Another Western that I’ve been looking out for over the years, with the wait now finally over I have mixed feelings of deflation. Comedian Rich Hall began his BBC4 documentary on the film depiction on Native Americans by starting with the assassination of Osama Bin-Laden -, soldiers uttering the word Geronimo. A word that was originally linked to the name of the Apache warrior who held out and fought until he’s forced to surrender to the U.S. army. How many other names have been so misappropriated? A name of a countries former enemy has become a term of celebration and liberation. None have the same sound to them as Geronimo as it rolls off the tongue out of all the prominent Native American figures. It’s a practice that I try to avoid, aiming to keep his name in historical context, not to use in celebration.
The 1993 film Geronimo (1993) was one of two released that year about the Apache warrior, one made a Native American produced TV movie, very different in tone, celebrating the life and times of the figure, one that I feel I should watch again to compare. And the Hollywood Western that bills the lead actor, fourth on the list below Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall. A symptom of how Hollywood make and market their films. Placing the more prominent names above others who have a larger part in the film. Also indicating the position of Native American actors in the film industry, at the bottom. The only positive you can take away from this billing is that the role went to Wes Studi, a Native American (Cherokee) and not someone in brown face, that’s some progress.
Made during the early 1990’s when there was a boom in the genre, released in between Dances With Wolves (1990), Unforgiven (1992) and Wyatt Earp (1994), the same year as the larger than life, sweeping epic – Tombstone (1993). Easily categorized as a revisionist Western, attempting to rewrite the genres pasts wrongs to tell a more honest account of history. So how did they get on? I’m reminded of Broken Arrow (1950) when James Stewart narrated Tom Jefford’s experience with the Apache, we even met Geronimo in one scene when all the tribes of the nation met for a council meeting, his own histories picked up in a Chuck Connors film – Geronimo (1962) which I might check out of curiosity. This 1990’s take on the warriors narrated by baby-faced Matt Damon as a fresh out of West point officer Lt. Britton Davis, leaving me thinking how much of Lt Dunbar has influenced him, his moments of reflection and modern thinking on a 19th century issue that’s now become part of America’s history and less talked about politics. Britton us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he waits to meet with his commanding officer Lt. Charles Gatewood (Jason Patric) heading off to join the stately and much admired Brigadier General George Crook (Gene Hackman) who was given the task of rounding up the Apache and sticking them on the reservation.
Now with all Native American revisionism its going to be more graphic – think Little Big Man and Soldier Blue (both 1970) et al, it’s brutal and attempting to take their side for again. Yet it still comes from the perspective of a white soldier – Davis who is reflecting over this period in history. There is however more screen time given to Wes Studi and rightly so really allowing us the best Hollywood can do depict the final days of freedom for the Apache. As revisionist the film tries to be, it takes a massive cue from John Ford, depicting the film entirely in Monument Valley, trying to be both a Cavalry film and Cheyenne Autumn (1964) which moved around the Navajo country, having now taken on this mythic form and space which allows filmmakers to tell the story of the West in this landscape almost exclusively at times. I found this distracting at times, thinking about Fort Apache or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon at times, not seeing for it wants to be.
With more screen-time given to Studi we’re allowed to understand his point of view, he’s not just a pain in the backside for the Army and the White House, He’s has a credible point of view. First meeting him at his initial surrender, brought the charge of the two Lieutenant’s who see this as a big moment in both their careers and history. For Geronimo it’s the end of his peoples way of life and loss of freedom, he’s not taken this decision lightly. It’s a film that wants to be taken seriously, giving time to both fact and action during the films run. Time for the peace talks that see the Apache accepting they’ve been worn down and needing to talk. Before things get messy after an Apache’s killed for a ghost dance (disturbing the peace) which triggers another war between them and the white eyes.
The action scenes are rather mixed, bloody at times, filled with dust which makes it hard at times to see what’s going on. OK we’re in the desert but its supposed to be discernible to the viewer. Suggesting that it was a bloody time for both sides, more so the Natives who are fighting for respect and honor at this pivotal time.
Turning to look at the other characters times taken to develop the two lieutenant’s and even the aging scout Al Sieber (Duvall) who has suffered 17 arrows and gunshots and still standing, he’s learned to respect his enemy whilst growing tired in his role. A nice character for Duvall to play, having been a presence in the genre ever since he got “shot to pieces” by the Duke in True Grit (1969) he gives the film extra strength by him just being there. I felt as much as those in uniform were given more time to grow, we got less time with Chato (Steve Reevis) a once feared warrior, now a loyal scout to the cavalry, outside of his obvious skill and knowledge he is only seen as a traitor to his people. At least he’s not being played by Charles Bronson in Chato’s Land (1972).
