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30 Seconds; 30 Bullets in classic “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”


Left, Kirk Douglas plays John H. Doc’ Holliday, a dentist, gambler, and a gunfighter, suffering from tuberculosis. And, Burt Lancaster as the famed lawman Wyatt Earp. The duo team up during the ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ in Tombstone, Arizona.

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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 1957; Not Rated


Best extra: Commentary by Author/Screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner and Film Historian Henry Parke (True West Magazine) on 4K and Blu-ray discs


DOZENS OF movies, TV shows and documentaries have been made about the gunfight between the brothers Earp and gambler/gunslinger Doc Holiday vs. the cattle rustling Cowboys, represented by the Clanton and McLaury brothers.


Facts don’t always matter, and so it goes in John Sturges first treatment of “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” But no matter how you spin it – and there have been many spins – it always ends the same: Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton dead. Bloody vengeance follows as youngest brother Morgan Earp is killed and elder brother Virgil maimed, leaving Wyatt to wage a take-no-prisoners war on the Cowboys.


We can’t stop watching. No two film versions are alike, with most deleting known-facts, as pointed out by Author/Screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner and Film Historian Henry Parke in the new commentary on the handsomely remastered 4K release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The fight itself was over fast – 30 bullets in 30 seconds – but most films make it longer with more detail. Joyner and Parke have a lot of fun pointing out the differences in other western classics, as well as characters and sequences they enjoyed, especially in John Ford’s “My Darling Clementine” (1946). Directed by Ford, it had Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp, Victor Mature as Doc Holliday, and a maniacal Walter Brennan as Old Man Clanton, father to Ike and Billy. Brennan was a young man who played “old.” Later, he became best known as the comical Grandpa Amos in “The Real McCoys” (1957-1962 on ABC, 1962-1963 on CBS).

(1) “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” premiered in New York City on May 29, 1957. The Western finished as the 4th biggest box office film of the year. (2) Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet), companion of Doc Holliday, spots Ed Bailey and his two henchmen riding into town. (3) Bailey (Lee Van Cliff) quizzes the barkeeper for Holliday's whereabouts. He hopes to avenge the death of his brother. (4) Right, Wyatt Earp questions Holliday about the location of outlaws Ike Clanton and Johnny Ringo, who were released by the Fort Griffin, Texas, marshal.


They also note the TV series, “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” starring Hugh O’Brian. His Earp was “brave, courageous and bold” according to the theme song. He had a bucket-load of charm, smarts and compassion as he saved citizens and befriended and mentored a young man who would later become Bat Masterson.


Still, neither Earp, Holliday or the gunfight were well-known until the publication of “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall” by Stuart Lake in 1954. John Sturges (“The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “The Great Escape” (1963), who directed “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” revisited the story again in “Hour of the Gun” (1967) with James Garner and Jason Robards. Still, it was his 1957 film that’s credited with securing the event’s moniker in the lore of Old West America … even if the gunfight didn’t precisely take place at the O.K. Corral.


Currently, the most popular film adaptations are director Lawrence Kasdan’s “Wyatt Earp” (1994) starring Kevin Costner, and “Tombstone” (1993), directed by George P. Cosmatos with an all-star cast including Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn. Cosmatos became the credited director after screenwriter Kevin Jarre was fired. Kilmer and others claim Russell was the true director, which he has acknowledged since Cosmatos’ death. Charlton Heston, Powers Booth, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Michael Rooker, Harry Carey Jr., and Billy Bob Thornton are among “Tombstone’s” outstanding cast. The film also featured the women of the Earp/Holliday story, with Dana Delany, Joanna Pacula, Paula Malcomson, Lisa Collins, and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson giving strong performances.


If westerns, particularly this incident, are your ride of choice, you can’t go wrong with either film. Aside from expanding the women’s presence, a big difference comes through Russell’s performance as Earp. He captures the warmth and playfulness of the man who endeared himself to so many. Stories abound about how he sold the gun he used at the O.K. Corral – again and again, Colts, Barettas, you name ‘em – to folks he met in local Hollywood bars. Working in props, John Wayne met Wyatt Earp, and taught himself to copy Earp’s walk, manner of talking and persona in his films. Earp was great friends with Tom Mix, acknowledged as Hollywood’s first western star. Mix was a pallbearer at Earp’s funeral in 1929. A movie starring James Garner and Bruce Willis – “Sunset” (1988) directed by Blake Edwards – was made about their relationship.

(1) Holliday and Bailey have a showdown over a poker game. Holliday challenges Bailey to a gunfight at Boot Hill, but it ends at the saloon. (2) Beautiful Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming) arrives in Dodge City, Kansas, and is soon arrested for gambling. Women were not allowed to gamble in public within the city limits. (3) Holliday meets up with Deputy Charles Bassett (Earl Holliman) at a Kansas stockyard. (4&5) Cattleman Shanghai Pierce (Ted De Corsia) and his cowboys break up a Dodge City church bazaar until Earp and Holliday arrive to arrest the men.


It is 1881 when “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” begins with circus aerialist-actor Burt Lancaster (“The Crimson Pirate,” “The Rainmaker,” “From Here to Eternity”) riding into Fort Griffin, Texas. He’s a tall, broad-shouldered and straight-backed upholder of the law as Wyatt Earp, almost bigger than the mount he rides. That beautiful horse with the golden sheen appears to be an Akhai Teke. This alone lets us know what we’re in for.


