Sunday, March 3, 2019

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Another recent movie viewing was the 1957 western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

If you've seen enough westerns, you probably know most of the characters in the story and the basic events of the gunfight, at least as it gets portrayed in the movies. (The actual gunfight was only about 30 seconds and, for dramatic reasons, it's usually more drawn out.) The gunfight in this version comes almost at the end of the movie, which focuses mostly on the back story of Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) and his eventual friend of sorts Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas).

Wyatt, at the time the movie opens, was marshal in Dodge City, KS, having to deal with the cowboys who would come into town at the end of the cattle drive and consistently create a ruckus, not having had any way to have real fun while they were on the cattle drive for weeks at a time. While pursuing a criminal away from Dodge, Wyatt asks for information about Johnny Ringo (John Ireland) first from a lawman nearing retirement age, and then from Doc.

By this time, Doc already has his tuberculosis, a girlfriend Kate (Jo Van Fleet), and a reputation as a gunfighter that forces him to go from one town to the next. Eventually, he's going to wind up back in Dodge City, which makes Wyatt, not yet having Doc as a friend, thoroughly displeased. Things are going to become quite complicated, with the return of Johnny Ringo, and the entrance of lady gambler Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming).

Wyatt doesn't want women gambling in the "polite" side of town, but Laura is just so darn beautiful that Wyatt eventually relents, as long as she does it off to the side where most of the public won't see her. But Wyatt is also falling in love with Laura, taking the opportunity to do patrols where he knows Laura is going to be so he can run into her. Laura, for her part, isn't so certain she wants a lawman as her partner, not because she'd be expected to give up gambling, but because of the violent fate that's likely to befall lawmen.

Now, we all know that Wyatt Earp ends up at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, AZ, so he's going to be leaving Dodge. In this movie, it's presented as getting a telegram from his brothers, including Vernon (John Hudson) who is the marshal in Tombstone. Apparently the Clantons led by Ike (Lyle Bettger) has a ranch outside of town, and has bought a county sheriff who looks the other way when the Clantons are rustling Mexican cattle and trying to pass them through Tombstone on the way to getting them to the railroad. Laura just doesn't understand that Wyatt has to help his brothers....

Wyatt goes to Tombstone, and Doc makes it there as well. The Clantons, it seems are itching for a fight, while the townsfolk support the Earps but aren't necessarily willing to put the lives where their mouths are. Wyatt has to deal with Ike's drunken kid brother Billy (Dennis Hopper), while Ike concludes that the only way to get the fight is to make it personal, so he has Wyatt's kid brother Jimmy (Martin Milner) killed. It's enough to make anybody get in a shootout for vengeance....

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral felt to me as if it wasn't breaking any new ground, other than being in color and wide-screen which earlier versions hadn't. Still, the story is solid, and the acting uniformly quite good. Kirk Douglas is probably the best, followed by Jo Van Fleet. Burt Lancaster's Wyatt Earp comes across as having been written as not quite complex enough, so while there's nothing wrong with his acting, the script lets him down a bit. Among the supporting actors, Hopper is quite good, as are Earl Holliman as Wyatt's deputy in Dodge City, and in one scene, Olive Carey as the Clantons' mother.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a movie I can highly recommend.

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