HOUR OF THE GUN (U.A.,1967) Twilight Time Blu Ray. 1:41:26 length. Color . $29.95 . Region Free (A/B/C).https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/hour-of-the-gun-blu-ray/
I grew up watching Westerns. During my childhood , the major channels and the syndicated ones all carried series that dealt with the Wild Frontier. I found that I never cared for most of the ones wherein they battled the American Indians, feeling that the natives were just defending their lands from invaders ,but I was most fascinated with those tales that were built around law and order ,and the attempts to enforce it and civilize the society.
Often it was the American ideal, of one man ( or perhaps a small group) who took on lawlessness and injustice , and won. As the 1970s rolled around, westerns began to fade from popularity ,perhaps from oversaturation , perhaps from changing tastes. Still ,tales of the old west still resonate with our culture .
The story of the Earps and the O.K. Corral is one that is known by most, though the details for most are sketchy. They know there was a famous gun battle ,of which the Earps survived. The true facts are much more muddy .Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was at different times a brothel keeper, gambler, bar keep , miner, stage coach guard , as well as a lawman .
(Tombstone Today ,with the Gun battle recreated )
Earp and his brothers (James,Virgil, and their younger brother Morgan ) and their familes ended up in Tombstone in 1879 ,wherein they encountered “The Cowboys”,a gang of outlaws that included Tom and Frank McLaury, and Ike & Billy Clanton , The Earps were lawmen ,and they were threatened with death over the course of their time in Tombstone. It resulted in the Earps , and friend, a former dentist turned gambler dying of tuberculosis named John “Doc”Holliday. facing The Cowboys at the O.K. Corral on October 26,1881. The battle, which took all of 30 seconds with 30 shots being fired,resulted in Bill Clanton and the McLaury brothers dead,with Virgil ,Morgan, and Holliday all wounded. Clanton and Clairborne fled.
Sheriff John Behan , who witnessed the shootout, charged the Earps and Holliday with murder. A Tombstone judge found the men not guilty at trial a month later, ruling that they were “fully justified in committing these homicides”.
Virgil was later shot and crippled by hidden attackers, and Morgan was murdered by other killers while he was playing pool with his brother Wyatt.
Unable to get proper justice, Wyatt deputized Holliday, and with some other volunteers, tracked down and killed the men they felt responsible. Another local sheriff issued a warrant for the arrest of Earp and company on charges of murder. They fled to the New Mexico Territory. Earp arranged a pardon for Holliday ,who died of T.B. at the age of 36.
Earp escaped punishment for the murders, and led a colorful life ,even becoming an unpaid consultant on silent westerns, before dying January 23,1929 at the age of 80. He spent most of his life defending his actions of the faithful shootout, which many in the press and friends of the Clantons and McLaurys sought to disparage the Earps.
Several books published about Earp (he could not get his own authorized biography published) turned him into the modern myth whom we know of today. That he was never wounded in any of the gunfights he took part in increases this legend.
Oddly, considering how popular Westerns were in the silent era (Edison’s 1903 THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY for one) and with Earp serving as advisor, it is surprising that the earliest film to deal with the legend of the infamous Tombstone shootout did not happen until 50 years after the event.
LAW & ORDER was a 1932 Universal 75 minute sound film starring Walter Huston,written by his son John with additional dialogue by Tom Reed . Based upon the novel SAINT JOHNSON(A.L.Burt Publishers,NY 1930) by W.R. Burnett(who also wrote the book that LITTLE CAESAR (WB,1931) was based upon),Walter Huston plays Frame Johnson ,a stand in for Wyatt Earp. Harry Carey plays the Doc Holliday character ,whose death in the movie leads to the gunfight ! Huston is the only survivor, and he drops his badge and walks off, foreshadowing the ending of HIGH NOON (U.A.,1952) by 30 years. The story was remade in 1940(Johnny Mack Brown) and 1953 (with Ronald Reagan).
FRONTIER MARSHALL(Fox,1934) had George O’Brien as MICHAEL Earp. This version is apparently “lost”. It was remade in 1939 by Fox with Randolph Scott finally playing a character named WYATT . Caesar Romero was Doc Holliday and John Carradine is also in the flick .Both films are based upon the novel WYATT EARP FRONTIER MARSHALL by Stuart N. Lake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,NY 1931).Earp’s widow had sued the studio about the novel and the films, getting a nice settlement.
THE ARIZONIAN(RKO,1935,remade as THE MARSHALL OF MESA CITY (RKO,1939)) featured a shootout inspired by the OK Corral events. TOMBSTONE,THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE (Paramount,1942) had a fairly accurate recreation of the battle,with Richard Dix as Wyatt, the part he essentially played in THE ARIZONIAN.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (Fox,1946) is another inaccurate but immensely entertaining telling of the legend .As director John Ford had Carleton Young later say in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (Paramount 1962) “No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” .Henry Fonda as Wyatt is out to avenge the murder of his brother James ,and meets hard drinking Doc Holliday (Victor Mature,who looks pretty healthy for a T.B. sufferer) who joins Wyatt in his final fight with the Clantons.
On television , there was THE LIFE & LEGEND OF WYATT EARP (A.B.C.,1955-61) starring Hugh O’Brien in the title role.
The June 20,1961 episode called “Gunfight At The O.k. Corral” does a fairly accurate recreation that seems to mirror the actual events. Also, and most unusual for a show from that era, it depicts the gunfight in slow motion. Hugh O’Brian had been a member of the United States Marine Corps, and he was actually the fastest quick draw of all his fellow actors on TV Westerns. He was able to draw at .08 of a second.
The final episode “The Outlaws Cry Murder” ( June 27,1961 )deals with the trials and Johnny Ringo’s plot to kill the Earps.
