’s softer side and the tough image he assumed in latter-day films, and the movie is assembled with utmost efficiency by veteran helmer Henry Hathaway. Shoot Out is watchable, but beware the gooey center. (Available as part of the Universal Vault Series on

Shoot Out: FUNKY

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