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March 15th, 2017

HOUR OF THE GUN (1967) *** ½

John Sturges, the man who gave us such classics as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape gives us his take on the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. This was actually his second movie on the subject, having directed Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral ten years earlier. After seeing this, I might have to check out Gunfight to see how it stacks up to this one as it’s one of the best Wyatt Earp movies ever made.

What is different about this film is that it starts with the O.K. Corral. This shows Sturges isn’t intent on telling a historical look at Wyatt Earp, nor is he really interested in the actual gunfight itself. Sturges wants to look beyond that. He’s more concerned with the aftermath that comes from bloodshed than the actual bloodshed itself. Of course, what comes from bloodshed is nothing but more bloodshed, but that’s sort of the whole point.

James Garner is cast against type as Wyatt. He’s quiet, morose, and far removed from his usual easygoing persona. It works though and he plays it rather well. The scene where he guns down a guy at point blank range at a train station is chilling; partly because we rarely see Garner doing something this cold-blooded, but also because he goes all-in with his character.

Jason Robards might be my favorite Doc Holliday of all time. He’s cranky and cantankerous, but is a loyal friend and will follow Wyatt to the end. The subplot about him going on his own adventure to find men for a posse is really well done. I especially liked the part where he waived the guy’s extensive gambling debt in trade for a deputy star.

What makes Doc unique in this version is that in addition to being a mere sidekick, he also acts as Wyatt’s conscience. He’s more than willing to help Wyatt gun down the people who murdered his brother, but he’s there to see that Wyatt remembers he’s a lawman and that revenge takes a backseat to the matter at hand. He doesn't want Wyatt to become a killer like him. He's the angel on Wyatt’s shoulder who's actually a devil at heart. This dynamic is what makes their relationship work so well.

Robert Ryan plays the villainous Ike Clanton in a more suave manner than what is normally portrayed. It works because he is keenly intelligent and an even match for Garner (and because he’s goddamned Robert Ryan). I also enjoyed seeing a young Jon Voight as Curly Bill, a member of the Clanton gang.

While there are a number of exciting sequences, the pacing does meander a bit towards the end. The shootouts also tend to get a bit repetitive as they go along. However, the meat of the story and the relationship between Wyatt and Doc is what makes Hour of the Gun stand out from the glut of other Wyatt Earp movies.

Garner later went on to play Earp again in Sunset.

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