After the considerable and deserved success of True Grit (Paramount, 1969), Universal must have wanted to replicate that box-office potential Paramount had found. They got Henry Hathaway to direct Shoot Out. An older gunman played by a famous Western star finds himself teamed up with a young girl and they ride together through spectacular Inyo National Forest locations. Marguerite Roberts adapted a Western novel into a screenplay. Paul Nathan and Hal B Wallis produce. Sound familiar?
However, Shoot Out was very far from True Grit – not even in the same league as far as quality is concerned. It was one of Peck’s worst performances and he seems tired, unconvinced and therefore unconvincing.
Jeff Corey is quite fun as a saloon keeper in a Victorian wheelchair but he soon gets shot. The three violent yahoos, led by Robert F Lyons, who pursue the hero and the little girl, are frankly weak – it needed Bruce Dern to lead them. The three are accompanied for no apparent reason by a saloon whore (Rita Gam). Dawn Lyn, 7, is good as the child. Paul Fix and Arthur Hunnicutt are in it and that raises your hopes at the opening credits but they have micro-parts: blink and you’ll miss them. What a waste.
The plot is a revenge one: Peck has been released from jail and goes after the accomplice who double-crossed him, shot him in the back and took all the bank loot. But oddly, this villain, Sam Foley (James Gregory) only appears briefly at the start and the end of the film, and even more briefly in a flash-back in the middle. The real enemy is the lout Foley sends to shadow the hero and the (uneven) contest is between them.
There’s a very Will Penny-like scene where Peck takes refuge with a single mother (Patricia Quinn) and son (Nicolas Beauvy, one of the kids from The Cowboys), and Peck duly has an affair with the mother and bonds with the boy, and then the house is invaded by the sadistic hooligans. Sounds familiar again, huh? Once again, though, this film does not have the quality of Will Penny.
There’s a William Tell bit running through the plot.
The Earl Rath photography is lovely and the Dave Grusin music more than satisfactory but the story is a bit of a dud and the direction at best bread-and-butter. The film is second-rate – a rarity indeed for a Western starring Gregory Peck.