Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) * * *

Renowned lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) and consumptive Dr. John "Doc" Holliday (Kirk Douglas) become reluctant allies despite a mutual dislike for each other. Wyatt is a U.S. marshal, whereas Doc is a gambler, shootist, and trouble maker. Holliday is a skeptical about lawmen, and Wyatt, while skeptical about gamblers, can't help but like the ex-dentist. Most versions of this true story start with Wyatt Earp riding into Tombstone and planning to hang up his guns for a prosperous civilian life, but this one features a succession of little frontier towns introduced by a somber common thread--Boot Hill. While the rapid turnover of locations is never confusing, it shows that Holliday keeps wearing out his welcome, and also introduces the other side of the lawman's coin, the aging, weakened Sheriff Cotton Wilson (Frank Faylen).

In the small Texas town of Fort Griffin, Wyatt questions Holliday about Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger) and Johnny Ringo's (John Ireland) whereabouts. Holliday refuses to tell the lawman where the outlaws went since he carries a grudge against the Wyatt family because Wyatt's brother Morgan (DeForest Kelly) once threw Holliday out of Deadwood and impounded $10,000 of his gambling winnings. Despite a law against carrying guns in town limits, Ed Bailey (Lee Van Cleef) has a small derringer concealed in his boot. Ed wants revenge for Doc Holliday killing his brother in a fair fight. Holliday has his back to the bar but is watching Bailey in the mirror. Wyatt had earlier tipped Holliday off to the derringer in an argument that set up the relationship between the two lead characters. Bailey stands up with the derringer in his hand, but Holliday whirls around, produces a knife from his collar, and skewers Bailey. Cotton Wilson, the town's cowardly marshal, released outlaws Ike Clanton and Johnny Ringo from custody three days earlier, despite the outstanding warrants for their arrest. He arrests Holliday and incarcerates him in his hotel room under guard. Wyatt pistol whips the guard and helps Holliday escape just before the lynch mob gets to the hotel. From this beginning the two men begin a friendship that ripens to a point where either man is willing to risk his life for the other.

Holliday: I'm a gambler. Money's just a tool of my trade.
Wyatt Earp: Of course, you will guarantee you won't lose.
Holliday: I never lose. You see, poker's played by desperate men who cherish money. I don't lose because I have nothing to lose, including my life.
Wyatt Earp: Look, Holliday, as long as I'm the law here, not one of those cowpokes is going to cross that deadline with a gun. I don't care if his name is Shanghai Pierce.
Holliday: Well spoken. I'll repeat those words at your funeral.
Wyatt Earp: We'd like you to come to the wedding, Doc--if it doesn't interfere with your poker.
Holliday: I'm not good at weddings--only funerals. Deal me out. If I'm going to die, at least let me die with the only friend I've ever had!
Wyatt Earp: Raise your right hand. Do you... oh, forget it come on.
Holliday: Don't I get a badge?
Wyatt Earp: Not on your life!

The action shifts to Dodge City, Kansas, where Wyatt is marshal and is told by his deputy, Charles "Charlie" Bassett (Earl Holliman), that Holliday and Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet) have arrived in town. Holiday, not grateful for the good turn, shows up right in the middle of all kinds of trouble, this time mostly on Wyatt's side. Wyatt orders the gunfighter to leave, but when Holliday informs him that he is penniless, the lawman allows him to stay if he promises not to cause any trouble. His attention is then drawn to another new arrival in Dodge City, the beautiful Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming). After being told by Wyatt that female gamblers are not allowed within the city limits, Laura is arrested for "disturbing the peace" after a drunken cowboy attempts to come to her defense. Under pressure from Holliday and Bassett, Wyatt has a change of heart and releases Laura, on the condition that she confine her gambling to the saloons' side rooms. Later, Wyatt is forced to deputize Holliday when a local bank is robbed and its cashier killed, as all his deputies are out on a posse with Bat Masterson (Kenneth Tobey). Wyatt leaves town with Laura, enabling cattleman Shanghai Pierce (Ted de Corsia) to ride into Dodge City with his cowboys and shoot up the town. When Bassett tries to arrest Pierce, Johnny Ringo shoots him. Wyatt then returns to town just as Pierce and his men are breaking up a church bazaar. Outgunned, Wyatt is saved when a well-armed Holliday appears from a back room, and Pierce and his men are quickly arrested.

Kate Fisher: What difference does it make to you where I go or who I take up with?
Holliday: Shut up! (throwing her dress on the floor) Get your things together. You're leaving!
Johnny Ringo: (entering from the bedroom) She's staying here!
Holliday: Keep out of this, Ringo!
Johnny Ringo: You got no right to come bustin' in here!
Holliday: I'm talking to Kate. Take a walk!
Kate Fisher: Anything you got to say you can say in front of him.
Holliday: You slut!
Johnny Ringo: Wait a minute, Holliday. You don't talk to my woman like that!
Holliday: Your woman? Anybody's woman!

