All I really remembered from The Hour of the Gun (1967) is mainly the blue skies and the train scenes which inspired a platform shelter I made a few years ago in the studio. After revisiting The Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) I knew I would ultimately be taking a look at the later take on the Wyatt Earp biopic’s that was also directed by John Sturges which I’ve never known why. John Ford never thought to return to the town of Tombstone after My Darling Clementine (1946). Maybe it was a chance for Sturges to rewrite what he made a decade earlier. Feeling he could have served the legend more respectfully. I suppose he could have also wanted to carry on the legend beyond the gunfight at the infamous corral where the Clanton/Earp war came to a head.
I wonder what these two films would be like if played back to back? As one finishes at the gunfight, the later begins just before, no bravado, just silent build up, no dialogue, a few meetings of the eyes as both sides meet. Already the second half is more mature, we lose the big screen personalities of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas for actors who can really be lost in the roles. James Garner (Earp) and Jason Robards (Doc Holiday) who are more suited, it’s not about the image of the actor, more about the legend which is being retold and extended. Going into more detail to the events after the gunfight that up to that point had been forgotten. That’s one thing film can do, draw on forgotten parts, all with a touch of Hollywood magic of course.
The first real attempt at full of realism of the events in both films comes in Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994) I still can’t decided which is the better film. Back to John Sturges gunfight we are now looking at the consequences of what was ultimately a questionable act by lawmen, who killed the Clanton’s with such force, the gunfight is over before you even realise it’s begun. We do still have Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) who is out for revenge and power throughout the film. Even thought Ryan comes from the golden age of film, due to his age he’s better suited to the, never quite making it to the star status of his contemporaries but could easily act the socks off of them.
Looking at this as part of two the Wyatt Earp legend the characters are paired down to just a few brothers. We loose Holiday’s mistress friend Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming), written out completely, not even being mentioned. Its all about that important relationship and seeking revenge for the deaths and attacks on his family. Using the framework of the law to get revenge, loosely called justice, or his version of justice. Holiday becomes Earp’s conscience as Earp is more ready to release the lead from his six-shooter. And you can’t blame him. The law and order he has built up is being under-mind. His family at the receiving end of violence. What started out as a cattle war becomes a family war, there’s more at stake, more drama when blood is involved, both sides have been hurt here.
If I’m honest, this is not my favourite incarnation of the legend, however it does start to really explore what these two iconic men of the Wild West. They are not just cooped up in the towns the helped bring law and order to, We explore their lives beyond, as they travel the Arizona territory, trying to stay alive and settle the wrongs that have been made. The Hour of the Gun (1967) is a maturer take on a historical figure that he had not yet received. There are not great big set-pieces in this film that focuses more on character and fact which works in it’s favor. Maybe Sturges has matured also as a director, wanting to bring more truth the legend that has become that facts that everyone takes for granted.
I remember seeing My Darling Clementine (1946) very early on when I started to watch all these classic films which now inform my work. I wasn’t aware at all of what this film was really about. Seeing a man come into town taking the marshals job to ensure that he could seek out revenge for his brothers murder. It’s only with the passing of time, and seeing more film adaptations of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral that I can see a lineage going on here, as new information is found new films are made. Different directors give their spin to the events, John Sturges gave us two interpretations Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Hour of the Gun (1957) which expanded vasty on the events that we all know of. Here however in the events are told from the true perspective of Wyatt Earp who once met John Ford who’s version stands heads above the others I have seen, telling him how the shoot-out actually happened, making the audience wait until the end.
The build up is really non-existent as we drift from scene to scene, even over the short running time of the film, a lot actually takes places, from the very start we are introduced to the Earp brothers who are not as we expect them, out in the open country with cattle it feels out of place, yet strangely not, they just are. We are introduced to the Clanton’s lead by Walter Brennan who fitted easily from role good to bad guy with ease. Whilst Henry Fonda personifies the up standing Marshall Wyatt Earp who reluctantly takes on his old job in Tombstone to give him licence to avenge his brother James’s death. His remaining brothers follow.
Tombstone is not the classic boom-town that we know from later films, located once more in Monument Valley a location that becomes John Ford country in years to come. Photographed as a mythical land where these events take place, creating instead a small town in the middle of nowhere, far away from civilisation which is creeping up on the people of the town. Lit as a classic film and heavy lighting you could easily mistake it for a film-noir or one of Ford’s earlier films such as The Informer (1935) in the streets of Ireland. The lack of music is eerie at times, whilst other times you hardly notice it, swept away by the people who inhabit this small town.
