Saturday, 14 May 2016

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

Sheriffen fra Dodge City
The next two weeks I will be in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia, and although I will be bringing along a couple of movies I do not expect to have much time for watching and writing. The trip is half work and half vacation and I will be bringing along my wife and son, so thankfully no lonely nights in distant hotels, but that also means that this place will be rather empty until the end of the month. I will however, as far as I can get away with it, be keeping an eye on the blogroll if interesting movies are showing up.

Anyway, on to today’s movie.

Every country has those events that has become national legends and I got a feeling that the showdown between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Clantons in 1881 was one such event. Every decade sees a new version of the story out of Hollywood and they all have their own angle on the story. Frankly I have no idea which is closer to the truth and I am not sure that it really matters. If we pretend that this is not supposed to be a true story, they are simply classic western elements cooked up again and again. It is an okay story, I just do not know how many times I need to watch it.

“Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” is a bit of a schizophrenic experience. Half of it is well worn western tropes and clichés and the other half of it is a far more interesting character study, as modern as the other half is old school. The result is difficult to place and I am half way between a groan and excitement. Maybe it is simply a 1957 movie trying to go new ways.

The general framework of the story is well known to say the least. The movie makes quite a lot out of the lead up in which Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are grudgingly building up a friendly relationship along the formula of: Bandits ride into town aiming at either Doc or Wyatt and the other one helps him out. It happens three or four times so I lost a bit track of these incidents. The last one however is the famous showdown in Tombstone where Wyatt has gone to help his brothers against the Clanton clan and with Doc Holliday trailing along. The shootout is neat, but requires no other presentation.

The general plot, the shooting, the cowboy heroism, all those things are terribly old and whenever these are in focus the movie is predictable and one dimensional. As something I have watched a million times before. That includes the final shootout, which I am sure was nicely done technically, but frankly a bit boring.

Burt Lancaster’s Wyatt Earp is in general a representative of this side of the movie. He is a lawman and a boy scout at that. Only in his developing friendship with the Doc do we get a glimpse of a more complex character.

No, all the good parts in this movie belongs to Kirk Douglas’ Doc Holliday, especially in his relationship with “Big Nose Kate” Fisher (Jo Van Fleet), awesome name, no? I think this is the most interesting portrait of the Doc Holliday character I have seen. He is a troubled man. On the one hand he knows he is a looser: He lost his dental practice, he is loathed and a wanted man around the country and he is slowly dying from tuberculosis, In short, an outcast. Yet he is using this position to project a hell-may-care attitude of smartness and success. A success which of course is hollow to say the least. Kate, a saloon whore, is just as outcast. In each other they find sympathy but they also mirror their failure, which causes a complicated love-hate relationship. While Doc Holliday finds some redemption in helping Wyatt Earp, it is his and Kate’s relationship that is the true heart of the movie.

By comparison the relationship between Wyatt and high-roller Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming) is about as sweet, dull and predictable as vanilla ice cream.

The Book says that Kirk Douglas gets a lot of fun out of playing Doc Holliday and I do not doubt it. I never stop loving his parts. No matter what he did he was awesome and he personally lifts this movie from dullness to something close to spectacular. Really, there are two kinds of scenes in this movie: those with and those without Kirk Douglas, and I know which ones I prefer.

Overall the movie gets an average rating from me. I often wish Hollywood would move on instead of constantly returning to old stories, but as such repetitions go this is not the worst one.


  1. I haven't seen this one for years. If memory serves, my reaction was about the same as yours.

    Have fun on your travels! Don't know if you all have been to Melbourne before or if you have visited Phillips Island. Anyway, we went there to see the fairy penguins come in to the beach after a day of feeding. It is really magical. Don't know if they do this year-round. Something the whole family might like.

  2. P.S. It's actually Phillip Island, no "s". And they are Little Penguins, not Fairy Penguins. Does not change the experience! I saw this before I was a birdwatcher so it's not just me.

  3. We were actually on Phillip Island in 2005 to see the penguins so this time we are going to Healesville and the Grampians. Should be plenty of animals there and this being off season not too hot. The second week we are stuck in Melbourne because I have to work. The penguins were magical and they are what I usually recommend.

  4. I've only been to Melbourne once for a few days so you are way ahead of me! Anyway, I love Australia. Was there many times when we lived in Papua New Guinea. We needed to take frequent breaks!

  5. I can imagine that. We felt the same way when we lived in Shanghai. This is my fifth time in Australia, but always Melbourne. It is a great city, but I would really like to see some more of the country.
    If I see some nice birds I will send you pictures.

  6. I'm not a huge fan of this one. It's lays on the cliches pretty thick. Frankly, if you want the same story but a lot more entertaining, Tombstone is the way to go. It's ridiculous and everyone's mustache deserves a line in the credits, but it's a load of fun.

    1. I never saw Tombstone, but I will keep your advice in mind.
      This one does score pretty high on the groan scale.