Classic Film Guide

Hour of the Gun (1967) - full review!

Overrated! I'd read that this was thought to be one of the best Westerns from the latter half of the 1960's, a contention with which I would strongly disagree. I'd take virtually any of the Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns over this one, in a heartbeat. Producer-director John Sturges (Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)) decided to revisit his much better directed Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) ten years later with a different cast of characters playing the historical figures - Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons et al. Whereas the famous shootout has been told and retold countless times throughout cinema's history, writer Edward Anhalt (Becket (1964)) picks up the story where the others have left off to relate what happened between Earp (James Garner), Holliday (Jason Robards), and (specifically) Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) after the dust had settled in Tombstone, Arizona. Ironically, Sturges had shown a fictional six minute long version of the gun battle in his original telling; he directs a more accurate 30 second version of it in this one, whose opening credits claim "this is how it really happened".

After the gunfight, city marshal come U.S. marshal Earp and gambler Holliday are accused of being cold blooded killers by Ike Clanton, who'd lost his son Billy in the exchange, and his paid for county sheriff Jimmy Bryan (Bill Fletcher). But Judge Spicer (William Schallert) finds them not guilty. However, the personal feud continues as Earp's lawmen brothers - Morgan and Virgil - are gunned down one by one by Clanton's hired hands (including Jon Voight in only his second film and an uncredited Ben Johnson) while the new city marshal (Michael Tolan) watches from the shadows. Assisted by Holliday, who's gotten remarkably healthier since suffering a near collapse from his fight with tuberculosis in Sturges's earlier film, and the Tucson Sheriff (Monte Markham) among others, Earp pursues each of the perpetrators under federal orders to bring them in for prosecution. But of course, circumstances prevent this so that each of the accused can be eliminated by various means which are more dramatically pleasing to the director and Western movie audiences. But it's not over yet! Finally, evidence of Holliday's condition is revealed and Earp still has to track down Ike in Mexico; whether historically accurate or not, I think both of these storylines could have been cut or better incorporated in the final release. Also absent in this Sturges film is any reference to the stigma attached to Earp for his association with his gambling gunfighter friend Holliday.

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