5. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp – T.V. Series (1955 – 1961)
Wyatt Earp: Hugh O’Brian
Doc Holliday: Douglas Fowley
Although it features a moustacheless Wyatt Earp (which is unpardonable to some die hard western fans) the T.V. Series made in the late 50’s about the famous lawman is still very enjoyable. It follows Wyatt Earp’s adventures as a cattle driver, as a prospector but mostly as a gunslinger and lawman. The action moves from episode to episode throughout the Wild West (from Wichita to Tombstone).
The series benefits from the technical consultancy of Stuart Lake (Wyatt Earp’s biographer) and so a tendency to believe that what is presented on the screen is true, is admissible. Wyatt Earp had the distinct advantage to have outlived most of his contemporaries and then at the very end of his life, in 1929, commissioned his memoirs.
Writer Stuart Lake did a series of interviews with Wyatt before he died and it was on that basis that a fine biography was published about him. Of course, it was strictly from the Earp point of view. The series is said to follow the memoirs closely but of course, some dramatic exaggerations and variations on the truth were made for effect.
4. Wyatt Earp (Lawrence Kasdan, 1994)
Wyatt Earp: Kevin Costner
Doc Holliday: Dennis Quaid
It is said that a great an idea does not come to a single person but there are probably at least two persons in the world thinking the exact same thing at the same time. Looking back in film history this theory is very likely to be true. There were a lot of great movie ideas that were done by different groups of people in the same time-period (the atomic bomb, the Vietnam War, coming of age stories, biographies of Alexander the Great, Truman Capote etc).
One of those ideas was a movie based on Wyatt Earp’s life and not just the O.K. Corral incident. In the early 90’s, Kevin Costner was trying to do such a film with screenwriter Kevin Jarre but the two had irremediable artistic differences. Kevin Jarre would further develop his script that eventually became “Tombstone”, while Kevin Costner pursued his idea alongside director Lawrence Kasdan.
Kevin Costner wanted to do a film where the main focus was Wyatt Earp whilst Jarre’s script featured and ensemble cast. “Tombstone” was a commercial and critic success…”Wyatt Earp”, that came out a year later, was not. Nonetheless, “Wyatt Earp” has a fresh perspective to the story because it treats the story as a biopic and not as a western. It follows Wyatt Earp from his teenage years to his old age.
The tag-lines of the film don’t even mention his name; they just say “a movie about a man and his family”. The film was a very ambitious biopic in the preferred languorous and poetic style of Kevin Costner but maybe that wasn’t the way to go when dealing with a Wild West hero.
3. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (John Sturges, 1957)
Wyatt Earp: Burt Lancaster
Doc Holliday: Kirk Douglas
After the long career of lawman that made him a legend, Wyatt Earp decides to quit and join his brothers in Tombstone, Arizona. There he would see them in feud with Clantons, local clan of thugs and cattle thieves. When the showdown becomes inevitable, the help will come from Wild West legend Doc Holliday.
This film is one Hollywood’s major offerings of 1957. It contains all the ingredients one would expect of a blockbuster – big stars, big budget and a storyline calculated to capture the public’s imagination. The acting is solid and the cinematography is very cleverly done (when closing up on Wyatt Earp the camera always films him from the ground giving him a larger than life stature).
Although the actual gunfight at the O.K. Corral lasted only about 30 seconds, a lot of movies and T.V. Series drew their inspiration from this short bloodshed because of the folklore around it and the people involved (The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday and infamous cowboy gang).
Like all Hollywood films made to entertain the film is not historically accurate. The reality of October 26, 1881 was quite different. Two gangs of walrus-mustachioed men confronted each other, standing face-to-face in a built-up street. The shooting lasted a maximum of 30 seconds, and when the smoke cleared, three of the so-called “cowboy faction” lay dead or mortally wounded, whereas the Earp faction sustained only minor wounds.
Wyatt was totally unharmed. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne, two of the cowboy leaders, had in fact run away when the guns opened fire. Despite all this, the choreography of the shootings in this film is very impressive and well coached.
