Friday, December 30, 2011

Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957)

Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957) ★★★★★ 4/5

This is the film adaptation of the conflict between Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) and the outlaws he met up with in Tobstone. This film is truly Western in it's nature and does not contain the elements of humor like Rio Bravo or the shock value of the The Wild Bunch. There were some hints of underlying subtle humor but you really had to be paying attention. One of the lines that caught me off gaurd was when Doc Holiday (Kirk Douglas) found out his girl Kate (Jo Van Fleet) left him for another man (John Ireland) - a cattle man - he replied "There seems to be a lot of beef coming around" or something of that effect. It was clearly a statement not referring to the stolen cattle being rounded towards Mexico, but a reference to Kate finding another man. It was quite brazen for 1957, as when the scene when Holiday calls her a slut. But that is as much shock value as you will get in the film.

The movie is very typical of the Western. The premise is based on actual events, and had they not taken so many liberties with the accuracy of the events I would have given the movie 5 stars. Of the Westerns seen so far this was the best. The acting was stellar. Kirk Douglas was likable as Holiday and Burt Lancaster played Wyatt Earp with dignity. My only issue with their on screen relationship in this movie is that they almost portrayed the two men as having a love affair. The two men were drawn together and formed an unlikely relationship. The Sheriff and the murderer. There was a point where Kate even confessed to Holiday that she was jealous of Wyatt Earp. The closeness and dedication of the two men make the modern day viewer think there was a lot more going on there then friendship.

This was a movie where the lines were clear. There were good and bad characters. There was no in between. While Holiday was known to be a murderer of sorts, for the purpose of this film his intentions were clear. He was there to help Earp. Earp's brothers, Jimmy (Martin Milner), Morgan (DeForest Kelley) and Virgil (John Hudson) are clearly on his side. The outlaws, led by Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger) were the clear antagonists. Plot wise, the film was layed out clearly. The Clantons had stolen cattle and were working to push the cattle to Mexico. In the process there were conflicts in smaller towns and the cowboys were going to cause problems in towns they were passing through. The Earps were going to put an end to that - and did.

The film is solid with great performances - particularily notable is that of Jo Van Fleet's. As the love interest of Doc Holiday she serves as a minor antagonist to him. Basically she is a crazy mess of insecurity and dependency. Her dependency being Holiday. She loves and hates him at the same time. But she is so emotionally unstable you don't know what she will do. One minute she is setting Holiday up to be killed and the next minute she is trying to save his life. There are brief moments where it gets to be too much, but overall it is a charged performance worthy of seeing.

The movie is long, but face paced. This is movie represents the classic Western at it's finest. As stated before, I would have easily given this movie 5 stars if the historical accuracy was there. When I watch a film based on real events, I become enthralled with the facts and the premise on which the film was based. When I started researching the events of 1881 I became disappointed. I am very much a realist when it comes to films based on actual events. Other then the liberties they took with the facts, this is a well done, enjoyable movie.

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