Film Review: THE HOUR OF THE GUN
‘All those years you’ve lived by the rules...the whole thing is hypocrisy they ........ say unless you wear a badge or a soldier’s uniform you can’t kill, but they’re the only rules there are. They’re more important to you than you think. Play it that way, Wyatt or you’ll destroy yourself.’ Doc Holliday
The Earps on the way to the OK Corral
THE HOUR OF THE GUN, John Sturges, 1967
With this cast and director this has got to be a good film, and for my money it is Sturges’s best. It is well written by Edward Anhalt who also wrote the screenplay for the excellent Jeremiah Johnson. The start was almost certainly used by Sergio Leone as the model for the memorable opening sequence in Once Upon a Time in the West. Although he extended both its length and its effectiveness in building tension, the idea is basically the same. The miners’ sequence and some of the very atmospheric music are also similar to scenes in Leone’s film. Jason Robards is a common denominator, he helps to exhibit the sardonic humour typical of Sturges, as does the dependable James Garner.
Interestingly this film treats the Earp – Clanton conflict as a political struggle in which both sides employ the law to their advantage, thereby exploring how the law may be used to pursue factional advantage. Wyatt tries to play it straight but at all turns corruption gets in his way. His problem begins as one founded on control of county law as against town law and federal law but as the plot unfolds the problem becomes the inadequacy of the law itself – its fragility in that it depends on people following it and its inequity in that wealth may be used to influence outcomes. If this sounds a bit heavy, it is, and this may in itself explain the poor performance of this film at the box office. More likely, however, is that the film was ahead of its time. To me this film resonates with today’s world, today’s values, hence my contention that it is Sturges’s best film. I read somewhere that the western is today’s equivalent of the medieval morality plays. This is a well crafted, well acted example that this idea is not too far off the mark.
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© Chris Smallbone March 2010