Wyatt Earp tells Doc Holliday that he is giving up the law and moving to California with Laura, despite being offered the post of U.S. Marshal. Wyatt wants to retire, join his brothers in Tombstone, and gets ready to settle down with Laura. At that exact moment a telegram from brother Virgil Earp (John Hudson) arrives. He is in trouble and needs help immediately. Virgil is the town marshal of Tombstone, in the Arizona Territory. Wyatt immediately gets his gun and horse, then sets off to meet his date with destiny, much to the chagrin of Laura Denbow. Along the trail Doc Holliday appears, just after a run of bad luck at the poker tables of Wichita. As they stop to camp for the night, Wyatt talks about the virtues of clean mountain air compared to the stinking saloons that Holliday usually inhabits. While they sleep, three villains attempt to assassinate them, but Holliday’s ready Colt makes short work of the trio. "Clean mountain air, indeed," fumes Holliday.

At Tombstone we meet the rest of the Earp clan, including Virgil, Morgan and younger brother James "Jimmy" Earp (Martin Milner). It is a real homey atmosphere, one that Wyatt and Holliday have sorely missed. Virgil tells them that Ike Clanton has rustled thousands of heads of Mexican cattle, but cannot ship them to market as long as the Earps control Tombstone's railway station. All agree that Wyatt should be in charge of the situation, though Morgan criticizes his older brother's association with Holliday. Wyatt, in turn, defends Holliday and insists that the gambler remains welcome in Tombstone as long as he stays out of trouble. But the problem of cattle rustling by the Clanton family and their gang of cowboys must be resolved. Cotton Wilson, the new county sheriff, offers Wyatt a $20,000 bribe from Ike if he allows the Clantons to ship their stolen cattle.

Cotton Wilson: There's $20,000 in it for you--cash!
Wyatt Earp: $20,000! The wages of sin are rising!
Cotton Wilson: $20,00 against a six foot hole in Boot Hill or a $20 a month pension--if you live long enough to collect it.

Ike and his men then ride into Tombstone, only to be turned away by the Earp brothers. Later, Johnny Ringo returns to town with Kate, and Holliday quickly challenges him to a duel, but is stopped by Virgil. Meanwhile, Wyatt heads out to the Clanton ranch to inform Ike that he has been made U.S. Marshal for the territory and orders the crooked cattleman to take his stolen herd back to Mexico. Unable to find any legal loopholes around Wyatt, the Clantons decide to ambush the lawman while he makes his rounds that night, but they mistakenly kill James instead. While questioning Kate about James' murder, Holliday collapses from an attack of tuberculosis. That night, Billy (Dennis Hopper), the youngest Clanton, is sent into town to challenge the Earps to a family duel. The Earps decide to settle it the only way the Clantons will understand. The three brothers set off on an October morning at sunrise. As Wyatt gets his shotgun, Doc Holliday appears at his door, willing to come along. This is a good thing because the odds are now only 6 to 4 in the Clanton's favor.

Billy Clanton: I don't know why I get into gunfights. I guess sometimes I just get lonely.
Holliday: (after shooting a few antagonists) Anybody else want to try their luck?
Wyatt Earp: (herding the arrested cowboys to jail) Get moving! Keep moving, all of ya!
Johnny Ringo: (holding his wounded arm) All right, Doc. (In a threatening tone) We ain't finished yet!
Holliday: You would have been, but I felt in a charitable mood tonight.
Wyatt Earp: (to Billy Clanton) You think you're pretty tough, don't ya, son? I never knew a gunslinger yet so tough he lived to celebrate his 35th birthday. I learned one rule about gunslingers. There's always a man faster on the draw than you are, and the more you use a gun, the sooner you're gonna run into that man.

The Clantons are already at the Corral, hiding behind a wagon, when the Earps and Holliday arrive. The Earps scatter and hit the dirt. Wyatt finally gets to confront the Clanton/McLowery outlaw gang led by Ike Clanton. The gunfight consists of fire and maneuver with the Earps winning even though they are out-numbered. Since the time-span of the actual gunfight is at most 90 seconds, the bulk of the film concerns the tensions across many months leading up to the famous battle. The gun battle begins, and Morgan is quickly wounded. Holliday shoots and kills Finn (Lee Roberts). His death is quickly followed by that of the two McLowerys. After Virgil is wounded, Wyatt kills Ike with a shotgun blast. Though wounded by Billy, Holliday follows Johnny Ringo into a barn and kills him, while Wyatt chases after the youngest Clanton. Billy is then offered a chance to surrender, but he refuses and is killed by Holliday when Wyatt hesitates to shoot the young man. Afterward, while his brothers tend to their wounds, Wyatt joins Holliday for a final drink before heading off to California and a waiting Laura.

