Gunslinger (1958 / 1993)
Director: Joel Hodgson
Writers: Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, etc.
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy

The Plot: In this episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel is still trapped in outer space on the Satellite of Love and is once again forced to watch a dreadful movie at the hands of the evil Dr. Forrester. This time out he is given one of Roger Corman’s early outings, a western known as Gunslinger. The film details the events that come after a local marshall is gunned down in cold blood. His wife Rose Hood (Beverly Garland) shows the only guts in town as she takes up the marshall’s position and starts a hunt for the men who took her husband’s life. This draws her into a nefarious scheme by the local saloon owner (Allison Hayes) who may or may not have hired a contract killer to take care of any law in town!

The Review
There is one television program that almost every movie geek I know can get behind and show their love for, and that is Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve known geeks who are from a very obvious b-movie background right on up to the most strident Criterion collecting arthouse fan who will proudly profess a favorite MST3K host between Joel Hodgson or Mike Nelson. It is a series that’s strongest point comes from a love of cinema. From the good to the bad, the show made good on our collective love for the artform. The jokes were targeted towards a very obvious film-fan audience. The jokes were so often targeted at film geeks and there were many times where filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks and John Ford were brought up in order to point out how blatantly bad a movie might be in comparison. There’s no question though, the format for this show certainly leaned more towards the b-movie luminaries in the audience. If you had some knowledge of Ed Wood beforehand, an episode that might cover his movies would certainly be helped by this knowledge. In the cast of Gunslinger, if you know even the most basic of information about Roger Corman, then you are bound to have fun with this episode because Joel and the bots have dug up easily one of his worst films.

Gunslinger probably isn’t the episode that I would introduce a new audience member to, since it doesn’t feature the gut-bustingly ludicrous scenarios that are played out in episodes such as Space Mutiny, but if you have seen and liked a couple of episodes previous to this one then you’re bound to get a decent bit out of this rather ridiculous western. Directed by Roger Corman himself, as opposed to simply being one of his many “producer” credits, this came at the very beginning of his long career. Here we find a far less confident director who is still making the most of his budget (Corman is notorious for his penny-pinching ways), but he unfortunately doesn’t have the charm or the technical prowess yet to make a fully competent film. It’s that or this was just a project that went awry right from the start. While many films that have been covered by Mystery Science Theater have been moderately decent pictures that were unfairly lumped together in the world of really bad movies, Gunslinger is one title that deserves its reputation.

Joel and the bots do a clever job of pointing out the subtle, and not so subtle, omissions to continuity that pop up throughout the film. The guys do a great job at pointing out how obvious the actors are in waiting for their “marks” (a cue for them to step into an action, such as waiting for a sentence to end and then exiting or entering a room), and how Corman doesn’t even bother to hide these tiny little gaffes. The very best of these moments can be found during the film’s introduction. In this simple sequence we follow the character of Rose down a long street, that will become very familiar to the audience over the course of this movie, and then we watch as she enters into the Marshall’s Office. With the wide angle of the shot we can see two cowboys who sit on the side of the building and whom are quite literally waiting for nothing and not even having a conversation amongst themselves. When these two men see Rose enter into the Marshall’s office, right on cue they walk their horses to the front of the Marshall’s office and set up an ambush. The cue is as obvious as they come and it does not escape the wit of the MST3K crew who lampoon it mercilessly. There are moments that could have been scripted, such as a character entering into a scene and then quickly closing the door as if it were not their cue just yet, but for the most part these levels of ridiculousness are all very direct and obvious.

Ultimately when you have sets that seem as authentically western-classic as those in this film, which is a nice and pretentious way of saying good looking false-front buildings on a dirt road, it is hard to make a bad movie. However, Corman managed to do just that and he did it by introducing plot points and characters without the slightest hint at real-world dynamics. In the world of Gunslinger, shooting a man down in the midst of a funeral service, right in front of the preacher and without the slightest hint of remorse (despite the person firing the gun having never been a law officer or murderer), is perfectly natural behavior. Still, it isn’t a movie without positive points. The acting by all of the main cast is of a highly professional level. John Ireland, Beverly Garland and Allison Hayes show off their genuine talents during the course of the movie and although they were known as b-players during their time, they were definitely able to impress. The dialogue, while clunky for the most part, also shows varying moments of quality work. Still, the aspect that makes this truly watchable is the MST3K commentary. It takes a b-grade western with severe technical defects and lifts it to be a very solid piece of comedy.

The Conclusion
While it is far away from being one of the very best episodes of MST3K, it has some great high points to it. As stated earlier, it wouldn’t be the first episode that I wanted to point a newcomer to but I would recommend it over many other episodes. I give the episode a solid three out of five. With some funny host segments (featuring references made towards David Cronenberg’s Scanners) and decent riffing, this proved far more entertaining than I first expected.