Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Hour of the Gun


The IMDb lists no fewer than 67 movies and TV shows that either feature Wyatt Earp, like My Darling Clementine, or have him as a minor character, such as Cheyenne Autumn. And all because of the melodramatic dime novels and penny dreadfuls about that that silly little dust-up in Tombstone, Arizona. I must have seen half a dozen examples of that gun battle myself. And I guess I’m burnt out on them, and more than a little disgusted. I mean, it is true that Ike Clanton was a rustler, a penny-ante outlaw, but the Earp brothers were far from the paragons of virtue that we always see. Wyatt was a drifter who got into the law enforcement game because he needed a job. When things got tough, he always moved on. But he got incredibly lucky when all those stories were written about him, and he dined out on them until his death, in Hollywood, in 1929, at the age of 80, where he had spent the last decades hobnobbing with movie stars like William S. Hart and Tom Mix!

I understand that the concept of good men arriving to tame the wild, wild west with laws and courts is a favorite theme of westerns, and has been since the days of, well, Tom Mix and many others. But I like things that are a bit more into shades of gray hats instead of white hats and black hats. This version has James Garner as a dedicated lawman who bends over backwards to bring the bad men to justice instead of shooting them … yet somehow ends up shooting all of them, because they all idiotically draw down on him.

The most unusual about the re-telling of this tired old story is that the gunfight is the beginning of the picture, not the climax, as it usually is. It opens, right after the credits, with this statement: BASED ON A TRUE STORY. Check. Then it goes on: THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED. Wrong! The shoot-out is slanted totally in favor of the Earps. The facts of who was shot and who survived are accurate. The fact that Wyatt and Holliday went on trial afterwards is accurate. Some of the other stuff is accurate. But much of it is sheer macho invention. Wyatt did not kill Ike Clanton in Mexico in a mano a mano quick draw contest (which hardly ever happened in the real west). Clanton was killed by a detective named Jonas P. Brighton in Arizona when he resisted arrest. This is too much re-writing of history for me to tolerate, and I’m on record as being fairly lenient in that regard.

Just a word about “Doc” Holliday. He was a self-promoter who didn’t kill nearly as many people as he was given credit (or blame) for. If not for the O.K. Corral, he would certainly be forgotten today. I mean, would you watch a movie or TV show titled John Henry Holliday, Tubercular Frontier Dentist?