Summing up this film it’s an attempt to tell two sides to the same events, whilst naturally being slightly more biased to the Army, made by White men, it’s only able to go so far. We do have a more fleshed out depiction of the Apache which i can’t complain about and with subtitles which gives allows more depth, only speaking English when faced with White Eyes. I noticed also a bit of slopping editing, splicing in an elder to Crooks final treaty talk, it looked really out of place, shoe-horned in there. I can’t complain too much, its an early 90’s Western that attempts to rewrite events, yet still holding back in places.
Seen as an important early Western as the genre began to find its feet as Hollywood was starting to accept the genre to be taken seriously. All due to John Ford‘s Stagecoach that took not only a chance with a genre which had taken on the form of period epics of the Victorian era, such as Gunga Din (1939) and Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). All the basic elements that were refined in the silent era were recycled and reshaped as legends waiting to be retold. So with Stagecoach blowing the dust off the boots and spurs, the reins tightly held in place, the hat sitting a top the gunfighters head, the guns loaded once more, studios had to wake up and react to what was the rebirth of the Western. Warner Brothers delivered Dodge City (1939) in reaction to the tightly written multifaceted drama of misfits and outsiders, with bursts of exciting action.
I have been aware of this film for a few years, but never really took it seriously, it was only when I read about it in Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin I had to get hold of the film and watch it. With stronger foundations of how the history of the West was written and perceived at the time – the Myth of conquest’s seen here in terms of progress, the United States on the up after the Depression.
The film opens up in spectacular and very idealised. A steam train pounding freshly laid tracks that are about to meet at the join between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, complete with the nailing of the golden spike being hammered in completing the line. Before we see the that much forgotten, much passed spike there is a really nice piece of golden age Western cinema, a race between a stagecoach and a steam train. Nature vs. technology, progress out racing what has gone before. Its breathtaking to watch and daring to capturing on film, fair enough there was some camera trickery with the help of a rear-projection, however you can see that it was carefully staged, pushing both horses and the train out on location. You could imagine such ill-fated races occurring all over the country, as riders wanted to prove their relevance in an ever-changing country. Ultimately the train wins the race as it makes its way to the unnamed towns of wheels that have followed the lines production. All of this celebration even before we have met Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn) in his first western role, a position that actors were all getting ready assume and have fun with in the coming decades, at this point it’s all still to come.
We meet him at his two sidekicks Algernon ‘Rusty’ Hart (Alan Hale) and Tex Baird (Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams) out near free-roaming buffalo, acknowledging the effect of their hunting on Native American’s, which leads him to lead a sheriff straight to Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) and his henchmen who are too casual about it all. Of course there is little that can be done without a jail or a court, law is still a few years off reaching this part of the world, it’s an idea that can be easily escaped on horseback. Hatton is not yet ready to assume the role of law. He’s far happier wandering from job to job, bringing with him his own legend, originally from Ireland, fighting in Cuba, before the Civil War, he’s lived quite the life before hunting buffalo for the railroad. A life that most audiences would be envious of, to those around him its hard to believe they are standing in his presence, he’s a living legend whose about to write a few more pages.
It’s very easy to draw comparisons between Watton and film versions of Wyatt Earp, which I will draw upon later. Before he takes up the badge he has to live his own life before living in the cause of others. Whilst he’s off the town of newly named Dodge is thriving and growing, seen through a humorous and rambunctious montage that depicts numerous saloons, bars, dance halls, this is a boomtown that is really brought to life for a minute or so. We see some of the footage used again, probably a last-minute creative addition which doesn’t detract from the film, however without you wouldn’t see a town in a state of such rapid growth and social collapse. The violence depicted has now become cliché but was brand new at the time of release. With all the violence going in it takes the elders, the businessmen of the town to come together to reach out to Watton to leave his job behind and tame Dodge City.
Watton is already having to tame those who he’s working with, a wagon train and cattle drive combined – not much is made of the wagon train, with more emphasis on the effect that a drunkard is having on the cattle Lee Irving (William Lundigan) trigger happy is unaware of his actions, it takes a near death stampede and a shoot or be shot decision to stop him dead. Watton is the reluctant killer who in turn horrifies Lee’s sister Abbi (Olivia de Havilland) who sees only a killer not a peaceful man doing the right thing. Protecting everyone around him, making the hard decisions that others aren’t prepared to. This decision-making is soon applied to Dodge City after chaotic barroom brawl that leads to Rusty nearly being hanged by Sturrett. It’s an act that Watton can’t be ignored. He has to assume the role of law which was taken on and abused by Sturrett. Bringing me back to the Wyatt Earp connection, a reluctant lawman whose brought out of retirement to slowly bring Dodge in line with the rest of the country, wanting to be civilised as the East. Bringing back settlers who we learn had been leaving in their droves before. He single handidly transforms the town into a safe, profitable and safe place to live, gun control and a shed load of laws which we see going to the extreme at times.
