John Sturges’s staging of the famous battle between Wyatt Earp and the Clanton gang in Tombstone, Arizona, on 26 October 1881, was not the first film version. But this film is a little more accurate than John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946).
Ford, for example, has Earp’s associate Doc Holliday killed in the battle. In fact, he survived six more years.
Gunfight at the OK Corral is a slick production, technically excellent and with a big budget, and it benefits from a fine cast. Burt Lancaster is full of authority as Earp, at times chilling in his determination.
By contrast, Kirk Douglas has great fun with the consumptive Holliday, flashing a ready smile but deadly as a snake. There is also strong support from Jo Van Fleet as “Big Nose” Kate, Doc’s put-upon woman, and John Ireland as gunslinger Johnny Ringo.
The melodious score, by Dimitri Tiomkin – who also did the music for other town-taming Westerns such as High Noon and Rio Bravo – made a considerable contribution, and Frankie Laine’s theme song was a big hit.
Those wanting a downbeat treatment of the Wyatt Earp story should watch Sturges’s 1967 sequel, Hour Of The Gun, in which the incident at the OK Corral is just the start.
Jo Van Fleet
Ted de Corsia
John P. Clum