No matter how many years pass, no matter how much cinema evolves there will always be some subjects that will remain forever appealing. To name just a few: love, revenge, nostalgia and so on. There will also be time periods that will always draw audiences into the movie theater: World War II, the prohibition era, the Wild West etc. The Wild West and its heroes will never be dated because of the fascination of audiences world-wide for this almost-mythical space and time.
You don’t have to be American to be a fan of western movies. Any movie lover in any corner of the world has heard of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Winnetou, The Man With No Name (from the spaghetti western movies) and of course the wild west’s most famous duo: Waytt Earp and Doc Holliday. The famous lawman and the famous gambler – both excellent shooters – have fascinated audiences over the existence of cinema. E
very once in a while a new movie comes out and new portrayals are born; people just can’t seem to get enough of them. Many famous actors have portrayed the legendary gunmen over the years trying their best to do the two men justice. From Henry Fonda to Kevin Costner and from Cesar Romero to Val Kilmer, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday reserve a special place in the collective conscience of the cinephile.
This list comprises of ten great movies about the famous gunmen duo from the ever fascinating Wild West.
10. Frontier Marshal (Allan Dwan, 1939)
Wyatt Earp: Randolph Scott
Doc Holliday: Cesar Romero
This early Wyatt Earp movie, based on Stuart Lake’s book “Frontier Marshall”, presents a very romanticized version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it is, nonetheless, a very entertaining film. The movie begins in a saloon in the infamous Tombstone, Arizona where troublemakers make the law.
The sheriff of the town is unwilling to put a stop to the constant shootings going on in the saloon so Wyatt Earp takes matters into his own hands. Earp also manages to offend dance girl Jerry so a gun showdown between him and the dancer’s boyfriend, gunslinger and gambler Doc Holliday, seems inevitable. Instead of a gun duel the two become friends.
The film is not very accurate on historical facts – a major change of history is that of Doc Holliday being killed before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral leaving Earp to do the job alone – but captures the essence of western movies and manages to deliver in the end.
Earp’s widow, Sadie, went to great lengths to keep her husband’s name out of the title thus the movie’s name was changed from “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal” to simply “Frontier Marshal”. Eventually – after moving to Los Angeles – Sadie Earp was to receive royalties from the book and the movie based on her husband’s life.
9. ‘Doc’ (Frank Perry, 1971)
Wyatt Earp: Harris Yulin
Doc Holliday: Stacy Keach
This is one of the few films on the subject that tells the story through Doc Holliday’s perspective. In this whole story, Doc Holliday had always been undeservedly seen as Wyatt Earp’s sidekick instead of his equal. But the truth is the Doc Holliday was an excellent shooter – some claim that he was even better than Earp – and a more charismatic gunfighter.
The story begins in 1881 when Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Kate Elder come to Tombstone, Arizona to encounter their old friend Wyatt Earp. First, Doc meets Wyatt’s brothers Virgil and Morgan and learns that his old friend is striving to become the sheriff of Tombstone. Wyatt Earp wins the election but soon faces harsh resistance from outlaw gang named “The Cowboys”.
With Doc’s help, the Earp brothers clean up Tombstone but with some human sacrifices. The film ends with the famous showdown at the O.K. Corral. The film tries to put an emphasis of Holliday’s important role in the justice sweep of Wyatt Earp and because of this it is not entirely historically accurate.
8. Wichita (Jacques Tourneur, 1955)
Wyatt Earp: Joel McCrea
As stated in the title this Wyatt Earp movie does not take place in the infamous Tombstone, Arizona but in Wichita, Kansas, another lawless town of the Wild West. It is here that we meet Wyatt Earp, former Buffalo hunter and entrepreneur. His skills as a gunfighter make him a perfect candidate for sheriff but he refuses the job until he feels morally obligated to bring law and order to this wild town. His least popular move is to take away the guns of everyone in town, no matter how important.
However, people soon begin to understand and embrace Earp’s ways and even rally by his side in front of the outlaw threat. This is one of the few films not to feature Doc Holliday in the story.
7. Tombstone: The Town too Tough to Die (William C. McGann, 1942)
Wyatt Earp: Richard Dix
Doc Holliday: Kent Taylor
Most Wyatt Earp films are pretty much straightforward. A few tell the story from points of view different from Earp’s but this movie concentrates on the location of the whole story: the lawless Wild West town of Tombstone, Arizona. Set entirely in the legendary town, the plot centers on former gunslinger Wyatt Earp, who helps the rather incompetent sheriff round up criminals.
Earp becomes a lawman after he sees an outlaw accidentally kill a child during a showdown. Earp’s brothers and best friend Doc Holliday help him take on the outlaw and his gang. More trouble ensues when the sheriff becomes involved with the gang.
Earp manages to get them on robbery charges and the situation finally culminates at the infamous O.K. Corral. The movie chooses to ends it’s run here not before showing some very beautiful but haunting shots of Tombstone: a town too tough to die.
6. Hour of the Gun (John Sturges, 1967)
Wyatt Earp: James Garner
Doc Holliday: Jason Robards
Unlike other Wyatt Earp movies this one begins – most of them end – with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Outnumbered but determined, Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan and ally Doc Holliday confront and clearly get the best of the “the cowboys” gang in a violent shootout in the Arizona town of Tombstone.
Ike, a rustler, conspires to have the Earps charged with murder and tried in a court of law. When they are cleared, Virgil runs for Tombstone City Sheriff, but is ambushed and maimed by some of Clanton’s hired guns. Morgan elects to take the job in his brother’s place, but, unlike his brother, he is killed. Doc Holliday, a gambler who has been on the wrong side of the law himself more than once, is terminally ill with tuberculosis and is admitted into a Colorado sanitarium.
Earp intends to clear out of Tombstone with what’s left of his family and move to California, but changes his mind upon being appointed a federal marshal for the territory. Guns blazing, Earp and his posse ruthlessly hunt and kill various members of Clanton’s gang. He rides to Mexico for a final showdown with Ike. He makes one last trip to Holliday’s death bed to say goodbye to his unlikely friend, then hangs up his badge and guns for good.
“Hour of the Gun” is viewed as an unofficial sequel to the more famous film “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”, made ten years earlier and also directed by John Sturges. The film begins where the last one ended: with the infamous showdown.
The film manages to sum up, in a concise and structured form, the last part of Wyatt Earp’s life (his Tombstone period…right before moving to California) but remains partially faithful to the historical truth. Although not a masterpiece of the genre, it is still a very enjoyable western.