I have to mention the role of Abbie Irving who began as a grieving woman to taking on a prominent role at the local paper. Yes its the women’s gossip column, but its a woman in the work place, communicating with the community. She’s not a woman to be walked all over, not even Watton until he has won her heart somethings never change. Looking at the other “prominent role” by Ann Sheridan as barroom singer Ruby Gilman whose connected to Sturrett, but her character is not really developed to be of any real consequence or danger to Watton who doesn’t even meet her. That’s the only real flaw in a Western that is brimming at the seams with ideas that are either explore or enjoyed. It’s having a lot of fun, you can see cast all are, and all in technicolor too, creating some classic imagery that has been repeated ever since.
Looking back at the film over a day later I can see a film with so much to talk about, I could be writing for days, I hope I have pinned down some of the main ideas of transformation, progress as well as the division still there after the civil war. The country maybe reunited politically and geographically the links are getting tighter by the passing of the years. Socially and lawfully there’s still away to go. Dodge City is one of the lesser known classics today, yet made during that incredible year of 1939 which transformed the medium and the genre, it can’t be forgotten.
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.
A Western I have been aware of but have been purposely avoiding, mostly out of ignorance and not really wanting to see a Western with Sidney Poitier I just didn’t see him fitting into that genre easily. I’d only ever seen him in less than a handful of films. I guess what changed all that nonsense when I saw him being given a lifetime achievement Bafta award, a massive selection of his films made up his show-reel. He’s had a ground breaking career, during a time when African-American roles on-screen were relegated to butlers, housemaids, the help around the house, all using stereotyped voices that today is just plain embarrassing. I could go on about the history of the African-American on-screen plenty has already been written.
Instead I want to turn my attention to Buck and the Preacher (1972) which depicts the African-American in a new light. Gone are the stereotypes, the bumbling help who look up to their white employers who they idolize, with a few sayings that they have throughout the film. I get the sense more of a Black Spaghetti Western at times with this one. It’s not even that really, its something in between as it has a sense of something really important going on. We’re told in the prologue that the now free slaves after the Civil War are moving West themselves, in search of a better life, it’s already in the history of the genre. The war was fought for them yet we hardly see them on-screen in leading roles. The closest we get in Woody Strode in a handful of roles, even then its supporting at most. However these now free slaves are being treated nearly as badly as the Native American who are historically entering the closing days of their own freedom.
Enter our hero of the film, Buck (Poitier) whose paid to be wagon master to black wagon trains. They are the pioneers of the film, wanting to make their mark on the country that is still being tamed and won. It’s a story as inaccurate as it maybe that goes unspoken on-screen for the most part. You could call him the black Kirk Douglas of the film, who means as much business as any leading white actor, he knows what he wants, will do anything to achieve it, with a lot more drive behind him as he has both the history of his race but that of the genre and the medium on his shoulders. That’s a lot of weight to bring to the role. The nearest we get to his role today is Jamie Fox in Django Unchained (2012) his Tarantino‘s Blaxploitation meets Spaghetti Western. I’ll turn to that is more detail later. Back to Buck who is a serious man who you can see has a heart and will do what is necessary.
So a black man leading a wagon train is not just rare, at the time groundbreaking, the exclusivity of the white man and his family who’re lead by men who know the open country and can survive “Indian” raids without losing too many heads along the way. This the Native American as we know them, now they play a more substantial role that really brings them into the plot beyond being obstacles, they are substantial elements of the plot. First seeing them as the potential enemy before being revealed as the ally to the Buck and his partner Preacher (Harry Belafonte) – the comic relief. Buck is able to negotiate with the Natives for safe passage (see video) for his wagon train that is about to pass through. He could have easily just ridden along through, but he decides to ask permission, instead of taking his chances like his once slave owners may have done. He has learned respect where white man have not.