Lancaster’s Earp is already in pursuit of outlaws like Ike Clanton and Johnny Ringo. He meets and helps Doc Holliday, played by Kirk “I am Spartacus!” Douglas, escape a lynch mob, when Doc shoots a cheat after a poker game. Earp and Holliday are two very different men, but Doc vows to repay Earp’s good turn. He follows the lawman to Dodge City, where he also hopes to regain his luck as a gambler. Known for his roles in “The Vikings,” “Last Train from Gun Hill,” and “There Was a Crooked Man,” Douglas’ Holliday is a raving, tubercular and alcoholic gambler/gunslinger riding a rollercoaster of emotions, and taking everyone with him as he goes. It’s a big contrast to the stoic Wyatt. There are love interests for both men: gambling socialite Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming) with Earp, and Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet) with Holliday.


Earp leaves for the Arizona Territory and Tombstone at the request of his older brother, Virgil (John Hudson). Virgil, a U.S. Marshal, has been trying to apprehend a gang of cattle rustlers led by the Clantons. Lyle Bettger plays Ike, and a young Dennis Hopper plays Billy. John Ireland is cast as the villainous Johnny Ringo. Events leading to the gunfight unfold dramatically.


A young DeForest Kelley (“Star Trek”) is cast as Morgan Earp with Martin Milner as James Earp; the oldest brother who is rarely seen in the various “Gunfight” films and shows. Like Virgil, James was a veteran of the Civil War, fighting for the Union. Unlike Virgil, he was a saloon-keeper and pimp running the local bawdy house with his wife, former prostitute Nellie “Bessie” Ketchum. There’s no mention of James’ risqué career in Sturges’ film. Instead, James is now the youngest brother gunned down by the Clanton gang, setting the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in motion.


Additional players include Earl Holliman as Charles Bassett, Kenneth Tobey as Bat Masterson, Lee Van Cleef as Ed Baily, and Joan Camden as Virgil's wife, Betty Earp.


“Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” was Oscar-nominated for Best Sound and Best Film Editing. While it isn’t the best version of the gunfight, Sturges’ directorial skill, the freeform script, typical of the time, by Leon Uris (“Exodus”) from an article written by George Scullin, cinematography by Charles Lang (“The Magnificent Seven,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Wait Until Dark,” “How the West was Won”), the charisma between Lancaster and Douglas in the lead roles, and topnotch KLS remastering make this a captivating journey.

Earp & Holliday arrive in Tombstone, Arizona

(1) Several of the Tombstone scenes were filmed in Old Tucson, the same Western movie set for Howard Hawks Rio Bravo. (2) Wyatt joins his brother U.S. Marshal Virgil (John Hudson) with their other brothers: left, James (Martin Milner) Morgan (DeForest Kelley) unseen here. (3) Cattle rustler Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger) and his men steal cattle from Mexico. (4&5) Earp is now a U.S. Marshal when he escorts a drunk Billy Clanton (Dennis Hopper) back to the family ranch. He encounters Ike and Cotton Wilson (Frank Faylen) the new county Sheriff. (5) The Clantons ambush and kill James Earp.



In the new commentary, Joyner, a director and author of “Shotgun” and “The Westerners: Interviews with Actors, Directors, and Writers,” and Parke, a film historian and contributing editor for “True West” magazine, tell us that In addition to “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,“ Lancaster and Douglas made seven films together: “I Walk Alone,” 1947; “The Devil’s Disciple,” 1959; “The List of Adrian Messenger,” 1963; “Seven Days in May,” 1964; “Victory at Entebbe,” 1976; and “Tough Guys,” 1986. Both were professionals with strong work ethics, but they weren’t friends. This is a lively commentary, filled with anecdotes, observations, and trivia.


Blu-ray extras showcase trailers from Kino Lorber Studio Classic remasters of “The Great Escape,” “Joe Kidd,” “Vera Cruz,” “The Train,” “Valdez is Coming,” “The Indian Fighter,” “Paths of Glory,” “Lonely Are the Brave,” and “Backlash.”



Charles Lang captured the film on 35mm in VistaVision format using spherical lenses, finishing in Technicolor (1.85:1 aspect ratio). It has been remastered in a new 4K scan of Paramount’s original camera negative, with Dolby Vision color, encoded on a 100 GB disc averaging around 77 Megbits per second.


The picture looks fantastic from the 8-perf large-format negative, especially on hard disc. It’s filled with detail in closeups and far-shots, and displays an excellent mix of bold and subtle colors, with natural complexions. Film grain is apparent, and does not distract, but during the first 16 minutes, the grain is slightly larger. Possibly from a second-generation source if the original negative was damaged beyond repair or missing. Contrast also shows its Technicolor magic with sharp highlights and deep shadows. The film has never looked this good before.



The original English audio is available in lossless DTS-HD tracks in 5.1 and 2.0 mono mixes. Dialogue is clear, with optional SDH subtitles for those who require them. The 5.1 track allows a broader soundstage with more emphasis on effects – gunshots, horse hooves, environmental sound – and the score by Dimitri Tiomkin (“High Noon,” “The Guns of Navarone,” “The Alamo,” “Rio Bravo,” “It’s a Wonderful Life”). Tiomkin also wrote the opening theme sung by Frankie Laine.  


Kay Reynolds

The Big Showdown


4K Menu screen

1 Comment

Ken Roche
Ken Roche
Jun 08

I enjoyed this 'entertainment' version of the famous confrontation, professional in all depts. and this beautiful remastering of the IB Technicolor VistaVision original is completly inviting. Still, my favorite remains "My Darling Clementine" in gorgeous moody B/W.

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