★★★★★During his tenure at The AV Club, Dissolve editor Scott Tobias conceived of 'The New Cult Canon' – a list of modern classics from across the board, blind to the demarcations of low and high culture. It was one of the key critical milestones of the last decade; acknowledging the inescapable importance of a canon in film culture while simultaneously raising the level of discourse and attention afforded to films that, while well-respected, were never treated with the uniform reverence given to more prestigious counterparts. Perhaps more importantly, Tobias' list reflects the fact that even poorer films can be as important in gauging the cinematic climate of a particular era as the great works, cult or otherwise.
It was made at the closing years of the genre's heyday, and yet it is not self-consciously mournful. Instead, the promise of the West is couched as a struggle for freedom and control; the local pioneers - defined by their land that's run on their own terms – and the Federal government who are there to subsume the land into the rest of America. Fuller was fascinated by this tension; his films The Baron of Arizona (1950) and I Shot Jesse James (1949) were similarly predisposed. Fuller was always a master, but Forty Guns found him at the height of his powers, deploying some of the best crane and tracking shots this side of Minnelli. Picture the thrilling kinetica of De Palma's Snake Eyes (1998) transferred to the Old West. The camera swooshes, the violence crackles and the pace never lets up; it's quite a thrill. Let us anoint Forty Guns as the centerpiece of the Cult Western Canon, where it would be joined by the likes of Wellman's Track of the Cat (1954), Tourneur's Canyon Passage (1946) and Hellman's The Shooting (1966). Ford and Hawks were the kings of the West, but these guys were the unruly knights, marching to the beat of their own drum across cinema's vast, rich landscape.
Craig Williams | @CraigFilm