Fury at Showdown 1957

Directed by Gerd Oswald
This western has a very small budget.

However the story and the actors are as powerful and motivated as if it were a blockbuster.

John Derek plays quite a complex character in this film. He is trying to live down his reputation as a gunslinger by running a cattle farm with his younger brother played by Nick Adams.

However a non too honest lawyer played by Gage Clarke and his hired bodyguard – John Smith – try to pressure him into selling his property. When his brother is killed John Derek shows his fury at showdown – shoots the bodyguard and has the Lawyer arrested and marries his girlfriend played by Carolyn Craig. Also in the cast were Robert E Griffin, Malcolm Atterbury, Rusty Lane, Sydney Smith, Frances Morris and Tyler McDuff.

Gerd Oswald directed a couple of films with stories of high morality. This one is his best – and, would you believe, he is said somehow to have pulled this picture off in a week – if so – astonishing !!

This is a quotation from the Director’s Television interview: “That was one of my six or seven day epics… The line producer, John Brett, said, ‘You are only allowed so much money for this picture and tomorrow we’ve got a big lynch scene. We’re supposed to have 50 extras, and I can only give you 12. That’s all — we just don’t have any more money.’ So by necessity I was forced to do certain set-ups that I normally wouldn’t have done. I filled half the screen with the profile of one man, then filled the background. I created a mob scene with just 12 people.”

Of course, you need a good script, capable actors and an ingenious cameraman to cut corners like that and end up with a decent film. The screenplay is by Jason James, adapted from the 1955 novel Showdown Creek by Lucas Todd. Todd is a pen-name for Stanley Kauffmann, the noted film and theatre critic for The New Republic and The New York Times.

There’s a solid performance from John Derek, a terrific one from Nick Adams, who underplays nicely, and appropriately hateful turns from John Smith and Gage Clarke.

Carolyn Craig ABOVE with John Derek as his love interest and later his wife – and a stable of trusty character actors hold their own.

Director of photography Joseph LaShelle was known for his gritty realism, making him an ideal choice for films like Laura (1944, which landed him an Oscar), Hangover Square (1945) and Road House (1948).

Joseph LaShelle had an ability to make a budget look bigger than it really is, which made him perfect for this one

A one-week picture tends to have a rushed feel – not the case with Fury At Showdown. Obviously, planning and rehearsal made all the difference. It was shot on the RKO Western street and at the Iverson Ranch in mid-July 1956.

Upon its release, A.H. Weiler of The New York Times called Fury At Showdown “a surprisingly decent little Western” and said “this unpretentious, low-budget entry is leanly written, tersely acted and, above all, straightforward… Under Gerd Oswald’s sure direction, this tightly authentic atmosphere, the good, blunt dialogue and some discreetly inserted music do much to project the urgency of Mr. Derek’s plight—that of a young man at his life’s crossroads.”

A good review no doubt.

ABOVE – John Derek and Nick Adams – I remember Nick in ‘The Last Wagon’ made just before this one – and a favourite of mine.

Years later, in his massive book The Western, Phil Hardy wrote: “A stylistic tour de force and undoubtedly Oswald’s best film, Fury At Showdown has a formal excellence that belies its five-day shooting schedule and shames many a bigger budgeted movie… Rarely has economy been put to such a positive use.”

Fury At Showdown (1957) is a real gem, one of those neglected little masterpieces that are so fun to discover.

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