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Gunfight at Dry River is as classic of a Western title as it gets. Stories of the Old West used to be filled with names that had “Gunfight” in them. The movie takes place at the tail end of the nineteenth century. The Ryles family have taken over a town and control access to its well. When the grandson of the man who dug the well returns to town, a confrontation seems imminent.
The setting looks like something straight out of the Spaghetti westerns of the mid-1960s. The nameless town looks as parched as the title suggests and the crumbling buildings add to the atmosphere. Gunfight at Dry River transports its audience seamlessly to the Old West. The characters are uneven, but do their part. Michael Moriarty is predictably dependable as John Boone Hawkins. There are a couple of others who do serviceable work, but none are up to his level. Unfortunately, there are some characters who will just not register. They are paper thin and bring little to Gunfight at Dry River.
The pacing is a slow burn that sets up the situation and characters. This includes a love triangle and a messy subplot involving the Civil War. There is nothing wrong with this on the surface and is a trait of most Westerns. Surprisingly, some of the plot threads get lost despite the amount of time spent on them. This makes the film seem slower than it actually is. It can also make some things confusing.
Gunfight at Dry River never has the action that even slower movies of the genre have. The film gets caught up in its character dramas and does not deliver on the expected violence of the title. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is shocking the plot is more concerned with finding gold than a climactic showdown. This does not mean things ever get boring, but it certainly feels like something is lacking.
Despite the fact they are still made with some regularity, the Western peaked long ago. They just do not provide the same high drama or tense excitement they once did. The ones made today are not poor films. In some cases, they will even fill a need for longtime fans of the genre. They are perfectly serviceable, if quickly forgotten. Gunfight at Dry River is no different.
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