O’Brien returned to the role for two t.v. movies, THE GAMBLER RETURNS( N.B.C,1991) where he cameos to the main story about Kenny Rogers’ gambler , and WYATT EARP : RETURN TO TOMBSTONE ( C.B.S, 1994) a film that lifts and colorizes various scenes from the t.v. series, and bridging new footage .
STORIES OF THE CENTURY “DOC HOLLIDAY” (Republic, March 25,1954) also covered the story in under 27 minutes. Kim Spalding played “Doc” and James Craven as Wyatt .
GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL(Paramount,1957) is an exciting if inaccurate telling of the tale starring powerhouses Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas , and directed by powerhouse John Sturges .
Lancaster is a hard drinking Wyatt (the real man was a non drinker) powerhouse ,while Kirk Douglas is a pretty healthy Doc Holliday (like Victor Mature , not bad for a man trying to fight consumption).John Ireland is great as fast gun Johnny Ringo. The real Ringo was a loose associate of the Clantons ,who was suspected of having taken part in the shooting of several of the Earp family . The final battle happens at sun up and last an exciting 8 minutes (the real battle took all of 30 seconds in the mid afternoon). Still , this is the film that most people thought of when they referenced the shoot out.
Sturges obviously was drawn to the story, as ten years later , he convinced The Mirisch Corporation to produce HOUR OF THE GUN (United Artists, 1967).
The picture is based on the non-fiction book Tombstone’s Epitaph (Univ of New Mexico Press, 1958), with a screenplay by Edward Anhalt (the Oscar nominated screenwriter of the 1964 screen adaptation of BECKET ( Paramount).
Lucien Ballard (RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY,Fox ,1962 , and later THE WILD BUNCH ,WB,1969 ,both for Sam Peckinpah) was the director of photography ,and his work shines in this film. The score was by the great Jerry Goldsmith, and a good budget of $1,800,000 ( by comparison, BONNIE & CLYDE (WB,1967 ),another period film that same year , cost $2.5 million).
Tombstone Arizona was not one of the locations used, although Sonoita,Elgin, and the Empire Ranch in Elgin were all used. The rest of the film was shot in Mexico, including the famous Estudios Churubusco Azteca in Mexico City.
The film opens with the famous gun battle (that in real life took place in a vacant lot next to a photography studio , not in the actual corral itself.It occurred in late afternoon, and unlike the hot sunny weather of the film, it had snow upon the ground) . Doc ( a marvelous Jason Robards ,who had his own battles with alcoholism ) and some of the Earp brothers were wounded ,while a few of the Clanton gang are killed .Wyatt (a stoic James Garner) emerges unscathed (which is something that added to the real life legend .He was never shot in any of his gun battles.Indeed , he was better known for coldcocking his adversaries with the barrel of his Colt).
Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) does not draw his weapon during the battle ,and survives, and wants the local sheriff to charge his opponents with murder .In real life ,Ike was never the leader of the gang, but Ryan makes an imposing figure in the role. The movie changed the name of the County Sheriff from John Behan to Jimmy Bryan (played by Bill Fletcher) but they accurately got the debate as to whether he could arrest the Earps and Holliday .
A trial is held , presided over by Judge Herman Spicer ( William Schallert ).Though false testimony is given by several of the Clanton gang, the judge shows that they were in fact lying ,and finds Holliday and the Earps not guilty and had indeed acted within their authority.
Ike does not take well to the news and conspires to assassinate his opponents When one of his brothers is again wounded and another murdered viciously as they are playing billiards, Earp decides that he will step outside the law and do what he must to stop the Clantons.
The film deals with a lot of the issues that the Earps dealt with, such as that the Clantons had a lot of supporters, local elections , and even how when they finally get permission to bring in the Clantons, they are told there is no money for deputies!
HOUR OF THE GUN is an exciting telling of the famous tale, with a wonderful group of supporting players taking on minor if important roles. A young Jon Voight plays Curly Bill Brocius ,here shown as a minor gun slinger. In real life, Curly Bill, along with Johnny Ringo , led the “Cowboys” after old Man Clanton died in 1881. Voight was two years away from his career defining role in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (U.A.,1969) . In 1967 ,Voight was a guest star on an episode of the TV series “N.Y.P.D.”,that starred Frank Converse. Converse appeared in HOUR OF THE GUN as Virgil Earp.
William Windom portrays a drunken gambler who owes Doc Holliday money ,while Monte Markham was Sherman McMasters. McMasters had once been a member of the “Cowboys” but switched sides and actually rode with Wyatt Earp in his vendetta.
The film was not a success when it was first released ,and indeed is often called dull or slow moving. This may have been due to the influx of the “Spaghetti Westerns” of Clint Eastwood ,and the changing styles of film making. Indeed HOUR OF THE GUN still harkens back in style to classic Hollywood. However, what sets it apart is that it concentrates on the causes and effects of the violence and with the passage of time, we can now appreciate these factors which makes the tale less a black and white good vs evil story.
TWILIGHT TIME has given this film a marvelous Blu Ray release. The film film has been cleaned up with a 1080p resolution in an aspect ratio of 2.35.1 . The sound has been mixed in 1.0 DTS-HD MA . It is clear without any special sound mixing (though the gunshots did have me reaching to lower the volume ).
As for extras, they are rather spare . The original theatrical trailer is here and gives you an idea how the film looked in the past. The effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s score can be heard together on a separate track . Julie Kirgo supplies some nice facts in the enclosed booklet The film itself is the real reason you should pick up this disc.
For anyone who thinks that TOMBSTONE (Touchstone ,1993) was the most accurate telling of the tale of the Earps, I suggest that you check out THE HOUR OF THE GUN .
-Kevin G Shinnick