Samuel Fuller knew the importance of a good start. “If a story doesn’t give you a hard-on in the first couple of scenes, throw it in the goddamn garbage,” he once said, and his 1957 film Forty Guns commands the viewer’s attention before the opening credits have even rolled. Fuller fills the CinemaScope frame with a shot of a vast empty landscape, through which three weary men are travelling. They hear the horses before they see them, a distant rumbling catching their attention moments before a band of gunmen appears on the horizon, surrounding and passing this small carriage in a storm of hooves and dust. The men look behind them as the horses disappear into the distance, scarcely able to believe what they’ve just seen. Forty men on black horses led by a single woman on a white stallion. That woman is Barbara Stanwyck.
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