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Doc and Wyatt.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wednesday, October 26, 1881, gets an all star glossy Hollywood telling. Directed by John Sturges and adapted by Leon Uris from an article written by George Scullin. It stars Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland and Lyle Bettger. Music is by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography by Charles B. Lang Junior.

I don't want any part of him. I don't even like him.

Actually The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as a title is something of a bum steer, for Sturges' two hour movie gives up just over five minutes to the actual event that continues to fascinate over 130 years later. In fact, for such a glorious sounding title, it's arguably surprising that there is very little action in the movie. For what unfolds in that two hour running time is what director (Sturges would be bemused by its success and ten years later took another stab at the legend and made Hour of the Gun) and leading actors agreed was a very talky movie, the emphasis is on a friendship, a love really, between John Henry "Doc" Holliday and Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp. This is one of the Western genre's greatest "buddy-buddy" movies.

Listen, preacher, being here is causing me a lot of embarrassment. Some people are even taking me for a lawman.

In spite of its talky nature and being very much a "town" Western, the film was hugely successful and became a leading forerunner for all star Westerns. It wasn't all sweetness and light, mind. In the beginning Douglas had already turned down the role of Earp before accepting the part of Holliday (Bogart was close, Palance and Widmark also considered) and Lancaster had to be "bribed" to take on the role of Wyatt (being pretty vociferous about the talky nature of the screenplay). The two leading men were initially at odds with each other, but they would form a respectful friendship from here on in and their chemistry as Doc and Wyatt is why the film succeeds as a "literate" piece.

All gunfighters are lonely. They live in fear. They die without a dime, a woman or a friend.

It has a mixed reputation amongst Western aficionados, which is understandable. Some of the dialogue is cheesy and the likes of Fleming and DeForest Kelley are in turn badly written and under used. There's also the historical fudging of the story and the sparsity of landscape photography, the latter of which a crime given it's a VistaVision Technicolor production. The town set designs often look artificial, a problem since 90% of the picture is set to town background, but if viewed as a story of a friendship set to the famous shoot-out, it strikes all the right notes; including Frankie Laine's warbling of the clippy cloppy catchy title tune. It should have been titled Doc and Wyatt, though. 8/10

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