Samuel Fuller's most recent film, Forty Guns, is not to be released in France. This is cause for bitter regret, because it is without doubt his best film, along with House of Bamboo. Each scene, each shot of this savage and brutal Western, shot in black and white CinemaScope in under ten days, is so rich in invention – despite an incomprehensible plot – and so bursting with daring conceptions that it reminds one of the extravagances of Abel Gance and Stroheim, or purely and simply of Murnau.
The running theme of guns as phallic extensions / gunfights as pissing contests is beautifully developed, to the point where the simple story Fuller is telling on the surface acts as an inane mirror of the warped sexual tension throbbing beneath. This means the macho quest to restore gender balance gets played as a snide joke on a symbolic level, straight-laced cowpoke heroism on a narrative one.
[The film] imprinted on everyone from the Cahiers crowd to Sergio Leone. But it's the tense, protracted undertaker's alley ambush that sideswipes you, Sullivan's stony face conveying for the first time the ambivalence of winning and losing with a single bullet.