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September 10, 2021

Gunfight at Dry River


Daniel Simpson - 2021
Quiver Distribution

Is the a film genre that carries more baggage than the western? I am paraphrasing something I read recently where someone had opined that a western is a western, whether it is from John Ford or Clint Eastwood. Well into our current century, it seems that most recent westerns are running on the fumes from fifty years earlier. There have been a handful of films that tried a little harder, The Salvation and The Ballad of Lefty Brown come to mind. Even when a western does not try to deliberately recall an older film, there seems to be no escaping the past.

The title, Gunfight at Dry River, has similarities to titles of westerns from the 1950s - Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Charge at Feather River, Ambush at Tomahawk Gap, etc. Titles inform the viewer that the film takes place in 1888 somewhere along the Mexico/Uniited States border. Filming was done in Spain, in the Monegros desert. It may not be Monument Valley but I am puzzled that other European westerns have not taken advantage of the distinctive mountain range in that area. Most of the action takes place in a small town that appears almost destroyed, a ruin of fallen stone buildings.

Alonzo Murrieta rides into Dry River to claim his father's house. He immediately comes across the Ryles brothers, a trio of dim-witted thugs who monitor the use of water from the town's well, and are essentially the town law enforcers. It is later revealed that the three are under the thumb of their mother, a matriarch who lives in the shadows. Murrieta may also have information about a hidden gold statue coveted by the Ryles. That sub-plot of the hidden gold may remind a couple of viewers of a certain film by Sergio Leone, with the brothers digging up graves in their persistent search.

Where Gunfight at Dry River generally succeeds is with strong visuals. The opening shots, especially, show a good sense of composition in establishing the location and in the placement of the actors within the frame. Some of the narrative elements do not seem as well thought out - Mexican peasants living in a land that shows no evidence of being arable, and in a village so remote, where do the Ryles get all those bullets they shoot willy-nilly at everyone who offends them? Simpson is British as is much of the cast, with the notable exception of Michael Moriarty as a blind Civil War veteran. I am not sure if Gunfight at Dry River could have been a better film than it is, but there is the suggestion that Daniel Simpson has visual talent in need of a strong script.

Gunfight at Dry River is available on streaming platforms.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 10, 2021 05:26 AM