27 June 2005 | howard.schumann
Brynner is a commanding presence
Yul Brynner is a commanding presence in Richard Wilson's Invitation to a Gunfighter, a Stanley Kramer production set in New Mexico just at the end of the Civil War. Brynner is Jules Gaspard D'Estaing, a half-Creole, half-black gunfighter, hired by the town boss Sam Brewster (Pat Hingle) to kill Matt Weaver (George Segal), a soldier who has just returned from the war. When Weaver, who fought on the Confederate side, finds that his house and farm had been auctioned by Brewster as "enemy property", he guns down the man who had "acquired" his farm and stole his girlfriend Ruth Adams (Janice Rule). Now the town wants payback and hires a self-appointed dispenser of instant justice.
Nattily dressed in a black suit and a ruffled white shirt, Jules is the strong, silent type, equally adept at playing poker, reciting poetry, and playing the harpsichord as he is engaging in "work and play" with his guns. He is well paid to finish the job but soon discovers that his prospective victim may be more honest than those who are joined against him. Although he makes the statement that he is no longer human, Jules' actions prove otherwise as he develops a sympathy for Weaver, becomes attracted to Ruth, and finds aid and comfort with the Mexicans in the village who have been shunted to the outskirts of town by the corrupt bosses. When Jules, seething with frustration, goes on a drunken rampage and nearly destroys the town single handedly, Sam makes a truce with Matt to get rid of the mysterious stranger and the showdown is set.
Yul Brynner turns in a compelling performance as the son of a slave who wants justice more than another payday. While there is a tendency in many films to glorify murderers for hire, we can relate to Jules more as a flawed human being with a troubled past than as a cold-blooded killer. Unfortunately the other characters are not as well developed and George Segal seems miscast as the vengeful war veteran. Janice Rule is lovely but is given little to do except stand around and look pensive. The less said about the musical score the better. Suffice to say, it did not add to the pleasure of watching this film. Being a Yul Brynner fan, however, I found Invitation to a Gunfighter a satisfying experience, a film whose themes of racism and interracial love were advanced, even for 1964 when consciousness about civil rights was exploding.