Movie: ***** DVD Transfer: ****1/2 Extras: ****
Barbara Stanwyck is rougher than rawhide as Jessica Drummond, the high-riding "Woman With a Whip" (the film's pre-production title) in writer-producer-director Sam Fuller's movie about the female ruler of rugged Cochise County, Arizona. Armed with determination, wiles, and a savage lash, Drummond has firm control over the territory ... and she's backed up by a gang of forty sharp-shooting killers who follow her orders without question. Everything's going her way until a former gunslinger turned marshal (Barry Sullivan) arrives with his two brothers and begins to chip away at Drummond's power by attempting to restore law and order to the territory. Soon enough the lady and the lawman are engaged in a deadly battle of equals that will eventually engulf the entire community.
It's hard to believe that "Forty Guns" proved to be Stanwyck's last big screen appearance for five long years, a period in which she didn't make films because, in her own words, "no one asked me." Her performance is simply astonishing, and superbly nuanced: her voice and physical bearing communicate all too clearly that Jessica is not a woman to be trifled with. Stanwyck's triumph is even more complete when one realizes that the fifty-year-old actress performed all her own stunts in the film --- including being dragged by a horse during a harrowing tornado sequence! The rest of the cast is excellent throughout: Sullivan pulls off the difficult task of matching Stanwyck's energy without attempting to steal scenes; and nice work is also turned in by supporting players Gene Barry, John Ericson, and Dean Jagger. However, this is Stanwyck's movie all the way; her presence infuses every scene, even when she's off-camera.
The DVD presentation of this film is a credit to 20th Century-Fox Home Video. Both widescreen (Cinemascope) and pan-and-scan versions are included on the disc, and although it's not mentioned on the packaging, the DVD also includes the film's Original Theatrical Trailer. Picture and sound quality are superb throughout ... even the trailer is beautifully transferred. Overall, this is a magnificent release of a rarely screened film, enthusiastically recommended for fans of Samuel Fuller, Barbara Stanwyck, and the Western genre.