Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and Carolyn Jones star in a terrific western called “Last Train to Gun Hill.” The 1959 movie features Douglas as Matt Morgan, a Marshall who learns that a pair of cowhands from Gun Hill have raped and murdered his wife. The killers leave a monogrammed saddle behind — with the initials of Matt’s oldest friend, the tough cattle baron Craig Beldon, played by Quinn. The grieving Matt wants revenge, but he’s a man of integrity. The killers must be caught and face a murder trial.
The film, ably directed by John Sturges, opens as American Indian woman and her young son travel on a road through the woods. Two men follow. The woman speeds up her carriage, and whips one of the men on the side of the face, opening a long, deep gash. The men run her down and kill her, while her son steals one of the men’s horses (with the fancy saddle) and races to town. The murdered woman turns out to be Matt’s wife.
While Matt travels to Gun Hill to return the saddle and find the killers, we get our first view of Craig, who is a tough and strident alpha male who won’t take interference from anyone. He runs all the businesses in Gun Hill and even controls the sheriff. Meanwhile, Matt meets Linda (Jones) on the train; she’s Craig’s girlfriend. One would expect Linda to take Craig’s side in the dispute, but she makes her own decisions throughout the film. When Matt arrives in Gun Hill, Craig welcomes him with open arms. Matt tells Craig he’s looking for a man with a deep cut on his face, and he’s sure it’s Craig’s son. Matt also tells him he’s not leaving (on the last train) without without him. That will be difficult because Craig not only won’t give up his son, but he possesses an overwhelming advantage in firepower.
It’s common in these showdown westerns to have an invincible good guy. Kirk Douglas’ Matt Morgan fits the bill, but he does it with such passion, fortitude and style that the film keeps the viewer very involved. He gets a little help from Linda, but Craig holds all the cards. Both Matt and Craig cannot change their essential natures, and Linda enters her first scene having already gone though an epiphany. Never for a second do we see a compromise from any of the three, while everyone else is Gun Hill is a whining follower of Craig. As good as Quinn and Douglas are, I think Jones steals the movie. She understands the foolishness of mankind, but is stuck in the consequences of that folly.