♪ Well, there was this movie I seen one time
About a man riding cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck
Well, the marshal, now he beat that kid to a bloody pulp
As the dying gunfighter lay in the sun and gaped for his last breath
“Turn him loose, let him go, let his say he outdrew me fair and square
I want him to feel what it’s like to every moment face his death” ♪
— Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard
The week’s Weekend Politics Thread lyrical epigraph misquotes dialog1 toward the end of The Gunfighter. Still, Dylan and Shepard manage to capture the “From Hell’s heart” vibe of Jimmy2 Ringo’s dying words.
Viewers meet Peck’s Ringo shortly after he reaches the ancient-for-a-gunslinger age of 39 years. We quickly learn our protagonist lives so far outside the law he exists as the embodiment of a special form of cosmic and eternal judgment. The first rule of Gunfighter Club? Never shoot a man who does not shoot first. That credo does nothing to dissuade confrontations. It actually goads pretenders to Ringo’s crown as fastest in the West to fatally chump themselves.
Ringo’s soul weariness also surfaces early. He wants his wife back. He wants to meet the now 8-year-old boy he fathered but abandoned before birth. He wants to start a melon farm in California.3 In the nearer term, he just wants to spend a solid 12 hours day-drinking in peace.4
The first nine-tenths of the movie allows Ringo to check off every box but the melon farming. Then, some coward ambushes him from behind in an alley.
Seeing The Gunfighter for the first time in mid-2021 makes it look an awful lot like an allegory for America’s then-newly acquired status as the world’s sole superpower. Ringo starts each day and approaches every stranger with good intentions, but bad actors will not stop hassling him. Justifiable causes for deadly violence about even though Ringo repeatedly proves capable of solving problems using only his wit, charm and compromise. Someone will eventually come along to relieve the burden, but sweet release inevitably arrives at the very moment when the future appears brightest.
Or, very selectively and with serious reservations about going full Billy Joel not starting a fire,
- Destroy the village to save it
- Iranian hostages through 9/11
- Camp David Accords and SALT
- The rise of the tea party and Trumpism, or le déluge après Obama5
This looks like the fate of all empires. But your WPT host certainly saw much more than the screenwriters and director committed to page and screen. Another line from the song “Brownsville Girl” applies: “The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter.” Even if the moral of the movie originally amounted to nothing deeper than “Fuck around and find out,” the material lends itself to serious extrapolation.
So, to reference the song that kicked this off a last time:
♪ There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice
I don’t remember who I was or where I was bound
All I remember about it was it starred Gregory Peck, he wore a gun and he was shot in the back
Seems like a long time ago, long before the stars were torn down ♪