Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)
Description: It's one of the sad details of John Sturges' life that he never thought much of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Perhaps he just resented the fact that it was a more popular and successful film than Hour of the Gun, the film account of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday's friendship that he produced as well as directed a decade later. Sturges always regarded Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as a Hal B. Wallis film on 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 well and then some, pulling out two of the more complex performances ever given by Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas, the former playing Wyatt Earp, as a frontier lawman who surprises himself with the violence that his decency can't prevent and, in fact, seems to instigate; and the latter as Doc Holliday, an embittered, self-destructive outcast, betrayed by his own body and the disease he can't shake, who finds a streak of decency in himself just large enough to give him a sliver of common ground with Earp. They're excellent on their own and off the scale when they're together in the same scene or shot. Additionally, Sturges set up some shots -- including a scene early in the movie between Lancaster and Douglas in a barber shop, involving a mirror, the cowboys' invasion of Dodge City and Lancaster's breaking up of their revels, and the build-up to the final shoot-out -- that are as good as any in the Western genre. And the final shoot-out, though hardly accurate historically, was about the best staged in any Western ever seen up to that time. Moreover, the supporting performances are mostly first-rate, from George Mathews to Jo Van Fleet, the latter giving a portrayal that is the perfect match for Douglas' doom-laden, self-tortured Doc Holliday, and Dennis Hopper gives one of his better performances from his early career as Billy Clanton, which anticipated his work in Curtis Harrington's Night Tide. That said, the movie does sacrifice a lot of historical accuracy; among many, many problems in this area, Wyatt Earp was nothing like the way he is portrayed in the script or by Lancaster (though he is so compelling in the part that one almost wishes it were true). Also, Rhonda Fleming's character is a somewhat awkward fit; she isn't essential to the plot, though Sturges does as much and as well with her as one could hope, and more than one would expect given the poor showing that most actresses (apart from Van Fleet here and Anne Francis in Bad Day at Black Rock) get in Sturges' movies. The title ballad, heard at various points in the movie as sung by Frankie Laine, may seem dated and hokey, but it does hold together a dramatic arc that stretches across months of time, three towns, and several vignettes that are often only linked in their backgrounds, and it is a very haunting tune as well. Sturges' subsequent film about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Hour of the Gun, done ten years later through his own production company, is more realistic and accurate in its historical portrayals, and less romantic and dramatic, but also less accessible.~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide
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