Hour of the Gun (1967)

Genres - Historical Film, Western  |   Sub-Genres - Docudrama, Revisionist Western  |   Release Date - Nov 1, 1967 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Director/producer John Sturges never thought much of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), his first screen treatment of the confrontation between the Earps and the Clantons in 1881 Tombstone, AZ. In conversations during the final years of his life, he maintained that the latter film was a production that was planned, scripted, designed, and cast by its producer, Hal B. Wallis, for which he was merely hired to direct. Sturges was much prouder of Hour of the Gun, his 1967 production dealing with the same subject -- which he seems to have made almost as a response to the earlier movie. With Hour of the Gun, he attempted to do with the story of Tombstone, AZ, and the conflict between the Earps and the Clantons what he did with Sergeants 3 and The Great Escape. The movie opens with the famous showdown on October 26, 1881, and covers the story starting from that event. Where the earlier picture played off of the mythology surrounding the gunfight, Wyatt Earp, and the Clantons, the 1967 movie hews much closer to the facts, including the trumped-up trial to which the Earps and their ally Doc Holliday were subjected after the shoot-out (which resulted in their acquittal), the subsequent attack on Virgil Earp, and the murder of Morgan Earp.

The script, by Edward Anhalt, is a good one, but in trying to stick so closely to historical fact, Sturges hems in his actors. James Garner tries for something very different from his usual performance here, avoiding any trace of his usual geniality in portraying a taciturn, emotionally repressed Wyatt Earp, deeply troubled and torn by the obligations and limitations of the law, in a pursuit of justice that turns to vengeance. He literally melts into the role of Earp, but the spare nature of Anhalt's script doesn't give the actor enough to work with in forming a whole character; perhaps the real Wyatt Earp was too contemptible by today's standards to flesh the role out too much in the script. Garner had played vengeful, brutal characters before (including in the Western Duel at Diablo) with some effectiveness, but here he's wasted to some degree. Only the two best actors in the cast, Jason Robards Jr., playing the most colorful character in the story, Doc Holliday, and Robert Ryan as the villain of the piece, Ike Clanton, fare well, overcoming the restrictions imposed on their roles by the straightjacket of historical accuracy. Sturges succeeds in his goal of demythologizing the subject at hand, and the historical figures represented in front of us, but fails to hold our interest dramatically for the duration of the movie's 101 minutes. Even Jerry Goldsmith's score seems dull and uninspired, and the whole movie dampened down the career momentum that Sturges had built up early in the decade with The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.