Film Review:Gunfight at the OK Corral,
John Sturges, 1957

"You're dirt just like me" Kate Fisher to Doc Holiday".

"the final five minute shoot-out is merely good, not spectacular" (Simpson, 234-5)

"Commercially the most successful version of the Earp Legend." (Simmon, 276)

Gunfight at the OK Corral

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Gunfight at the OK Corral,
John Sturges, 1957

In March 1955 The Los Angeles Times ran a story attacking the Earp legend which had been developed by Dime Novels in the nineteenth century and cemented by John Ford in his 1946 film My Darling Clementine. It claimed that the Earps used their involvement in the Law to hide their corrupt dealings. According to the LA Times they were actually in league with the Clantons. Such was the strength of belief in the legend that in the context of its time. Wyatt Earp was perceived as the champion of the Free World, standing up for what was good and right. Hal Wallis chose a middle path which presented Earp as far from the perfect clean living one of Fonda but essentially a sound man. Leon Uris was chosen to write the script. The whole film is rather slow and is based on episodic interchanges between the actors which tend to drag on a bit. Its box office success, eventually grossing 11million was probably due to the popularity of stars in the lead roles,

There are great performances from the leading actors, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are in fine form. Many critics see their relationship as Earp and Doc Holliday as having homosexual undertones. For example, Edward Buscombe observes "Their relationship has a homoerotic strain......a latent homosexual subtext". Biographer Kate Buford was more circumspect, referring to the film as "featuring a variation of the buddy love of Vera Cruz". (167) Kirk Douglas is particularly convincing in his role, presenting the Doc as a jaundiced ageing gunman with nothing to lose. He has a low value on his own life as he seems himself as doomed to die of tuberculosis. A young Dennis Hopper is Billy Clanton, but the Clantons characters are generally understated compared to John Ford's My Darling Clementine where they are led by the great Walter Brennan. Doc and his girl, Kate "Despise each other almost as much as they despise themselves". (Simpson, 11) and Kate is "a fine example of the "tart with a heart" (Simpson, 213)

Edward Buscombe finishes his review of this movie with " Some critics rate Sturges's 1967 sequel, Hour of the Gun.......as an even better film". I certainly favour the later film. However, what makes Gunfight particularly interesting is summarised by Kate Buford: "(Burt Lancaster) throws his badge on the ground at the end of the movie(, emulating Gary Cooper in High Noon, ) marking another step across the all-American line between law and lawlessness, good guys and bad guys, myth and reality, that he first danced across in Vera Cruz."(168)

Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster, 2000
Edward Buscombe, 100 Westerns,2006
Scott Simmon The Invention of the Western Film,2003
Paul Simpson, The Rough Guide to Westerns, 2006

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Chris Smallbone February 2009
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