Gannon (Anthony Franciosa) is drifting through the American West, and one morning when he wakes up after sleeping under the stars he hears some men approaching, so jumps to his feet and goes over to investigate. He meets someone he knows, and notes they are putting up a barbed wire fence, which seems to be becoming the norm these days as the civilisation begins to encroach on what were frontier lands; his acquaintance knows the reason Gannon has taken to life on the road, but doesn’t pursue it and they bid one another farewell. When he finds a train to jump on for a free ride, the carriage he enters is filled with barbed wire as well, and this sets his mind to wondering...
A Man Called Gannon is usually mentioned in reference to the Kirk Douglas Western Man Without a Star which was made thirteen years before and a substantial hit for both him and his production company. However, though these two films started off at more or less the same point, this was less a remake than it was a newer adaptation of author Dee Linford’s source novel, so went off on another tangent rather than refashion the fifties effort scene for scene. Many preferred to see Kirk strut and preen through his star vehicle, with the result this one was almost completely neglected for decades after, aside from the occasional Western buff eaten up with curiosity about what they had made of the material.
However, the theme of the civilisation of the Old West, here represented by the presence of barbed wire shutting down vast swathes of the land, was perhaps even more relevant to the sorts of Westerns being created at the end of the nineteen-sixties into the seventies, especially as the traditional view of cowboys as heroes was chipped away at by the emergence of a more questioning culture, mostly among the young. Franciosa was a little aged to play the freshfaced innocent, so took the mentor role to the character he meets – and indeed saves – on the rails, Jess, played by Michael Sarrazin whose soulful, boyish good looks were attracting attention as his career was picking up around this stage.
Alas, in spite of promising starts for both leading men, they would both prove unsuited for Hollywood superstardom. Sarrazin was a touch too sensitive for celebrity, but Franciosa had been nominated for an Oscar early on, and it seemed to exacerbate his fragile ego problems, to call him intense was a rather conservative name for his volatile personality, and the year he appeared here was the same as when he was sacked from his popular television show for beating up members of the production. Funnily enough, Gannon here was criticised by others in the story for not getting involved, which he eventually does at a moment when it may be too late, and Franciosa came across as pretty together guy in the role in spite of his character's guilty secret.
Populating the rest of the cast were an interesting array of faces, none of whom really made the grade as far as huge success went (though Gavin McLeod would find TV fame as the Captain of The Love Boat in the following decade). Interesting for Star Trek fans, fans of sixties television in general in fact, was the presence of Susan Oliver, who when painted green would appear under the end credits of a host of episodes of the seminal space opera, having appeared in the pilot which was refashioned into the award-winning two-parter she took multiple roles in. Here she played a brittle madam, another old acquaintance of Gannon’s and the person who wakes him up to his responsibilities. Also interesting was Judi West, who plays the ranch owner who tries to stop the encroaching wire to save her herd and leads to the ultimate confrontation. If there was a problem it was the film never settled on a tone, in one scene lyrical (Dave Grusin crooned his country rock over various sequences), in another comedic, then deadly serious. But it did have some worth, and could justifiably be called underrated if you could adjust to its gear changes.
[Simply Media's Region 2 DVD has a disclaimer at the beginning that the print may not be great, but it actually looks fine, correct ratio and all. No extras, but well worth taking a chance on if you're a Western fan.]