The Ballard of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday
The story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral has featured in various movies over the years, but whilst most versions are entertaining only two really standout those of "Tombstone" starring Kurt Russell and then "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Although in all honesty this version standouts more for the fine performances of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas than the actual movie because quite frankly at coming in at just over 2 hours "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" is quite laborious with a long slow build up to the now famous shoot out.
After forming an unlikely friendship legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster - Field of Dreams) and terminally ill gambler Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas - Man Without a Star) head to Tombstone to help Wyatt's brothers with a bit of a problem with the Clanton clan. But Wyatt's presence unsettles the Clanton's leading to a bloody gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Directed by John Sturges who later gave us "The Magnificent Seven", "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" almost feels like two movies combined into one. For well over half the movie the emphasis appears to be on building up the characters of Wyatt Earp as the law abiding Marshall and Doc Hollywood as the gambler/killer who is slowly dieing. It's quite well worked going from initial animosity towards each other through to respect even friendship as they come to realise that they are not that different. As a movie on it's own it would have worked brilliantly with extra elements such as Wyatt's relationship with lady gambler Laura Denbow, played by Rhonda Fleming, aiding in establishing these strong characters. Although because this build up is part of a bigger picture many of these extra elements end up feeling like extra padding.
When it does finally roll around to the main part of the movie with Wyatt and Doc rolling into Tombstone to help Wyatt's brothers, the issues with the Clanton clan and the infamous gunfight it almost feels like an after thought with director John Sturges appearing to prefer to concentrate on the characters rather than the story. The trouble is that once it does get round to this side of the storyline it becomes almost formulaic going through the motions of a typical western whilst delivering the legendary story. It's not terrible as the shoot outs are impressive as is the tension built during the lead up to them. But so little time is spent going into this side of the story that it feels lacking and almost generic.
What makes "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" such a memorable movie are the excellent performances which director John Sturges has drawn from its stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Lancaster does an excellent job of playing Wyatt Earp as the upright lawman not open to corruption and with his big frame and good looks makes for an ideal hero. Alongside him Kirk Douglas is equally as impressive as Doc Holliday, delivering the cunning of a gambler, a touch of humour as well as delivering the fact that he dieing. Between the two of them, they lead the movie brilliantly making characters which draw you in.
Elsewhere Rhonda Fleming adds a touch of beauty as Laura Denbow although the romantic storyline she brings feels slightly out of place as it's never developed to its full potential. Dennis Hopper appears in another early role as Billy Clanton the youngest of the Clanton clan and for those sharp eyed viewers will spot DeForest Kelley, Dr McCoy from Star Trek, as Wyatt's brother Morgan. There are no real bad performances in the movie and no over dramatics which often cause these older westerns to suffer.
Although watching this now it does have issues most notable with the theme music "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" sung by Frankie Laine which interjects when the storyline moves location like an old fashion balladeer singing about that is happening. It's very typical of older westerns but now it actually feels a little cheesy and makes you laugh for the wrong reasons.
What this all boils down to is that thanks to the performances of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" is one of the better versions but of the popular story except with it's lengthy build up it is a bit laborious. Plus with its focus on building up the central characters the actual historical aspect of the trouble in Tombstone and the gunfight itself do end up having a feel of being an after thought. But that doesn't detract from what is a more than adequate western and worth watching for Burt Lancaster's Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday.