What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Queen of Sass: The Barbara Stanwyck Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Pale Writer. I’ve been in enough of these events with her to know she’s a dedicated fan of the horror genre. But where she lives, there’s nowhere to get a good old-school hockey mask. If you know where you can get one, contact her for shipping arrangements 🙂
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
For you Samuel Fuller fans (like myself), “Forty Guns” is his version of “My Darling Clementine” with the following tweaks…because a Fuller movie wouldn’t be a Fuller movie without his fingerprints.
Other than that, fans of “My Darling Clementine,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Tombstone,” et al, ad nauseum will recognize this movie…with a healthy dose of sexual innuendo woven through a inverted tapestry of female empowerment as only Samuel Fuller can do.
It’s the 1880s in Tombstone, Arizona. Griff Bonnell is the “Wyatt Earp-ian” reformed gunslinger who arrives in town with his brothers to clean up Tombstone. The town is ruled with an iron fist by Jessica Drummond. She is fond of riding her white horse into Tombstone, followed by forty men on black horses…all as an exercise of reminding the citizens who rules this lawless town. Not only does Drummond rule in the finest traditions of a western despot, Sheriff Ned Logan (played by Dean Jagger) is also one of her band of quasi-mercenaries.
The presence of Griff, Logan, and Jessica sets up the beginnings of a love triangle, which isn’t so easily noted as the first part of this movie feels more like then a sex comedy than a “B”-western. The foreshadowing of what is about to come sets in early as well when Jessica is visibly concerned about the presence of Bonnel and his brothers, who as the “Earps” have a reputation of cleaning up towns like Tombstone.
Despite the fact Griff has arrest warrants for members of Jessica’s “forty guns,” they clearly have a mutual respect for each other…there’s even not-so-subtle overtones of a budding romance. Griff seems to be able to bring law and order back to Tombstone without a lot of violence, until Jessica’s brother Brockie shoots the nearly-blind town marshal Chisum (played by Hank Worden) in the leg. After the shooting, Brockie and his cohorts go on a drunken rampage tearing through Tombstone.
Griff intervenes and pistol-whips Brockie while Wes covers him with a rifle from the gunsmith shop. Griff is careful not to kill Brockie as his burgeoning relationship with Jessica has clued him in to the close nature of the brother/sister relationship between them.
Meanwhile, the sex comedy aspect of this film is draining away and the complications are becoming more apparent. The moment Jessica rejects the romantic advances of Ned Logan after he tries to shoot Griff…because she’s falling in love with him…is a perfect example. Another comes when Wes falls in love with Louvenia Spanger. As a result, he decides to settle down and become the town’s marshal.
In revenge for Brockie, Ned Logan and another “hired gun” Charlie Savage (played by Chuck Hayward), attempt to ambush Griff in an alley. Chico saves Griff by killing Savage, after which Brockie and the other hired guns try to turn the town against the Bonnell brothers.
Brockie makes another attempt to kill Griff, but inadvertently kills Wes instead…on the day Wes was to marry Louvenia. Brockie is arrested and jailed for the murder, but Brockie makes an escape attempt using his sister Jessica as a shield. Brockie dares Griff to shoot, and is shocked when Griff does exactly that. Griff’s places a shot which only wounds Jessica, but kills Brockie, making him the first life the reformed gunslinger has taken in ten years.
The film closes with remaining in Tombstone to take the marshal’s job. Griff starts riding out of town believing his romance with Jessica is over considering the fact he shot her and killed her brother. But being used as a shield by her own brother has caused Jessica to reevaluate some things in her life. She runs down the dirt street chasing Griff’s buckboard yelling “Griff! Mr. Bonnell!”
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
NOTE: Before we get to today’s hidden sports analogy, current events dictate a preliminary bit of housekeeping. As a matter of record, I couldn’t care less about the current matter of the nickname of the Washington National Football League (NFL) team. I also am not interested in the allegations of the shenanigans happening. First, I’ve already addressed the hypocrisy in whole “mascot” thing in an old version of the “Dubscast.” Second, in America today, we’ve allowed the weaponization of sexual harrassment/abuse claims to the point it is nearly impossible to tell the honest-to-goodness victims from the “boy that cried wolf” crowd…and a completely untrustworthy news/sports media only exacerbates that.
I only mention that only because there a lot of people right now who are going to want to jump in on those topics here. Save your comments on that subject; there’s a more detailed exploration of that coming. This piece is about a movie, and how it relates to a tale of a football team at a point in time decades ago; current events being completely irrelevant.
In other words, any comments which are off the topic of the movie and the sports analogies will never see the light of day. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
As far as the hidden sports analogy in “Forty Guns” is concerned, for purposes of full disclosure, as a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, my team has to play these divisional-rival dilcues twice a season. That means getting to the play-offs means needing to beat this team regardless of whether they are called “Redskins” or “Rainbow Sunshine Tap-Dancing Unicorns;” twice a year I want the Eagles to collectively bludgeon them with a bag of chisels and stomp on their lifeless corpses.
Keeping that “two times” theme in mind, the connection between sports analogy hidden in the 1957 Samuel Fuller western “Forty Guns” is all about the NFL’s 1987 Washington Redskins and their march to a Super Bowl championship…a season in which it was the Eagles’ turn to take the “bag of chisels.” But there’s another link hidden in that story, which means despite the fact this hidden sports analogy is about football, in honor of the impending return of baseball, today’s installment is a “double-header.”
To get today’s “twin-bill” started, as mentioned the “My Darling Clementine” story is like the western version of “A Star Is Born;” they’ve both been made and re-made tons of times. “Forty Guns” is Samuel Fuller’s take on the classic western tale of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons. Again, Fuller camouflages this a bit, but the trained eye can still spot it. The key connecting fact here for hidden sports analogies is the fact that Barbara Stanwyck’s “Jessica Drummond” recruits the service of an army of “hired guns.” Well, that’s exactly what the NFL owners did in 1987 when the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) went on strike after the second game of the season. Instead of negotiating with the striking players, the owners simply hired “replacement” players.
But like Drummond’s “hired guns,” the Washington Redskins got ones who proved to be better than most. It took “Earp-ian” characters to stop Drummond’s. “Real” NFL players couldn’t stop the “Replacement Redskins.”
Washington’s 1987 season started with a win over the mediocre Philadelphia Eagles, which was followed by a loss to the downright lousy Atlanta Falcons. Then the strike came, and the games scheduled for the third week of the season were cancelled. Week Four saw the debut of the “replacements” (or “scabs” as the NFLPA called them), and they weren’t exactly welcomed by the striking players. When the bus carrying the replacement players arrived at the Redskins’ training facility, striking defensive tackle Darryl Grant put his fist right through one of the windows.
Despite that, the following Sunday, the 50-some-odd guys now wearing Washington uniforms who two weeks previously had been construction workers or loading trucks opened with a win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The following Sunday saw another victory, this time over another division rival the New York Giants.
As the reign of the replacement players continued, the ranks of the NFLPA began to show cracks, and several striking players crossed the picket lines to rejoin the league. Thus begins the legend of the “Replacement Redskins.”
Week Five saw the “Replacement Redskins” heading to Dallas to face the Cowboys; a team who was not just a traditional rival, but a divisional foe with whom the Redskins would enter that match tied for first-place. Not only were Washington having to go on the road for this game, they had lost their starting “replacement” quarterback Ed Rubbert to an injury. If that weren’t enough, several of the striking Dallas Cowboys had ended their participation in the strike and would be playing in this game, including Hall of Famers running back Tony Dorsett and defensive tackle Randy White, and legendary defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones.
Heading into Texas Stadium, the Redskins looked more like Custer than the Indians, especially since their new quarterback was only able to be there on a special work release from prison. A former star at the University of Tennessee, Robinson then became a “draft pick” for the Tennessee Department of Corrections thanks to a conviction for selling cocaine. That and a previous knee injury seemingly all but destroyed Robinson’s chances to play in the NFL.
But during his nine-month sentence, Robinson received an offer to play for the Richmond Ravens of the Continental Interstate Football League. A judge granted him a work release to play, and while he was playing for the Ravens in 1987, the NFLPA went on strike. In another stroke of luck, Robinson’s coach with the Ravens recommended him to his friend…Washington Redskins’ head coach Joe Gibbs. Robinson was then signed with the Redskins in September 1987 as a backup to replacement quarterback Ed Rubbert. Once Rubbert was hurt, Robinson’s shot at the NFL was now a reality.
Robinson didn’t exactly shatter the record books with his performance; he notched 11 completions on 18 passing attempts for 152 yards and 2 interceptions. In fact, he was borderline crappy. But he did lead a squad of replacements to a 13-7 win over a team at least partially-populated with professional players; a feat still regarded as one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
The success of the replacement players and the mass defections of NFLPA members across the picket lines meant the strike would soon be over. The replacement player era lasted three games, but their story lived for over three decades after their day in the NFL sun. As previously mentioned, the Washington Redskins went on to win the Super Bowl that year, and it was the three divisional games won by the replacement players that served as a springboard for that title run.
Nobody recognized the contribution of the replacement players more than did the Redskins’ fans. The problem was the team did not share that stance. Then-assistant general manager Charley Casserly was noted to credit the “Replacement Redskins” for “holding down the fort” until the strike ended and the regulars returned. While the replacement players did get to share in the money that came with the team’s Super Bowl championship, the Redskins’ management was reticent to give them championship rings for fear of angering the NFLPA, whose members lost four game checks and were still not happy with those who crossed the picket lines.
But as the old saying goes, time heals all wounds. In 2018, the Washington Redskins finally honored the 1987 “Replacement Redskins” with Super Bowl XXII rings. It was pretty hard not to after Darryl “Window Puncher” Grant endorsed the idea.
The BONUS Hidden Sports Analogy:
On Opening Day 1987, Jay Schroeder was Washington’s starting quarterback, but he didn’t survive the first game in Philadelphia. After Schroeder got hurt, head coach Joe Gibbs turned to the quarterback who he drafted when Gibbs was the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers…Doug Williams. The Buccaneers entered the NFL in 1976 as an expansion team and it took almost two years for them to win their first game.
But Williams played a major role in turning that around; in 1979 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers narrowly lost the NFC Championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams for a trip to the Super Bowl. But a salary dispute with the Buccaneers, injuries, and a stint in the upstart United States Football League (USFL) saw Williams NFL stock sink to that of a back-up quarterback.
By the time the 1987 NFL playoffs roll around, Jay Schroeder is injured and the championship run started by Tony Robinson and the “Replacement Redskins” has to be brought through the home stretch by Doug Williams. All is going according to plan, until the first quarter of Super Bowl XXII when the Denver Broncos and future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway jumped out to a 10-0 lead.
But that was when Williams engineered the greatest single quarter in Super Bowl history, throwing four touchdown passes and earning the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player on the way to becoming the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. In another installment in this series, I explore how John Elway played the role of Custer to Williams’ Redskins.
The analogy here is all about firsts. Joe Gibbs saw enough in Doug Williams to make him the first black quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, and eventually Williams became the first black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl. Likewise, Samuel Fuller saw enough in Barbara Stanwyck…especially after her roles in “The Furies” and “Johnny Guitar” to have faith in her ability to pull off being the first female “head bad-ass” in a western. Stanwyck carries that whole movie as the “head bad-ass,” and even though she’s a woman in 1957, don’t even try to tell me you don’t think if you crossed her, she wouldn’t have you busted up…or worse.
Who knows? Maybe Doug Williams had the sheer-level of “hard-ass” to play a movie “heavy,” but I’m pretty sure despite her small stature, Barbara Stanwyck had the fortitude of a footballer.
The Morals of the Story:
FUN FACT: Tony Robinson was the inspiration for Keanu Reeves’ “Shane Falco” in the 2000 film “The Replacements.”
BONUS FUN FACT: Once the Redskins gave Tony Robinson a Super Bowl ring, it made them the only franchise to date having two black quarterbacks to play in regular-season games during their championship season.
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OK. From now on I will think of her as Barbara “fortitude of a footballer” Stanwyck.
I have been introducing my daughter to Sam Fuller’s movies over the past few years but we haven’t gotten to Forty Guns. I’ve seen it more than once but we just haven’t fit it in yet. I must have been subconsciously waiting for a sports analogy.
The wait must have been worth it…now you have not one, but TWO sports analogies 🙂
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Absolutely dynamite comes in small packages, and it looks like Barbara Stanwyck proves it in Forty Guns (which I’ve yet to see).
I was really glad to read the Washington team gave the replacement players their well-deserved Super Bowl rings.
Has someone made a movie about this?
ESPN Films 30 for 30: Year of the Scab https://www.amazon.com/ESPN-Films-30-Year-Scab/dp/B077H8S2VF
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