Combustible Celluloid
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With: Audie Murphy, Eddie Albert, Patricia Owens, Everett Sloane, Gita Hall, Paul Birch, Jack Elam, John Qualen, Stephen Peck, Carlos Romero, Herb Vigran, Peggy Maley, John Harding, Ted Jacques, Richard Jaeckel
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring, Paul Monash, based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway
Directed by: Don Siegel
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 83
Date: 01/09/1958

The Gun Runners (1958)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Hell of a Boat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on Ernest Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not, Don Siegel's The Gun Runners has only a few vague similarities to Howard Hawks' earlier film version, To Have and Have Not (1944). Hawks' version is clearly bigger budgeted, and was made during WWII, and so it includes bits and pieces of patriotism. It's more relaxed, and more focused on escapist adventure, as well as on the unquenchable romantic chemistry between its stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It even includes some songs.

Siegel's version was a "B" picture made over a decade later, and has more of a film noir feel. It's darker and leaner. There's a little romance, but the hero is actually already married; his relationship with his wife consists of loving arguments about whether or not he is providing what she needs (she says yes; he wishes he could do more). Both movies center around a man who runs a modest fishing boat, after a costly trip with a customer that can't pay, the men find themselves in dire straits, and so both agree to a dangerous charter. The charter in Hawks' version is more morally complex, but the charter in Siegel's version is dead simple.

Sam Martin (Audie Murphy) agrees to take out a man named Hanagan (Eddie Albert) and his hot Swedish girlfriend Eva (Gita Hall). Already out on the water, Hanagan offers Sam a great deal more money if he can go to Cuba, which is illegal. Sam reluctantly agrees, and the trip unfortunately ends in murder. Sam tries to wash his hands of the whole affair, but Hanagan has his claws into Sam's business now, and Sam is forced into a second, even deadlier trip.

Both movies feature a rummy sidekick. Everett Sloane is no slouch in Siegel's version, but he can't quite hold a candle to Walter Brennan in Hawks' version; Brennan is warmer and more consistent, and he strikes up more of a buddy chemistry with Bogart. (I would tend to place more blame on Murphy, who was slightly less talented than Sloane.) Patricia Owens rounds out the cast as Sam's sweet, waiting wife; Siegel cooks up some nice moments for her, whereas lesser movies would have cut her role down. (Character actor Jack Elam is here too.)

The comparisons to Hawks' movie thankfully begin to depart more drastically as The Gun Runners goes on, and eventually Siegel's muscular action takes over and saves the day. Indeed, some of his more notable sequences take place indoors, as when Sam confronts Hanagan in his room; Hanagan is having breakfast in bed and still manages to dominate the scene, thanks to Siegel's staging and framing. The great Daniel Mainwaring (Out of the Past, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) co-wrote the screenplay, and Ben Hecht reportedly worked on it without credit. It's a solid entertainment.

MGM released this as part of their Limited Edition Collection, available on demand as well as on a bare-bones DVD. The transfer quality is fine.

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