Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)

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I never lose. You see, poker’s played by desperate men who cherish money. I don’t lose because I have nothing to lose, including my life. – Doc Holliday

A not-so-historical filmed version of perhaps the most filmed historical events of the Old West, Gunfight at the OK Corral is also the best.  So now that we know what our perspective is, let’s move on.  And yes, we’ve seen Wyatt Earp and Tombstone.

The plot in itself isn’t so unique and we see the fabled gunfight coming between the Earps and the Clantons coming long before it actually happens.  What takes this version a step above the others is the casting.

Burt Lancaster had the luxury of researching his character, Wyatt Earp, with people who had actually known the real Wyatt.  And Douglas’ sometime overdramatic hand wringing style rapidly makes Doc Holliday all his own.  It is interesting to contrast Douglas’ approach with the also classic “I’m your huckleberry” approach Val Kilmer uses for the same part four decades or so later.

In addition to the two leads, we have Rhonda Fleming as Laura Denbow, the love interest of one Wyatt Earp.  Also early roles for currently ailing Dennis Hopper (Billy Clanton) and DeForest Kelley (Morgan Earp).

Some would say this film, with a running time of just over two hours, could be even better if edited down by twenty minutes or so.  Perhaps that would make the storyline a bit tighter, but the end result would suffer.  The synergy of Leon Uris’ writing coupled with the directorial expertise of John Sturges drive this to rise above the competition.   (Sturges revisits this as producer in 1967’s Hour of the Gun.)  A fine score by Dmitri Tiomkin also works tremendously starting with the iconic title song sung by stalwart Frankie Lane.

The DVD release is good if unspectacular and has been out for some time.  The video and audio quality both are fairly strong but not much, if any, work has been done on cleaning up the original elements.   The greatest downside to the DVD is the absence of even a single extra feature.

Highly recommended.

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