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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

What a ponderous mess is 1957's Gunfight at the O.K. Corral! Directed by John Sturges and written by — believe it or not — Leon Uris (QB VII, Exodus), this version of the famous 1888 showdown features movie titans Burt Lancaster as self-righteous U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as gunslinging gambler Doc Holliday. Despite their initial dislike for each other, the two first become reluctant allies and then partners who go into battle side-by-side against the cattle-rustling Clanton clan. The script is practically a parody of Western films, with virtually every line a cliché — characters say things like, "Better get while the gettin' is good" and "Why don't you get down off that pulpit, Wyatt? All it ever got ya was a life full of misery and a woman who walked out on ya." It also features one of those horrible songs sung by Frankie Laine to connect the various acts:

Wyatt's heart was sad
He'd give all he had
To stay, stay on
Wyatt's lady fair
He left her crying there
He broke his vow
And rode away to Tombstone....

We know, okay? We just saw that scene! Surprisingly, Lancaster and Douglas tone down their tendency to chew scenery in their work together; despite the awful dialogue, there's an almost magical chemistry between the two heavyweights that makes their moments sparkle. And the rest of the cast is fascinating: Method actress Jo Van Fleet is Doc's on again-off again gal-pal Kate; Earp brothers Morgan and James are played by DeForest "Bones McCoy" Kelly and Martin "Adam-12" Milner; A very young Lee Van Cleef shouts all of his lines as a gunman who has a bone to pick with Doc; an even younger Dennis Hopper plays a hotheaded James Dean-like gunslinger; and Earl Holliman appears as an eager deputy. Unlike some other versions of the story, like John Ford's excellent My Darling Clementine and the pleasantly campy Tombstone, exteriors in this film actually look like Tombstone, Ariz. The sets, however, are awful, and the same bar set is used for two different locations, shot from the exact same angle (they painted the walls a different color and changed the curtains, though). Gunfight also takes as many outrageous liberties with the story itself (as does every other Hollywood interpretation), with the added bonus that the entire middle of the film can be slept through without missing much until the last 15 minutes when we finally get to the gunfight. Paramount's DVD release of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral offers a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), and while the source print has noticeable specks and scratches at the beginning of the film and a minimal amount of archiving throughout, it's still cleaner and brighter than anything you'll have seen on broadcast television. The monaural Dolby Digital audio serves its purpose but is otherwise unspectacular. No extras — not even the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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