by Allan Fish
(USA 1946/1994 104m) DVD1/2
I sure do like that name
p Samuel G.Engel d John Ford w Samuel G.Engel, Winston Miller book “Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal” by Stuart N.Lake ph Joe P.MacDonald ed Dorothy Spencer md Alfred Newman m Cyril Mockridge art James Basevi, Lyle Wheeler, Thomas Little cos René Hubert
Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp), Victor Mature (Doc Holliday), Linda Darnell (Chihuahua), Cathy Downs (Clementine Carter), Walter Brennan (Old Man Clanton), Tim Holt (Virgil Earp), Ward Bond (Morgan Earp), Alan Mowbray (Granville Thorndyke), John Ireland (Billy Clanton), Roy Roberts (Mayor), Jane Darwell (Kate Nelson), Russell Simpson (John Simpson), Grant Withers (Ike Clanton), Francis Ford (Town Drunk), J.Farrell MacDonald (Mac the Bartender), Don Garner (James Earp), Ben Hall (Barber),
No one event in American frontier history, or indeed man, has inspired as many films as the stand-off in 1882 known as the gunfight at the OK Corral and Wyatt Earp. But with due respect to Walter Huston, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Kury Russell and Kevin Costner and all the others who have played the role, there is only one Wyatt Earp and only one gunfight; that depicted in John Ford’s seminal western, my own personal favourite of all his films on a pure affectionate scale. If ever a film personified the credo of Carleton Young in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance “print the legend“, this is it. Who cares that it’s historically inaccurate, it’s justifiable license, and the extra footage by no means hurts proceedings (including a reference to the barber in the theatre, an extended chase of the bullion coach and an obliged goodbye to the town from Wyatt). It’s also a film whose plot is so well known that no synopsis seems necessary.
No western in history has delivered up so many adages and mantras as this one. When Fonda’s Earp asks “what kind of a town is this?” we know he already knows and soon are shown that he knows how to deal with it, when he frogmarches Indian Charlie out of the saloon. Tombstone is indeed, as Clanton said “a wide awake, wide open town” and, as Earp himself later declares “a hard town for a fella to have a quiet game of poker in.” Yet this town embodies the spirit of the uncontrolled west and Earp is here to control it. This is a west that is no more, rather like Clementine in the eponymous song, “lost and gone forever“. We’re not quite “dreadful sorry” about it, but we still mourn it and this is a eulogy for the old west. Ford parallels this with an actual eulogy, which Fonda delivers over his younger brother’s grave, in best Ford tradition (Young Mr Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon all featured pivotal graveside scenes, a tradition carried on to this day, as witness Éowyn’s eulogy for her dead cousin in The Two Towers (Extended Version)).
Indeed, this is in many ways the Ford film to end them all. His repertory company are much in evidence in supporting roles (Darwell, Simpson, Bond, his brother Francis), and Cyril Mockridge’s wonderfully nostalgic score exemplifies Ford’s view of the past. It’s a film where friendship is formed across a poker table and at a bar footrest, everyone drinks whisky like it’s mother’s milk and church gatherings are an opportunity for a good old dance. We expect Fonda to be perfect for this role, and indeed he is, his effortless nobility personified in the scene where he hesitates about asking Clem to dance, contrasting with his unhesitating capture of Indian Charlie in the bar. Yet though he and the Ford regulars are superb, it’s Brennan (with his false teeth for a change, and pure evil declaring “when you pull a gun, kill a man!“) and Mature who stand out. The latter magnificent as the tubercular Doc, whose helping out of Alan Mowbray’s wonderfully hammy actor with his recitation of Hamlet’s “undiscovered country” movingly provides his own future epitaph. But most of all, this is a film to love because it knows the power of love. In the greatest exchange in film history Fonda turns to MacDonald’s superb barman and says “you ever been in love?“, to which MacDonald replies “no, I’ve been a bartender all my life.” If you don’t smile upon hearing that line, you’re one mean varmint.