There are few legends of the Wild West that have seen as much screen time as that of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. During my everlasting quest to watch the best Western movie ever, I came across several films that depicted the events leading up to and following the legendary gunfight. Among all of these great movies depicting the minutes-long legend, the ones I liked best were 1946’s My Darling Clementine and 1993’s Tombstone.
In My Darling Clementine, we watch as the Earp brothers, riding their herd West, are approached by an old man, named Clanton, and his son offering to take the herd off their hands. Wyatt, the oldest brother, refuses cordially despite Clanton’s insistence. Clanton then directs the brothers towards a nearby town called Tombstone in case they need lodging for the night. Leaving their brother James with the herd, the brothers make their way for Tombstone. After a rowdy drunk starts disturbing the town, a disgruntled Wyatt is forced to take care of the problem, thus revealing him to be the legendary Wyatt Earp of Dodge City. Upon returning to their herd, they find it has been stolen and James killed. Wyatt goes back to Tombstone to find the Clanton posse living it up, and suspects that they were the ones who perpetrated the heinous acts. Thus begins the feud between the Earps and the Clantons that precipitates into the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt also ends up becoming friends with the local “posh rascal” Doc Halliday, who is also legendary in his own way. Halliday has an interminable sickness but lives every day like it’s his last, until a young woman from out East comes by to knock on the door of Doc’s past.
In Tombstone, the story is changed a little bit, with the gunfight of legend being kept in the middle of the movie and the events before and after extended. Some of the details changed, but overall the feeling stays the same.
The main things to look at with these films is the character interplay between the two main leads. In Clementine, Wyatt Earp is played by Henry Fonda and Doc Halliday is played by Victor Mature, both great choices. In Tombstone, Wyatt is played by Kurt Russell and Doc is played by Val Kilmer, also really great choices back in the day. While Clementine did rely on both the Western craze of the time as well as the high pedigree of the core actors, it also focused on keeping a very mature atmosphere. Everything felt dark and overcast, as if it were a film-noir set out West. The factors that played a key role with Tombstone were the resurgence of the Western film in the 80’s and 90’s, and the modern version of the “mature atmosphere” I mentioned earlier. By modern, I mean they used violence and dirty language rather than shadows and camerawork. The proprotianately higher production cost of Tombstone made using the natural methods almost impossible, thus making it necessary to modify the content to make the atmosphere grim.
Overall, both movies are definitely a must-see for Western fans interested in the legendary gunfight and in the two men who were made infinitely more famous because of it. It’s a story about love, hate, greed, vengeance, the past, the present and the future.
Thanks a lot folks. I’ll continue to keep this up as long as you like it. Have a great day!