Of the many filmed versions of the real shootout that took place on October 26, 1881 at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL is the best, most elaborate and star-studded, the greatest Hollywood tribute to the legendary gunfight. This character driven Western that looks deeply into the relationship of Earp and Holiday is considered to be one the greatest Westerns ever made. It's a landmark movie that authentically depicts the famous showdown between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton Gang, while exploring the friendship between the rugged marshal and the dentist turned gunfighter. The film is mainly a build-up to a showdown which comes in blazing fury at the end, and was released on May 30, 1957.

GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL is the best interpretation of the legendary battle for several reasons. The casting of Burt Lancaster as the stern, upright Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as the colorful, rum-soaked Doc Holliday was inspired, and the power of the leading actors’ performances overshadows that of later versions. Secondary roles are played by competent actors like Earl Holliman, John Ireland, Jo Van Fleet, Jack Elam, Rhonda Fleming, DeForest Kelly, and Dennis Hopper. The story is accurate as far as the reasons why the two sides squared off, and the dialogue is witty, well-written and does not use euphemisms and profanity to get its point across. Sets are more accurate than those in other interpretations, and the geographic location looks like Tombstone. Cinematography and direction are very good with interesting camera angles, deep blue skies, parched yellow fields, cactus, mountainous backdrop, gunfights, romance, tension, and saloon bars. It's a big colorful picture in VistaVision. The weapons sequences are better than other interpretations: six shooters shoot six times, shotguns fire twice, and recoil is evident from the shooting.

And there is Dimitri Tiomkin's music score, pushing the movie's momentum as relentlessly as the two driven heroes, complete with a theme song underscoring the major transitions of scenes that is impossible to forget. Even though the Frankie Laine song sounds a little dated, it is typical of the era, a very haunting tune that pulls things together. Director John Sturges always regarded GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL as a Hal B. Wallis film for which he was just a hired hand without a lot of control. The script wasn't his and the project wasn't his, but he did his job very well, pulling out two of the more complex performances ever given by Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas. Sturges produced and directed a more fact-based and realistic version of the story--focusing mostly on its aftermath--a decade later in HOUR OF THE GUN (1967), starring James Garner, Jason Robards, Jr., and Robert Ryan. Produced by his own production company, it is more accurate in its historical portrayals, but less dramatic, romantic, accessible, attractive and successful. After GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, there would not be so impressive a lineup of talent at the OK Corral again until the twin Wyatt Earp biopics of 1994, WYATT EARP and TOMBSTONE.

The action inevitably leads to the legendary battle between the two heroes and the villainous Clanton gang, but the film is also very much about the conflicts each man faces with women, with one another, and with their own destinies. Lancaster is terrific as the downbeat Earp, and Douglas has one of his best roles as Holliday. The thoughtfulness of the tale is matched by Sturges' captivating way with the dramatic duel. Basically the film appeals both as a solid action piece and as a fascinating two-character study.

The cast also includes: Whit Bissell (John P. Clum, "Tombstone Epitaph" Editor), George Mathews (John Shanssey, Griffin Saloonkeeper), Joan Camden (Betty Earp, Virgil's Wife), Olive Carey (Mrs. Clanton), Brian G. Hutton (Rick), Nelson Leigh (Dodge City Mayor Kelly), Jack Elam (Tom McLowery), Don Castle (Drunk Cowboy in Longbranch Saloon), Dorothy Abbott (Girl), Tom Arnold (Barrel-Rolling Boy), William Bailey, John Benson, Frank Carter, Roger Creed, James Davies, Franklyn Farnum, Joseph Forte, Paul Gary, Frank Hagney, Len Hendry, Charles Herbert, Edward Ingram, Anthony Jochim, Kenner G. Kemp, Ethan Laidlaw, Morgan Lane, Gregg Martell, John Maxwell, William Meigs, Harry B. Mendoza, Walter Merrill, Dennis Moore, Max Power, Richard Reeves, Lee Roberts, Bing Russell, Court Shepard, Mickey Simpson, Bert Stevens, Glenn Strange, Robert Swan, Arthur Tovey, and Trude Wyler. Dimitri Tiomkin composed the original music. The screenplay is by novelist Leon Uris from a magazine story by George Scullin. John Sturges directed.

Sometimes you can't help but notice crotch bulge shots, and this film is tied with AUNTIE MAME (1958) as the best and most famous example. Both Forrest Tucker in AUNTIE MAME and John Ireland in GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL are equal to their horses in the endowment department. In GUNFIGHT, there are two scenes where Ireland's bulge is obscenely visible: in the hotel room with Kirk Douglas and in the saloon fight half way through the movie. Like Tucker, Ireland loved showing off his huge bulge in movies and always "freeballed", that is he did not wear underwear. And look out for STAR TREK favorite DeForest Kelly as Wyatt's brother Morgan Earp. Ten years later, as Doctor McCoy, he and others from a USS Enterprise landing crew enter Melkotian space and are transformed into Clantons who face the Earps in episode 60 of STAR TREK titled "Spectre of the Gun".

The DVD has an excellent picture with a scope of 2.35:1 Enhanced, and sound is mono. There are no extras, not even a trailer.

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