2. My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)
Wyatt Earp: Henry Fonda
Doc Holliday: Victor Mature
This film is yet another adaptation of Stuart Lake’s famous book: “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal”. The title of the movie is borrowed from the theme song “Oh my darling, Clementine”, sung in parts over the opening and closing credits.
The Earp Brothers (Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil and James) are driving cattle to California. When they learn about the nearby boom town of Tombstone, the older brothers ride in, leaving the youngest brother James to watch over the cattle. The Earps soon learn that Tombstone is a lawless town without a marshal.
Wyatt is the only man in the town willing to face the drunk Indian shooting at the townspeople. When they return to their camp, they find the cattle rustled and James murdered. Seeking to avenge his brother’s murder, Wyatt returns to Tombstone. To identify the perpetrator, he takes the open position of town marshal and runs into his old friend Doc Holliday. Also arriving in town is a Boston woman named Clementine Carter, who happens to be Holliday’s ex-lover.
“My Darling Clementine” is considered to be one of John Ford’s best westerns (and that’s saying a lot considering the director’s body of work in the genre) and it is also cited as being a staple film of the Wild West genre. A great classic that is perfect for cinephiles and newcomers alike.
1. Tombstone (George P. Cosmatos, 1993)
Wyatt Earp: Kurt Russell
Doc Holliday: Val Kilmer
The story behind the production of “Tombstone” is almost as huge as the movie itself. In the early 90’s screenwriter Kevin Jarre along with actors Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner were developing a movie about Wyatt Earp. Costner felt that the emphasis of the film should by solely on Wyatt Earp whilst the other two did not. So Costner left the project to develop his own Wyatt Earp films with Lawrence Kasdan. From this point on it became a race between the two projects dealing with the same subject.
It is said that Costner did everything he could to make sure Jarre’s and Russell’s version will never see daylight but in the end it was “Tombstone” that took the upper hand. “Tombstone” came out a year earlier than “Wyatt Earp” come and was far more successful. With Costner out of the way Kurt Russell begin arguing with Kevin Jarre, who was also supposed to direct the movie, about the length of the script and the fact that it was way too elaborated to be filmed as a motion picture.
By his side was Val Kilmer who felt the same way about the script. Jarre was fired as a director and George P. Cosmatos was brought in, although many claim that the movie was actually directed by Kurt Russell. Russell would cut and edit his own scenes, give other actors more screen time and go as far as giving Cosmatos, every night, a shot list for the next day. But all these stories become background noise in the face of the finished product that is what the audience really cares about.
The movie is superb and it beautifully captures the true atmosphere of the Wild West. The desert heat, the sleazy saloon, the boorish town folk, the slick gunfighters…everything is just perfectly placed in this film that has since became a cult classic. There a lot great actors in this movie and many of them only have a couple of minutes of screen time (Micahel Biehn, Billy Bob Thornton, Thomas Haden Church, Jason Priestley, Billy Zane) but sometimes that’s all it takes.
Kurt Russell is convincing as the headstrong lawman but the best performance of the movie and one of the most underrated performances of all time goes to Val Kilmer. To many genre fans Val Kilmer is Doc Holliday. He portrays Doc Holliday to the slightest of detail: the way he walks, the way he talks, the way he coughs, the way he holds his gun, the way smokes and drinks.
Holliday was in the final stage of his tuberculosis at the time and Kilmer plays this to his advantage. His appearance in the film is pale, his eyes are bloodshed and his speech is constantly interrupted by worsening coughs. Val Kilmer’s performance is indeed stellar.
The subject of the film is the classic Wyatt Earp story; retired gunman comes to the town of Tombstone with his brothers to become businessmen. When he learns that the town is lawless, he becomes sheriff and starts cleaning the town of the infamous cowboy gang with whom he has a final showdown at the O.K. Corral. But the execution of the story in this film is what makes “Tombstone” a landmark for Wyatt Earp films and the western genre in general.
Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.