Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Released:  1957

Cast:  Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland

Oscar Nominations:  Best Film Editing (Warren Low), Best Sound Recording (George Dutton)

SUMMARY:  Well-known gambler/gunslinger Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas) has taken up temporary residence in Fort Griffin, Texas with his girlfriend Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet).  This is where he is found by Ed Bailey, who is seeking revenge for his brother’s death (Doc shot him).  At the same time, Marshal Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) shows up in town to take custody of outlaws Ike Clanton and Johnny Ringo (John Ireland).  However, he finds that the sheriff has already released them, despite the fact that they are wanted for serious crimes.  Doc and Wyatt meet in a local saloon, where Wyatt asks for Doc’s help in capturing Clanton and Ringo.  Doc refuses:  just after this, Ed Bailey tries to shoot Doc in the back, but Doc whirls, throws a knife, and kills Bailey.  He is arrested, but when a lynch mob forms later that night, Kate persuades Wyatt to help Doc escape.  The two men meet up again sometime later in Wyatt’s home of Dodge City, Kansas.  Because of Doc’s reputation, Wyatt is not thrilled to have him in town, but agrees to let him stay so long as Doc does not get into any gunfights.  Wyatt also has his hands full with another gambler – a woman named Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming), who he arrests because women are not allowed to gamble.  It is Doc who gets her released, and Wyatt allows her to gamble in the side rooms of the saloon.  Another issue arises when the local bank is robbed and the cashier is killed:  all of Wyatt’s deputies are out of town, so he decides to deputize Holliday.  The two men head out in search of the robbers.  That night, the robbers attack Doc and Wyatt, but the two men manage to kill all of them without being injured themselves.  When they return to Dodge City, Doc finds that Kate has left him for Ringo.  Ringo repeatedly tries to provoke Doc into a fight, but Doc adheres to his promise to Wyatt, and does not retaliate.  During a town dance, Doc again acts as a deputy when another group of outlaws tries to disrupt things; this time, he is forced to draw his gun, and shoots Ringo in the arm after he tries to assist the outlaws.  After this incident, Kate tries to return to Doc, but he turns her away:  furiously, she tells him that she will see him dead.  In the meantime, Wyatt has gotten a letter from his brother Virgil, who is the Marshal of Tombstone, Arizona, asking for his help.  Despite his relationship with Laura Denbow, and her pleadings with him to stay, Wyatt decides to go to Tombstone; on the way, Doc joins him.

In Tombstone, Wyatt learns that his old enemy Ike Clanton is causing trouble.  He and his family have stolen thousands of Mexican cattle, and are trying to move them through Tombstone.  However, Virgil knows that they are stolen cattle, and refuses to let the Clantons (or their cattle) in Tombstone, preventing their access to the railroad.  Along with Wyatt, Virgil has also summoned his brothers Morgan and James Earp to assist him in keeping the Clantons under control.  Wyatt is offered $20,000 if he simply steps out of the way and allows the cattle to be shipped, but he refuses.  When he finds the youngest Clanton, Billy, passed out drunk in town, Wyatt takes him back to the Clanton ranch, where both he and the boy’s mother try to talk Billy out of siding with his brothers.  Wyatt also tells Billy that he is now a U.S. Marshal, and his power is not limited to Dodge City.  Since their attempts to bribe Wyatt out of their way have not worked, the Clantons decide to kill him.  However, they try to ambush him at night, as he is making his rounds through town; unbeknownst to them, James has taken Wyatt’s rounds for the night, and is killed instead.  This brings things to a head, and the Clantons and Earps (plus Doc Holliday) arrange to meet the next morning in the O.K. Corral.  Although they are outnumbered (4 to 6), and both Virgil and Morgan are injured, the Earps prevail, and kill all six of the Clanton gang (including Billy, who has decided to stick with his brothers).  After the fight, Wyatt and Doc meet up in the saloon.  Doc announces that he plans to stick around, but Wyatt intends to go to California to be with Laura.

MY TAKE:  This is at least the second movie on the list that deals with this particular gunfight (the other one, off the top of my head, is My Darling Clementine with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp).  This movie is a lot more elaborate, and the story covers a lot more territory.  That said, even though it’s based on a true story, a lot of the details are wrong.  The actual gunfight at the O.K. Corral lasted about 30 seconds, and was fought at close range:  in this movie (and Clementine), it’s a several-minute, strategized affair that finds both sides taking potshots at each other from various hiding places.  Furthermore, Wyatt Earp is portrayed as a paragon of righteousness in both movies, but in reality, he was a far less admirable character.  Yes, he really was a sheriff and a marshal, but he was also a criminal and various other disreputable things, including a pimp (which he actually admitted to).  He was also legally married to one woman, and had two other common-law wives at some point in time.  Naturally, this sort of tarnishes the hero image of him, so it was left out of the movie (frankly, it was probably also against the Production Code).  Other than the fact that this is probably the most famous gunfight in American history, this movie is another standard Western (albeit one with a very good cast), with the standard formula.  Kiss kiss, bang bang, good triumphs over evil.

RATING:  Good cast, same old plot.

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