A Gunfight is an offbeat western drama about two aging gunfighters who manipulate, and are manipulated by the blood lust of supposedly peaceful, average folks. Bankrolled by the Jicarilla Apache Tribe of American Indians, an investment-wealthy group making a first venture into pix, the handsome production stars Kirk Douglas and Johnny Cash. Lamont Johnson’s very fine direction of the ruggedly sensitive script adds up to a fine depiction in discreet allegorical form of the darker sides of human nature.
Plot is essentially a three-acter. First the stars meet, fence nervously but with good humor, and at Douglas’ suggestion, they decide to turn the town’s unofficial speculation on the results of a shoot-out confrontation into personal profit for the survivor.
Next, intercut with the objections of Jane Alexander, excellent as Douglas’ wife, and Karen Black, very good as a saloon dame who takes to Cash, the pair plan the carnival duel, aided by Raf Vallone, a shop-keeper whose eyes long have been on Alexander. Finally, the event itself, with the survivor really no better off than the deceased, a fact recognized by the friends of both men.