The main characters of course are all there, from Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) taking on a more adversarial role, competing to enforce the law, whilst still suffering from tuberculosis. All of the Earp and Clanton brothers are present, with the addition of two women who create tension for the two lead men as they try and see eye to eye. Is this the truth or just a Fordian touch to the legend?
It’s classic Ford at his best, writing his own passages of American legend that easily tips into fiction into facts with a sense of grandeur with the lightest of touches. We can see a love for the open country and the people who helped shape it. Defined here by the stars of the day who were seen as god like figures who graced the screens. With breathtaking scenery and by chance shots of the sky that encapsulate everything that Ford is known for. This is what I missed the first time around with this film, all the little touches from the first shot of Earp/Fonda from below, a historical figure and hero of a not so distant past. Complete with the homely touches of the Ford Stock Company who becoming like a travelling band of actors who bring to life the ideas and visions of Ford. I love the director more now than I did a day ago.
Another long awaited film, and probably the definitive film of the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday legend in Tombstone (1993) which shows how far the historical research has brought us since the last telling of the legend almost 30 years previously in Hour of the Gun (1967) which itself was a opened up the tale beyond the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that was seen as the ending of the legend.
Opening with the Earp family on the move from Dodge City to Tombstone to make their fortune in the gold-mining town. Wyatt (Kurt Russell) tries his best to avoid any offers of work as a peace officer, wanting nothing more than peace in his own life for his wife and family. So we found them at the apparent end of their career as law enforcers.
Much to their misjudgement on arriving in Tombstone, Arizona they are faced with trouble and the real law, the cowboy, complete with red sash on their belt, whilst the official law can do very little to bring any law to those who suffer with the carnage that ensues. It’s not long after they have a stake in a casino that the call to public office by one of the Earp brother Virgil (Sam Elliott) who has never worn the badge but has always stood by his other brothers in their fights. This is the beginning of a bloody struggle to bring law to the town and surrounding area that is plagued by cowboys. Seeing what we already knew would happen but in a very different order, a new take on the legend that is surrounded by an authentic town that doesn’t shy away from the cliché’s of the western genre, instead embracing them and a few nods to the past generation of cinema. As we see both Charlton Heston (Henry Hooker) make an on screen appearance, whilst an older Robert Mitchum narrates this legendary tale. The genre has changed, but not forgetting it’s roots. Complete with a scene-stealing Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday as ever on death’s door, now more than ever thanks to the great make-up that ensures that we see his suffering, so much as it is inflicted upon himself. Kilmer really eats up the script and spits it out again with his delivery of lines and the gun play making him Earp’s right-hand man out of the duty of friendship and nothing more.
A violent film that does blows all the others Earp films out of the water and throws them aside to give us a brutal take on what it was like. Using guns and brute strength to bring law. Faced once again by the Clanton Brother Ike (Stephen Lang) and Billy (Thomas Haden Church) yet there is no threat from their father/family, that is replaced by the threat of the cowboys who own the town. We found the classic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is placed whap-bang in the middle, before a trial that never happens.
And so begins a violent second half that sees the Earp family thrown into a world of trouble, with Virgil shot in the arm and Morgan (Bill Paxton) sent to his death. Whilst Wyatt’s home life is far from desirable, with an Opium addicted wife and a secret lover, the performer Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany) who had her eyes on him the minute she stepped off the stagecoach. The cowboys are fighting back with all they have. And so with Earp, Holiday and his reformed posse of cowboys who go on a mission to bring down all they found with a red sash hanging from their belts. Something new to the filmed take on the American legend.
Not the most recent, but far more entertaining take on the legend that the biographical Wyatt Earp which had different intentions as a film, about the man, not the legend as such. Whilst other films have built into them their own take to make the legend more real to a new audience, from John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) that moves the famous gunfight to the end of the film, and depicted it as Earp once described it to him. Each take brings something new to the legend, be it the performances, the direction and the information available.
- Tombstone (1993) (100filmsinayear.wordpress.com)
- America’s Most Famous Vigilante Wasn’t (thedailybeast.com)
- Film Review: TOMBSTONE (1993, “George Cosmatos”) (juntajuleil.blogspot.co.uk)
- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (shoaibgarana.wordpress.com)
- Tombstone (1993) (revieweveryday.blogspot.co.uk)
- Tombstone (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
- Tombstone (1993) (voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.co.uk)
- Doc Holliday items bring high bids at Harrisburg Wild West auction (pennlive.com)
- Wyatt Earp was a prostitute-loving con man and not the hero vigilante as he is portrayed in movies, new book claims (dailymail.co.uk)
- Wyatt Earp (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)