Great art it ain’t but…
Westerns were fond of numerical firearm titles. Ballad for One Gun (1963), Two Guns and a Badge (1954), Three Guns for Texas (1968), Four Guns to the Border (1954), Five Guns to Tombstone (1960), Six Guns for Donegan (1959) and, in 1958, Seven Guns to Mesa.
Mesa is a ghost town, and many are the oaters set in ghost towns. The characters always make the ruined saloon their headquarters. This one is no exception.
The picture was a low-budget affair with a TV look made by William F Broidy Productions. Mr Broidy made a good number of B-Westerns, starting with Trail of the Yukon and The Wolf Hunters in 1949 and indeed he had a special penchant for Yukon and Canadian stories, Call of the Klondike, Northwest Territory, that sort of thing, making many in a long career. In the 50s he was the prime mover of Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok on TV with Guy Madison and Andy Devine.
The cast of Seven Guns to Mesa was somewhat less than stellar. Top of the bill was Charles Quinlivan, whose only big-screen oater this was. He has a vague (only vague) Phil Carey look about him. He plays a stranger who rides into the ghost town only to be taken captive and held with the driver and passengers of a stagecoach, who have also been held hostage by a villain about to rob wagons carrying gold who intends to kill them because dead persons tell no tales.
The stage passengers are the glam Julie (Lola Albright, sultry nightclub singer Edie Hart in Peter Gunn, best known in the wonderful world of the Western for her role in The Way West), the maudlin alcoholic Ben (Jay Adler, whose hangdog look got him cast as assorted small time crooks, bartenders, clerks and hoboes, but only in four Westerns), the rich city slicker Brown (John Frederick, smallish parts in Sergio Leone westerns) and Middleton (Don Sullivan, according to the IMDb bio, later one of the top creative cosmetic chemists in the hair industry, who knew). The driver is played by Reed Howes, silent era lead who became a talkie heavy and you may remember his key part in John Wayne’s The Dawn Rider in 1935. The last two will perish early on when they try to escape and the chief bad guy murders them.
Now this chief bad guy is the best thing about the picture because it is none other than that excellent actor James Griffith. He’s a particular favorite of mine and he lifted any number of otherwise colorless Westerns, often as the cadaverous bad guy (when he wasn’t playing Abe Lincoln). I feel a Griffith-orama coming on soon. He deserves it. In Seven Guns to Mesa he’s one of those evil patriarch-type bandit leaders, you know, like Charles Kemper in Wagonmaster or Donald Pleasence in Will Penny, with a brood of thuggish white-trash sons (he calls them all son, anyway), though he doesn’t really look old enough. I liked his hat.
These no-goods are the brutish Simmons (regular Western heavy John Cliff, Grat Dalton in that epic Jesse James vs the Daltons), the big one Bear (Burt Nelson, another spaghettista), Duncan (Rush Williams, small parts in fourteen feature Westerns), Crandall (Neil Grant, about whom I know nothing), Marsh (Charles Keane, one of four Westerns he had bit parts in) and Denton (Jack Carr, minor roles in eight Westerns). So the outlaws number seven – at least until Bear breaks a leg and Papa shoots him, like a horse.
Seven is, we know, the Mystical Western Number. It wasn’t just The Magnificent Seven. Time and again outlaw bands, posses or assorted groups numbered more than six and less than eight. I’m not entirely sure why, though it may be that the number was big enough to constitute a threat yet small enough to be individuals.
In Seven Guns to Mesa, though, they are barely individuals. I had to work out painstakingly from the cast list who was who, and the writing (Miles Wylder of The Dukes of Hazzard and Get Smart fame and Mrs & Mrs director Dein) doesn’t put names in the dialogue, so you don’t really know who’s who, and there isn’t too much characterization to distinguish them. Oh well.
This was the first Western Edward Dein helmed. The following year he would do the so-bad-it’s-good vampire oater Curse of the Undead and a couple of episodes of Bronco and The Wild Wild West, but you wouldn’t really call him a Western expert.
It’s all done on studio sets with the odd Iverson Ranch location shot. It’s black & white of course and has a runtime of 69 minutes. In all honesty, you would miss little if you never saw this one. In 1958 Allied Artists were releasing Westerns which were maybe not major works of cinematic history but had goodish casts and half-decent budgets, pictures like Bullwhip, Quantrill’s Raiders and Cole Younger, Gunfighter (see our reviews in the index) but Seven Guns to Mesa wasn’t in this league. I won’t say it’s junk but well, great art it ain’t.
The Army lieutenant Mauritz Hugo) who fights the outlaws is a remarkable shot. With a pistol he hits two of the malefactors in the head at 500 yards.
It could have been a good TV 50 minutes show but too much talking and limited set made me think more of a theatrical play, the villain in chief being the main assett of this enterprise as you underline it. The ghost town theme could bring you to write a ghostownoroma as well.
I reckon that’s right.
A ghost-townology could be a good idea…