Western RoundUp: Gun hour (1967)
It’s been a few months since I dedicated a Western RoundUp column to a single movie, so I’m focusing on my very first look at this this month Gun hour (1967).
That brings me back to the subject of Wyatt Earp. I wrote on film for Classic Movie Hub through Earp back in 2018 and focused on in this column Border marshal (1939), Tombstone: The city is too hard to die (1942), and Wichita (1955).
In Gun hour Earp is played by a taciturn James Garner, with Jason Robards as Doc Holliday. I want to start off by saying that as I discuss the film, I’ll go into a little bit of detail, provided that many readers are familiar with the general outlines of the characters. Those who want to avoid spoilers should watch the movie before reading this review.
Gun hour was directed by John Sturges, who had previously made another film about the western legend, Shootout at OK Corral (1957). In this film, Burt played Lancaster as Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc. It’s still on my future Wyatt Earp viewing list along with Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994).
One of the unique things about it Gun hour Even at the beginning of the opening credits it becomes clear: The film begins with the famous shooting in OK Corral and does not end there.
I’ve only seen one other film that “frontloads” the shooting at or just before it started, Dawn in Socorro (1954). the Socorro Characters are not named Earp, Holliday, or Clanton, but they are clearly based on them.
As also shown in Gravestone: the city is too hard to die shortly afterwards the OK Corral Morgan Earp (Sam Melville) is gunned down while playing billiards. The combined incidents of the deaths of OK Corral and Morgan leave Earp and Ike Clanton (the great Robert Ryan) as mortal enemies, with Earp determined to hunt down Clanton and his gang by fair means or foul.
Earp is accompanied on his search by the loyal Doc, whose ability with a gun belies the fact that his health is in poor health. One by one, they track down members of Clanton’s gang, which leads to a climatic confrontation with Clanton himself.
Earp understands Edward Anhalt’s script quite differently from the gentlemanly Earp of a Fonda, Scott or McCrea; this Wyatt stays within the limits of the law for the most part (but not entirely), but he’s quite a mean man to be honest. Earp takes care of his family and friend Doc – although he and Doc most of the time try to hide this with harsh words – but anger is the most consuming emotion in his life.
It’s pretty interesting to see Garner, who is so often identified with more lighthearted characters, in such a tightly-knit role. There’s a stunning scene in the film’s last half hour where Earp shoots someone over and over, well past the point of need, while unleashing his anger.
At the end of the film, Earp assures the dying doc that he will take a prestigious job with the Arizona police force, but he tells her friend Dr. Goodfellow (Karl Swenson) for having no intention of doing this. As Earp rides away, a lonely future seems to stretch out before him.
While Garner’s performance is pretty monotonous in some ways, he’s also a good actor to be convincing. The viewer observes him closely and tries to deduce what is going on in his head from his actions and especially the look in his eyes.
Robards is pretty good as a Doc and manages to avoid pathos despite Doc’s alcoholism and poor health. This doc seems to be the voice of Earp’s conscience at times, especially when Wyatt decides to follow Clanton to Mexico without a badge. Doc also delivers the ease that is there in the movie; It is interesting that Robards and Garner are reversing expectations on this.
Ryan has relatively little screen time, but all eyes are on him when he shows up. He’s frankly terrifying and controls a large gang of rude men with ease. His performance made me recall Spencer Tracy’s comment when he was working with Ryan on Bad day at Black Rock (1955): “He scares me.” It’s remarkable acting by someone who was a quiet family man off-screen who co-founded a private elementary school.
Other joys of Gun hour Including William Windom in a small but entertaining role as a player who owes Doc money and is called up as a substitute, and a young Jon Voight as villain Curly Bill Brocius, a role played in previous films by actors such as Joe Sawyer and Edgar Buchanan became .
Supporting actors also include Steve Ihnat, William Schallert, Albert Salmi, Charles Aidman, Lonny Chapman, Larry Gates, Monte Markham and Richard Bull, who later, like Karl Swenson, was a long-time regular on television Little house on the prairie.
As befits a John Sturges film, there are some excellent action scenes, starting with the shootout that opens the film; Another particularly good sequence is a shootout at a train station, which is excitingly choreographed.
While the portrayal of deaths from shootings is relatively low-key in most of the films, there are a few violent moments that describe the film as late 60s, including a character getting a bullet in the forehead. It wasn’t more violence than I could handle, but it was definitely more than I expected.
The film feels slightly padded at 110 minutes, and I think it could have been reduced to 90 without missing anything of importance to viewers. A good example is a long sequence of a woman never seen again who wakes her husband up in time to witness an attack on Virgil Earp (Frank Converse). A full minute could probably have been cut out right there.
I was a little amused by a title card above the shooting that told viewers, “This picture is factual. That’s how it happened. ”This statement can be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, for too many reasons to be detailed here.
The fine cinematography is by Lucien Ballard, with much of the film being shot on location in Arizona and Mexico. The score is by the great Jerry Goldsmith.
Overall, I felt Hour of the gun, Although it didn’t reach greatness, it was a solid, worthwhile entry into Wyatt Earp filmmaking history.
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found on her blog Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she has been writing about films since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. As a lifelong film fan, Laura loves classics like Disney, film noir, musicals and westerns. She regularly reports on classic film festivals in Southern California. Laura will write everything about westerns at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.