Dog Kelly (Tobin Bell) is digging for his gold out in the wilderness when he grows aware of the sound of hooves approaching. He spins around in a state of panic muttering that no man will take his treasure, then grabs his rifle and fires; the figure on horseback reels and falls to the ground. Kelly rushes over to make sure he's dead, but when he turns the body over two things become apparent: the rider was a woman (Sharon Stone), and she has just knocked him out with one punch. The lady leaves Kelly chained to his wagon wheel swearing revenge and rides off into the distance, towards a small town that is holding a competition. But the lady isn't concerned with who is the best gunfighter: she has vengeance on her mind...
A tribute to the westerns of Sergio Leone shot through with the fast-moving sensibility of director Sam Raimi who was handpicked by producer and star Stone, The Quick and the Dead may have been a box office disappointment but fans of the filmmaker, never mind the one of a kind cast, ensured that the production lived on in cult movie circles. Scripted by Simon Moore, it was yet another attempt to update the western for an era where the genre had seriously gone out of fashion - not that they weren't still being made, but they simply didn't enjoy the same following as in their heyday.
So this was a real movie buff's movie, and the excellent ensemble recruited to bring it to life obviously relished the chance to get into costume and start with the gunslinging. The contest is such a good idea that it's surprising that little like it had been tried before outside of the martial arts genre, and here the set up of gunmen lining up to discover who is quickest on the draw is exploited to its fuillest, with colourful characters and, when the rule about not having to kill is abandoned, a real tension as to who will survive (although a glance at the billing might well give the viewer a clue).
The instigator of this rivalry is land baron and head of the town John Herod (Gene Hackman positively smacking his lips at how villainous he can be here) and it was his idea to make sure he knew who his chief antagonists were and that they would take this opportunity to meet him face to face. And naturally, he's the best around and always wins - betting on a sure thing is only good sense, after all, especially if you are that sure thing. Hackman was a past master at westerns by this time, and is well cast, but look who is up against him: among them dandy sharpshooter Lance Henriksen, hitman Keith David, the boy who claims to be his son, known only as The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio), and an ex-member of his gang, now a self-styled pacifist preacher (Russell Crowe) forced to compete against his wishes.
And of course, the Lady (we find out later she is called Ellen), who starts out like a terse-talking equivalent to Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name but as the story progresses turns out to be a nervous wreck, yet driven to achieve her goal of besting Herod who she has a legitimate grudge against. She's an interesting heroine, a fish out of water in many ways, never relishing the fact she has to kill but having her situation demand she acts tough if she is to gain satisfaction and be able to sleep easily at night, or so she hopes. The gunfights sequences always suffer the danger of becoming repetitive, where unarmed combat would offer more obvious variation, but Raimi and his team managed to make every one different (the montage of first round competitors being shot down is a forgivable cliché) and as action goes the sheer indulgence for genre fans as the film revels in the idiosyncrasies is a big plus. The fetishising of guns is a symptom of the decade, as past Westerns were often ambivalent on the subject, but The Quick and the Dead deserved more success than it eventually had, being both unusual and respectful. Music by Alan Silvestri.
Precociously talented American director with a penchant for horror/fantasy and inventive camerawork. Raimi made a huge impact with his debut film The Evil Dead at the tender age of 22, a gory, often breathtaking horror romp made on a tiny budget with a variety of friends from his hometown of Detroit. Follow-up Crimewave was a comic misfire, but Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness were supremely entertaining, while tragic superhero yarn Darkman was Raimi's first time wielding a big budget.
Raimi showed a more serious side with the baseball drama For Love of the Game, thriller A Simple Plan and supernatural chiller The Gift, before directing one of 2002's biggest grossing films, Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 was released in summer 2004, with Spider-Man 3 following two years later. He then returned to outright horror with the thrill ride Drag Me to Hell, and hit Wizard of Oz prequel Oz the Great and Powerful after that. On the small screen, Raimi co-created American Gothic and the hugely popular Hercules and Xena series. Bruce Campbell usually pops up in his films, as does his trusty Oldsmobile car.