Tuesday, May 30, 2017

'O.K. Corral' Was Entertaining If Not Entirely Accurate

"All gunfighters are lonely. They live in fear. They die without a dime, a woman or a friend."

Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster)

I love to watch movies that are based on famous people or events from history — like John Sturges' "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," which made its debut on this day in 1957.

But I seldom recommend such movies to people as reliable sources for, say, facts a student could use in a term paper.

For that kind of purpose, you're usually better off referring to books on the subject, and that is certainly the case here.

Not that the real gunfight at the O.K. Corral was lacking in drama, but, as is so often the case, the facts apparently weren't dramatic enough, which led to several historical inaccuracies.

None of those inaccuracies alone could change the outcome of the gunfight — but the cumulative effect was enough make you wonder who survived and, for that matter, who won the shootout.

Most of that would be speculation, but you would be right to wonder who was actually there. Johnny Ringo, a well–known outlaw played by John Ireland in the movie, wasn't there at all and shouldn't have been a character in the movie. Nevertheless he was.

Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas) apparently was in Tombstone that day, but the movie suggested that he came there with Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster). That wasn't true. He showed up much later.

And, while the movie indicated that Earp saved Holliday's life, it was actually the other way around.

Jo Van Fleet and Rhonda Fleming played the female roles in the largely male ensemble. Van Fleet played Holliday's girl, and Fleming played Earp's love interest. As I understand it Van Fleet's character was, in real life, a prostitute and Holliday's common–law wife. I haven't been able to find out anything about Fleming's character, but I do know that Earp came to Tombstone with a common–law wife of his own. He had three during his lifetime and none had the name of Fleming's character in the movie.

These inaccuracies didn't prevent the movie from being a big box–office hit.

It was entertaining, and I suppose folks were willing to overlook some things.

Like the fact that the actual gunfight lasted just 30 seconds, three men were killed in mostly face–to–face encounters and only a few firearms were involved. In the movie the gunfight lasted five minutes, and there were considerably more fatalities shot from medium range with a large arsenal.

But, hey, if you're gonna have a movie with the word gunfight in the title, you've got to have a lot of guns and a lot of gunshots, right?

"Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" was nominated for two Oscars and lost both — Best Sound Recording and Best Film Editing.

By the way: Dennis Hopper, who was appearing in only his fourth movie, was born and raised in Dodge City, Kansas, which is where Wyatt Earp was sheriff a few years before the gunfight occurred.