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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What's the story?
THE GUNFIGHTER centers on Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck), the fastest gun who ever lived, which makes him a target for every young man who wants to prove himself. After Ringo kills a young man in self-defense, the dead man's brothers pursue him to Cayenne. Sheriff Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell), Ringo's old friend, tells him he will have to leave because there are too many young men who will risk everything to be able to claim the credit for killing Ringo. Ringo wants to see his wife Peggy and their child, but his enemies are closing in on him. Peggy tells Ringo that if he can settle down in a place for a year without trouble, she will join him. He spends some time with his son, and prepares to leave, happy at the thought of his new life. But a local man is waiting for him, and shoots him in the back. As Ringo dies, he says that he drew first. He doesn't want Hunt hanged. He wants him to suffer as he has, knowing that wherever he goes, there will be someone who wants to be known as the man who shot the man who shot Ringo.
Is it any good?
This Western provides a good opportunity for a discussion of notions of manhood and courage. Ringo would trade all of his fame for the chance to live with his family. He's more successful with his intelligence than his speed -- he is able to avoid many shoot-outs, arranges to have money paid to Peggy without giving away their connection, and thinks of a plausible reason to tell his son why he wanted to see him without revealing the truth. His innate decency and sense of justice are shown in many scenes.
This is also a good movie about the consequences of our choices. There are so many movies about redemption and triumph that it is automatically branded an "adult western" when a gunfighter doesn't shoot the bad guy and ride off into the sunset. Unlike Alan in The Petrified Forest, who dies to help someone else, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, whose deaths at the end of the movie only brightens their legend, Ringo chooses to tarnish his legend as he dies, to curse Hunt to the same fate that he suffered, and possibly also to give little boys and young squirts less reason to try to be like him.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about notions of manhood and courage, and the consequences of our choices. Also, why does every town have a "young squirt" who wants to prove he is faster than Ringo? Why doesn't Mark carry a gun? Why does Ringo insist that he drew on Hunt? Why was Mark able to get away and start over, when Ringo and Buck were not? Why does Peggy call herself Mrs. Ringo at the end?
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