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Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Throw Up Your Hands!

As tomorrow is the birthday of perhaps the most famous lawman of the Old West (and easily the most-portrayed on film) Wyatt Earp, you may be planning to watch one of the many films about the man and his life - particularly surrounding the events of October 26, 1881 - most commonly known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
(Or not. I tend to assume that everyone is as much of a movie nerd as I am.)
There is, of course, The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) starring Burt Lancaster as the famed lawman with Kirk Douglas as his notorious friend, Doc Holliday. Great film. Then there's Tombstone (1993) with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer in the same roles, respectively. That version may be the most accurate, and it does not sacrifice entertainment value in the bargain.
"I'm your huckleberry." Great line from Kilmer as the ailing Doc.
If you've got about three-and-a-half hours, you might want to take a look at Lawrence Kasdan's more comprehensive look at the lawman, Wyatt Earp, starring Kevin Costner in the title role and Dennis Quaid as Holliday, but, honestly, I much prefer the film from the previous year. That version also has Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp, and I have a serious man-crush.
I would also be remiss in not mentioning the great 1946 version starring Henry Fonda, My Darling Clementine. As an aside, Henry Fonda movies are always a very personal experience for me. I never knew either of my grandfathers, so I have "borrowed" them from old movies. I imagine my maternal grandfather John Michael "Jude" Burns to be Fred MacMurray and sometimes Lee Marvin because of the way they have been described to me. My paternal grandfather, Orville "Guy" Darnell, was killed when he was a young man, and I know him only through a few black-and-white photographs. In the photos, he reminds me of Tom Joad, so I have adopted Henry Fonda as my other grandfather. I don't know why I told you that. Let's move on, shall we?
You could even take a look at the fictionalized account of Earp's later years in the Blake Edwards film Sunset (1988), which I have written about on this very blog. James Garner (another man-crush of mine) plays the aging lawman in that one.
Garner sports the same mustache (more or less) in that film that he did when he played Wyatt Earp twenty-one years earlier in today's Friday Film Buff selection, the lesser-known O.K. Corral film, Hour of the Gun. Directed by John Sturges, it is of a deliberately (and studio-mandated) different tone than Sturges's earlier version of the story with Lancaster and Douglas. It is not as beloved as the earlier film, but I think it is just as good, and it looks at different aspects of the story. In fact, the movie opens with the famous gunfight. (I found the opening sequence and have embedded it below. Maybe just watch the first minute if you want to save the gunfight for when you watch the whole film.) In addition to Garner as Earp, the film stars the highly-underrated by my generation Jason Robards as Doc Holliday and Robert Ryan as the scheming Ike Clanton. If you haven't seen it, tomorrow is a great time to do so. (It's not easy to find, but it is available for streaming rental on Amazon.)

Whatever version of the Wyatt Earp story you choose to watch (or not, whatever) tomorrow for the lawman's birthday, keep this in mind: on October 26, 1881, Wyatt Earp was 33 years old. Doc Holliday was 30. Hollywood often portrays them as older - particularly Doc. I wonder why that is?

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