If you are a young person you probably don't even think of musicals and Westerns as legitimate movie genres, because there are so few that they just seem like one-off curiosities. It was very different when I was a boy. Musicals and Westerns were still being made, and still winning awards.

In fact, the entire country went completely ga-ga for cowboys in the mid to late fifties. Davy Crockett premiered on the Disney program in December of 1954. Four more Crockett programs would air in the following year, a period during which Gunsmoke made its first appearance. By 1957, every kid in America seemed to have a toy gun and holster, and the TV line-up seemed to consist of nothing but cowpokes.


Sharon Stone wears period clothing which means, in this context, "no underwear". That produces some sexy exposure when she moves around a lot. Her breast comes out once, and there are two scenes which nearly expose the asset that made her a star to begin with.

In the 1955-56 TV season, there were no Westerns in the top 16 TV programs. Not a one. Nada.

By 1957-58, the top 16 looked like this:

  • 1. Gunsmoke
  • 3. Tales of Wells Fargo
  • 4. Have Gun, Will Travel
  • 6. Wyatt Earp
  • 8. The Restless Gun
  • 12. Cheyenne
  • 15. Wagon Train
  • 16. Sugarfoot

In the following two years, the top twenty list was joined by The Rifleman, Zane Grey Theater, The Texan, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Lawman, Rawhide, and Maverick. Bonanza came along in 1960.

The movies of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, as well as Roy's TV show, had been on TV before this period, along with Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger, but they were relegated mainly to the Saturday morning kiddie programming ghetto. Those earlier Westerns had been straight juvenile fiction brought to life, the romantic and one-dimensional Ned Buntline view of the Old West first popularized in the Pulps. The new prime-time Westerns of the 1957 era were not revolutionary, but they were different, marketed toward adults as well as kids, and they often featured realistic human drama as well as shoot-'em-ups. Sometimes a cowpoke even loved a woman as much as he loved his horse, although that usually got him in trouble.

Although the prime-time "adult" Westerns of the late 50s were still firmly planted in the romantic boots of Ned Buntline, they were at least making some progress toward showing an Ol' West populated with real people. The last half of the 50s was the beginning of the "modern" western, and that trend gradually seeped into cinema and cross-bred with the modernist trend toward realism which had been slowly developing in other Hollywood genres.

As time progressed, several film directors decided to break away from the romantic preconceptions of the Western genre and show life as it really was during the Western expansion: the hard work, the discomfort, the inadequate shelter from the elements, the ugliness of people with no medical or dental care, the short life expectancy, the illiteracy, the alcoholism, the fear, the horrid wounds caused by gunshots, the boredom, the filth, the disease, the genocide, and guns which often misfired and weren't very accurate even when they worked. These directors even showed the very guys who were creating the lies about the West, often incorporating them as characters. In time, realistic, modernist, revisionist movies like Little Big Man, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Unforgiven tried to tell the truth about the West in one way or another. Gone forever were the days of the bad guy clutching his tiny, bloodless wound, falling to the ground and saying, "ya got me, pard".

The Quick and the Dead is not like the modern Westerns, but presents a post-modern spin on the genre. It is not about what the Wild West was really like, but about what the Wild West would have been like in the 1870s if it had been created by 1990s filmmakers with 1990s feminist sensibilities overlaid upon a knowledge of the romantic yarns and classic films about the Old West. If you don't mind the fact that this is a Western that has absolutely nothing to do with the real West, and everything to do with the West of earlier movies, you might get a real kick out of it.

Turns out that the big gunslingin' event back in the Ol' West was the annual shoot-out, in which orn'riest cayooses assembled for their version of the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen, a single elimination tournament in which they paired off two-by-two to face each other down in a quick-draw competition in the middle of the street, complete with a pairings board and Vegas-style odds postings. The winner got a big chest full of cash, and the right to call himself The Fastest Gun in the West for a year. The losers got a trip to Boot Hill. The entrants were quite a collection of varmints, sidewinders, and polecats! The various shootists included a spiffy black gunfighter, the fastest gun in Sweden, a woman, a convict still wearing his prison clothes, a gunslinger-turned-preacher who is forced to compete, the requisite evil guy who runs the town, and that hot-shot li'l whippersnapper, Leonardo DiCaprio. Amazingly, there was no racism against the black man, and only a brief bit of sexism against "Lady". Geez, those illiterate, drunken bastards had a generous heart and a firm grasp of modern sociology. If only they could have been running the entire world at that time.