I don’t want to make this another study of the depiction of Native Americans but I can’t help it as their role’s transplanted to the Black characters who are wanting live the life of the White man, It’s all messing about with the genre that for decades had laid down the rule almost in stone of where everyone should be. The White men, for a while are ten men who are after Buck wanting to restore order, to pre-Civil war life, not accepting the changes, lead by Deshay (Cameron Mitchell) whose driven by racism, unable to the future like once town sheriff (John Kelly) who will allow anyone in his town as long as they obey the law, they can pass through unharmed. They are men from different sides of the war, most probably would have fought on different sides two. Its only when Deshay and most of his men are killed and robbed is the law on Buck’s back and rightly so, he’s broken the law, and wants to bring him in to face justice, a white man would face the same destiny.
It’s unusual to have a majority black cast, that’s supported by Harry Belafonte who is loosely a man of the cloth. Like most preachers in the genre, they usually carry a gun, or carried one in a previous life, ready to survive the open and dangerous wilderness which is the West. He is the other half of Buck, the excitement, the comedy and a more danger at his side. The opposite of determined Buck, are they the Black Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, they are polar opposites yet work well together when pushed into a corner which makes the on-screen duo work. History would probably tell us differently.
Turning now briefly to Django Unchained you can see this is a very influential film. Again we have a freed slave, not so literally, the rise to glory is far quick, it’s an origin story to an extent. With Buck that’s already built-in with the prologue, he has a history of leading freed slaves to new lives, this time Colorado. The aim of Django was to find and free his wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) yet he’s supported by a white man Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) he does enable him to get where other black men can’t. The White men are generally depicted as idiots and backward in their thinking, which is not so overt in the older film.
Looking at the film on the perspective as a Western it’s a bit of an oddity, the soundtrack is the first thing that hits you, it’s so unique, it doesn’t grate on your ears as much as it grabs you attention, informing you this is not your average Western, the protagonists not the usual white men, these are the underclass that are rising through, its a long fight that wont be won and some would argue is still not. In other respect the action and chase scene are as standard as any other Western, classical in style but modern in terms of themes which makes it really stand out in the genre.
I remember watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) during my lat year at art-school, I think I was too tired to really appreciate how good this western really is. Its been a while even at the time of release that the subject of Jesse James was adapted for the big-screen, having probably as many screen versions as Wyatt Earp. The genre itself was laying dormant, this was the beginning of a quieter, more considered era as it has now been rediscovered, rewritten for a new generation.
There is none of the bravado of the previous incarnations, the Robin Hood of the west, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Instead we find a gunfighter, a wanted and paranoid man constantly on the run and looking over his soldier. Reality is coming to the genre, able to humanize this figure of American folk-lore. Adapting Ron Hansen‘s of the same name that de-mythologises the gunfighter, adding layers of psychology in-between all the pulp and facts that surround him and his men that rode with him.
Joining him at that the end of his life, the final year or so in 1881, the last train robbery is about to go ahead when we meet the quiet and meek Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) who does anything to not ingratiate himself with older brother Frank James (Sam Shepard) who sees him as soon an irritant, wanting to get rid of him. We have yet to meet the younger brother Jesse (Brad Pitt) who leads a number of ruthless men. It’s early days really, yet I think that Shepherd is wasted in this role, I’m not too sure of his role in his life or real age, I know they rode together. For such a big name to have such a small part seems unnecessary. We do however have the visual tone of the film set very early on, from the time-lapsing of the clouds illustrating the passing of time, as fast as it passes in the sky it wanders down on the Earth. Depicted at times like blurred memories through the camera, even a few cheeky nods to John Ford‘s frames within dark frames. A modern western that lingers in the past at times.
Narration that fills in the gaps as we move through time and into the minds of the characters, moving from James to Ford as we meander towards that moment on April 2nd 1882. We know its coming but are really in no rush to get there. Plenty is to come as the men all go they’re separate ways. The focus is rightly on Ford the killer as we learn about this wannabe Jesse James who like any fan of a hero has built up an image, wanting to learn all he can when he is in the presence of Jesse, a super-fan given that rare chance to ride and live with him.
Obviously this is too much for Jesse who has enough to worry about, constantly on the move, it’s not a fun life as he once hoped, his old friends are slowly being caught or turning themselves in. A state of paranoia is setting in. Pitt becomes unhinged in this role that he has allowed to consume him. He isn’t just playing Jesse James, he is Jesse James, one of his better roles where it’s not all about Pitt who has to share the screen with Affleck who otherwise carries the film, the responsibility of both history and eventual obscurity weighs on his shoulders. Playing the part of an outcast really in a situation over his head, struggling at times to cope.
