Burt Lancaser, Kirk Douglas, Dennis Hopper, Jo Van Fleet, Dimitri Tiomkin (music), John Sturges (director)
   By 1956 the classic Western had about run its course, though it would not die easily. This high-budget Western with huge star power is the quintessential Western story, but it is also a textbook model of the decayed classic Western. There are no shades of right and wrong here (Lancaster does wear a black hat, however), and every cliche that all the B Westerns ostensibly exploit winds up in this film as well: saloons, gamblers, easily provoked gunfights, dance hall girls—there is little in this film that is not a cliche. Wyatt Earp (Lancaster) is a clean-shaven, slim, athletic town marshal for the civilized side of Dodge City, Kansas. He runs a clean town: no guns allowed under any circumstances. Across town, however, is utter chaos and anarchy—visualized in one scene as Doc Holliday (Douglas) rides down a street full of saloons, gun shots in the air, and prostitutes everywhere. Wyatt is the bulwark against confusion. At one point, rowdy cowboys led by Shanghai Pierce (Ted de Corsia) burst into a civilized church dance. Chaos threatens order but the “preacher” (Wyatt’s nickname) manages to get the upper hand and restore order. Even among the good, however, it is possible for life to spin out of control. Thus the subplot, which concerns Doc and his hacking cough, a professional gambler, and Doc’s girl (Van Fleet). In Fort Griffin Doc gets in trouble and Wyatt saves his skin. Later Doc comes to Dodge and despite situations that call into question every ounce of his masculinity (at one point, Johnny Ringo [John Ireland] throws whisky in his face and taunts him), Doc keeps his pledge to Wyatt to avoid gunplay.
   Into the peaceful town comes Laura (Rhonda Fleming), a female gambler. Manly Wyatt jails her to protect the town from such women, but everyone falls in love with her—including Wyatt, thereby threatening his manhood. Wyatt resigns his post and packs his things for California. But word comes from his three brothers in Tombstone, Arizona; they need him desperately. Laura begs him not to go, and he must choose—loyalty to his brothers or loyalty to a woman, his fiancee. He makes the right choice by code-of-the-Weststandards, and heads for Arizona, Doc accompanying him. Wyatt and Holliday land in Tombstone, and after some preliminary scrapes, they eventually shoot it out at the corral against the Clantons, Johnny Ringo, and the McLowerys (including Jack Elam) —four against six. Young Billy Clanton (Dennis Hopper) has a good heart and is ready to reform, but as with Wyatt and his brothers, he must choose family loyalty over all else. Wyatt regretfully plugs young Billy to finish the fight. All is reconciled and Wyatt again heads to California. He hopes Laura will be waiting for him; the audience knows she is.
   One unexplainable element of the plot is Doc’s girl—Kate Fisher (not Kate Elder as in other versions). She is a lush who is frantically, desperately dependent on Doc, who treats her—as he says himself— like trash. He abuses her horribly, but she still remains loyal to him at the end. Ultimately, we must ask whether she is any different from Wyatt’s much more respectable girl. Kate is played by Academy Award–winner from the previous year, Jo Van Fleet, who nearly steals the show with her superior acting performance. This is a feel-good movie. Good triumphs over evil once again. Men must do their duty and women must accept that; it is very reassuring. The soundtrack with its famous theme song by Dimitri Tiomkin has probably become more memorable than the movie itself.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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