Some of the details in this movie are hilarious.

  • As per the official Tex/Mex film cliché, every time the cowpokes had a moment of high celebration, mariachi music broke out spontaneously and the gunslingers fired their guns in the air. They even did this indoors - in the saloon - which had rented rooms upstairs. I don't think it was wise to stay in and try for some Z's while the saloon was open.
  • Sharon Stone plays the lady gunslinger. She showed up in town on her horse with no possessions except what she was wearing and her tiny saddlebags. Yet during the course of the competition, she not only came up with a different designer cowgirl outfit for every round, but when invited for dinner at the abode of Evil Town-running Guy (Gene Hackman), she also produced an evening gown and all the accessories.
  • Every time there is a moment of tension, there are extreme facial close-ups of all the major players, ala Sergio Leone.
  • When a new person came to the saloon, we saw some boots under the swinging door, the crowd went silent, the doors swung open, then the camera panned up, first to the guns and clothing, then to the face.
  • At one point Russell Crowe (as the gunslinger-turned-preacher) killed six armed guys in a couple of seconds with six shots - three bursts from each gun - and he didn't even aim. Aim, schmaim! With two of the guys, he didn't even look! And since all of that was really too easy for him, he made it more challenging by shooting the guy on his left with the right gun, and vice-versa. Now that's gunslingin'.

I'm a fan of director Sam Raimi. Many film lovers are. This guy has so much talent, such a wild imagination, such a great visual sense, that we keep expecting him to make a completely kick-ass movie which is both brilliant and entertaining. It hasn't happened yet, but he continues to make good, entertaining movies with brilliant moments. The Quick and the Dead has an impressive look to it. Like the very best movies, it creates an immediately identifiable world of its own. When I watched the first fifteen minutes of this film for the first time, I thought, "this must be the best damned movie I've ever seen". Not only does it have a uniquely artistic concept of the West, but it manages to be a parody and a serious movie at the same time, which is no simple achievement. Yes, you know Sam was having a good laugh over the close-ups of boots under the swinging doors and the no-look, behind-the-back gunplay, but he never treated the film as a joke. This is not the Adam West Batman concept. Raimi planted the outrageous characters in that crazy, arty, almost monochromatic, sepia and orange world, and then let them play out their story seriously.

And you have to give Sam a tip of the hat for casting Russell Crowe and Leo DiCaprio in two of the four major roles, two full years before they would break through in L.A. Confidential and Titanic.

DVD info from Amazon

  • This link leads to the superbit version - no features, just the best possible rendering of the sights and sounds in a widescreen anamorphic 1.85 version. Great transfer. Recommended.

By the way, Sharon Stone does a remarkably good job as the Woman with No Name (Clit Eastwood?).

Unfortunately, this film, like Sam's others, doesn't have the right script to be a masterpiece, but he surely did just about as much as could be done with the script he was handed. Even though it slows down in sections, and is too predictable, I really enjoy it. It doesn't live up to the promise of the first fifteen minutes, and it's not a great movie, but it is a pretty cool one.

King of the West? Roy Rogers? Not hardly.
We've often mused on these pages about the identity of the least likely cowboy of all time.

Would it be Mr Spock in Catlow? Not at all. Nimoy is a better actor than you think. He played the villain in that film, and he was completely macho. Dustin Hoffman was a pretty silly gunslinger in Little Big Man, but he was supposed to be playing that for a laugh.

I don't think Wally Cox ever played a gunslinger, and I haven't seen Christopher Atkins in Trigger Fast (which is rated 1.7 at IMDb, so you know that's gotta suck big-time), but working from those cowboys I actually have seen, I have to go with Leo DiCaprio in The Quick and the Dead. Weighing in at about 120, with dumbo ears, shoulders barely wider than his hat, and biceps somewhere around eight inches in circumference, not to mention his familiar squeaky voice, the little fella gets my nod as the rootin'est, tootin'est buckaroo of them all.


Some of the cinematography and iconography of The Quick and the Dead.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Panel consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2/4, BBC 4/5. But some of the minor and genre critics loved it. See Rotten Tomatoes.

The People Vote ...

  • It disappointed at the box office, grossing only $18 million. The production budget alone was $32 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. If you think you might like this kind of movie, you'll find this one very well done.

Return to the Movie House home page