A Manly Star in the Firmament; or, George Montgomery’s Vox Viri

Mortal humans who play silver-screen western gods–I mean heroes–have to go through rigorous vocal exercises to deepen their voices, strangle their vowels, and clip off extraneous words like adjectives (the last being a good plan for anyone, actually). These exercises serve to broaden the chest and strengthen one’s cajones–as George Montgomery can attest to.

In The Lone Gun (1954), directed by Ray Nazarro, George Montgomery, an ordinarily melodious-voiced, square-jawed handsome movie star beloved by many, took on the role of “Cruze,” a man who has more cajones than an entire town being bullied, and not online, by a handful of brutes. Like the equally clipped and gravelly voiced Marshal Kane in High Noon, Cruze has decided that what’s worth risking his life for is self-respect, not a weak-willed and cowardly community.

The Lone Gun has beautiful splashy fifties color, and men and women in a mid-century version of western costume, which makes everyone look as if they’ve stepped out from a Ralph Lauren ad, with a little chalk dust on clothes thrown in for authenticity. It’s a rip-roaring yarn that doesn’t have a lot of sophistication, but it’s not terrible, and it has Dorothy Malone playing Charlotte Downing (and eventually graduating to a household name as Constance MacKenzie on Peyton Place). Glamorous even in the middle of cowtown, Malone, nay her red neckerchief is worth a Homeric post, but it’s her hot-eyed yearning for a real man, Cruze, that screams western camp.

George Montgomery was a bit of Renaissance man: handsome, dashing with a dashing wife (Dinah Shore), an actor, designer, architect, sculptor, war veteran… What couldn’t he do? He was an A-lister before the war and acted in B westerns after his service. Seems like another upstanding guy who looks good in a holster (and how).

So I won’t poke fun at him, but back to the vocal exercises that Montgomery seems to have had to do. In other films he’s got a deep, fluid Hollywood voice, but in his westerns, he sharpens his tone into brusque commands that, as a dog whistle acts profoundly on canines, incites villains, cows weaklings, and gets a beautiful woman to ride her horse at his heels. Indeed, there are no limits to this man. Another reason why life is better as a silver-screen western hero. Yippie-yi-ti-yay!

George Montgomery in Gun Belt

If you don’t believe me, check out the second coming on this poster at the great blog 50 Westerns from the 50s.

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