The conclusion is longer than I thought, the repercussions of that assassination, if you can call it that. It was a indeed a cowardly shot, which has been engrained into popular culture. Shooting your enemy in the back is the cowardly way instead of facing them head-on. It’s a theme that never leaves him. We saw him shoot from begins before, he can kill if only head-on. A cultural ideal that has lasted. Usually after the assassination the film would usually draw to a close, dealing with the aftermath shows that the genre has grown up, shaking off the mystery that surround the figure. Jame’s body made available for viewing, his photograph sold to the public. The hysteria surrounding his life continued into his death and into the pages and in the next century – film where he has been reborn and died on-screen many times. So where does this entry in the Jesse James cannon fit? Based on a fictional account of his last year alive, there is at least a sense more of facts, none of the fluff from your dime novels that influenced earlier adaptations. Then again it’s not fair to trample all over the past, it allowed us to get to this point, each version a reflection of the time. With the passing of time, history can be blurred, a novel can rewrite them completely, allowing you to see things in a different light, even to return to the facts and find the difference between reality between fact and fiction.
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) (refractionsfilm.wordpress.com)
I’ve watched two gunfighter westerns in a row now, Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) and now The Gunfighter (1950), both of which I’ve not seen in sometime. Both sharing the theme of the life of the gunfighter, not having a place to call his own. A reputation built upon fear and sheer luck, not able to stay in one place for too long. I could stop the review there,I have just summed up The Gunfighter in a few sentences, but that wouldn’t do the film justice, which isn’t fair. So I will be going to explore this very short film that takes place mostly in a saloon bar-room. Used as a place of hide-out from the rest of the world that is wanting to put a bullet in him.
After running from one town at the beginning where he is tested by a “squirt” who wants to makes his mark in the world, to earn a name is gunned down legally (back in the Wild West) which at the time is still acceptable. The right to defend yourself is enshrined into the American Bill of Right you can understand the countries relationship with the deadly weapon. That hasn’t really changed much, of course you need a licence now and a motive for defence has to be rigorously tested in court. The Gunfighter explores the psyche of the gunfighter properly for the first time here. The giant men of the west such a Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and the likes are or were dangerous men who have been glorified. Earp did as we know become a marshal as I have recently seen portrayed by Burt Lancaster. Both Earp and Johnny Ringo (Gregory Peck (in The Gunfighter)) both have learnt from past gun-fights that it’s not really a life to aspire for. It’s an aspect masculinity that is really a flaw that needs to be kept in check. To know when to draw a gun, to defend oneself.
Packed into the short running time we have the repercussions of that last gunfight as three brothers come after him. That’s not before we discover how good Ringo is with a gun, he is not a man to be messed with. Or one that wants to mess around, wanting the quiet life now, becoming to talk of the town where we spend the majority of the film. The saloon, his hide-out from the world, and probably where he killed most of his victims all over the West, it’s only the interior and people that change. It also reflects how trapped he is, unable to move freely for the reputation that precedes him. Boys skipping school to catch a glimpse of what they believe to be an idol in their town, seeing him as a role model and not a murderer.
It’s thanks to old friends such as Marshal Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell) that support him, keeping him safe from those wanting to try their luck with Ringo. Learning that Strett is himself a reformed gunfighter who went straight to now enforcing the law. We also have Mac the barman (Karl Malden) who is both in awe of Ringo yet is able to look beyond to see the man without the gun. A man who just wants to see his old flame, school teacher Peggy Walsh (Helen Westcott) who couldn’t accept him. Forcing him to leave her and his son behind.
The Gunfighter is not all about the action that comes from bar-room brawls and quarrels that have to be sorted like gentlemen out of the street. Its about having to deal with your path in life and how it affects other people. Taking the route of violence may have its appeal at first, which wears off when you start to really hurt and kill. Summed up far better by William Munny (Clint Eastwood) years later in a few lines.
“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
When you look into the life of a gunfighter once the crowds have gone, what do you really have? People living in fear, families of victims wanting vengeance and justice, the fear of someone being faster than you are. That’s before you get the glory that comes with the title of being a gunfighter, not to be crossed or wronged. Losing out on having a family and a partner to call your own. The Gunfighter starts to take the western seriously, the figures of the West before were seen as heroic figures before the law takes them down or they change their ways. Now the western is growing up as the 1950’s are beginning.
- Movie Review: Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter (1950) (mark-markmywords.blogspot.co.uk)
- 41. The Gunfighter (wondersinthedark.wordpress.com)
- The Gunfighter (1950) (buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.co.uk)
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- The Gunfighter (Fox 1950) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Gunfighter (1950) (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- TOP 21 FAVORITE WESTERNS — THE GUNFIGHTER (westofriver.blogspot.co.uk)
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)