The gunfight at the OK Corral and the events surrounding it have become one of the most enduring of Hollywood myths. The traditional Hollywood western is particularly suited to the propagation of myths and legends, the efficiency of the genre lies in its attitude too its own mythology and symbolism, so recognisably iconographic, it is no surprise that film theorists most often turn to the western when discussing genre. It now seems an entirely logical step for the filmmaker most associated with the western to tackle the story of Wyatt Earp. Although John Ford went on to make a number of revisionist westerns in his later career - most notably Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964), his treatment of the Earp legend is very different to what we might expect. The screenplay by Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller and Sam Hellman was based on the book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake. A book which was allegedly written with the collaboration of Earp himself. So we might expect some historical verisimilitude, but the screenplay takes a number of liberties with the real events as Ford indulges in the themes for which he has become well known. In dramatic terms this is a peculiar film. The film does not build to the predictable showdown. It meanders along and concerns itself with very small and intimate details. The gunfight itself is farcically downplayed, and totally lacks any sense of tension or catharsis.
Other films dealing with the narrative of Wyatt Earp include;
Law and Order (1932), Frontier Marshal (1934), Frontier Marshal (1939), Tombstone: The Town too Tough to Die (1942), Wichita (1955), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Hour of the Gun (1967), Doc (1971), Tombstone (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994).
© Shaun Anderson 2011