Gunfight at the O. K. Corral
John Sturges’ retelling of the famous real-life Earp/Clanton family shootout is surprisingly flat and empty, hardly looking authentic. Sturges resented that this version of the gunfight got the kudos and box office and not the film he made ten years later on the same subject, a much better film, Hour of the Gun, though receiving the critical acclaim did so poorly at the box office. Gunfight is at best an effective Western.
Sturges was known for being a great action film director, and this film winds down after much tedious yapping to its last six minutes of the obligatory climactic showdown before it comes to life (in real-life the gunfight took a minute and wasn’t anything like the film’s version). But even the shootout is not sensational, it’s only adequately done. It’s based on a magazine article The Killer by George Scullin and scripted by Leon Uris. Burt Lancaster plays Wyatt Earp, a decent frontier lawman who runs a tight ship and has rep for cleaning up troublesome towns.
The story opens in Fort Griffin, Texas, where Marshal Earp saves cardsharp gunslinger Doc Holliday from a lynch mob. His girlfriend Kate, a tart with a heart of gold, helps the gunfighter get out of town. Holliday is a dentist-turned gunslinger, who is an embittered man and suffering from an incurable tubercular disease and even though Kate offers her unquestionable love he turns it down. Earp’s in town to see the crooked and cowardly marshal, Cotton Wilson, about the outlaws Ike Clanton and Johnny Ringo being held in custody because of outstanding warrants.
But Cotton released them, three days before and Holliday won’t rat them out–something about honour among thieves and that Earp’s marshal brother Morgan once threw Holliday out of Deadwood and impounded $10,000 of his gambling winnings. Back in Dodge City, Kansas, Earp’s deputy, Charles Bassett, informs him Holliday and Kate have arrived in town. Earp tells Holliday that he can stay only if he doesn’t get into any gunfights. Beautiful gambling lady Laura Denbow comes to town, but Earp refuses to allow a woman to gamble in a saloon because that means trouble.
But after an incident with a drunken cowboy trying to show off for Denbow, Earp becomes more liberal about where she can gamble. Next follows a bank robbery and the killing of the cashier, with Earp’s deputies all out of town with a posse Holliday volunteers as a deputy to back Earp as payback for saving his skin. After stopping the three robbers cold in their tracks, Holliday comes back to town to learn Kate has run off with his enemy Ringo and Holliday swallows his pride by refusing a gunfight remembering Earp’s warning.
In the meantime, Earp falls in love with Denbow and is planning to marry with Earp promising to give up his badge to become a rancher in California. Wild cattleman Shanghai Pierce disobeys Earp’s ban on firearms in town and he shoots Earp’s deputy Charlie, and his cowboys ride into town and take over the saloon. Earp confronts them alone and when they won’t budge, Holliday gets the jump on them from the rear and they are arrested.
Then Earp gets a telegram from brother, Virgil asking for his help in cleaning up the town of Tombstone, Arizona, and he goes there despite Denbow saying choose between Tombstone and her. Earp is joined by Holliday and his brothers Morgan and the 19-year-old Jimmy. The problem is that Ike Clanton and gang are rustlers and Earp won’t let them take the stolen Mexican cattle through town to be sold in the market. When Ike kills brother, Jimmy in an ambush, all the Earps and Holliday come after Ike, Ringo, Finn Clanton, Cotton Wilson, Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLowery. After the fight, Earp goes back to see if Denbow is still waiting for him. The film served as a great influence at the time and encouraged the making of bigbudget adult Westerns with known actors.