I have tried repeatedly to write a review that would do this beleaguered film justice. Each time I start rapping the keyboard on my laptop I can get no further than three paragraphs.
So I sat down today and started researching the film and its subject matter again. I am not a stranger to the town of Tombstone and the disputes and daily arguments between the main factions. I have always had a fascination for the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral and the Earp’s ride of retribution afterwards.
That the gunfight and the events following are almost common knowledge is down to the feuding newspapers of the day. One paper supported the Earp’s and their ‘town’ backers of businesses and traders. The other paper supported the Clanton’s, Sheriff Johnny Behan and their ‘cattlemen’ supporters.
The film shows this divide from the very beginning. The ‘Cowboys’ were an organised crime outfit that not only rustled cattle, they robbed and murdered and were even thought responsible for the murder of Mexican troops who were on their way to deposit gold, bullion and Peso’s in the Tombstone banks.
That there was tension between the two factions is a matter of fact. Kurt Russell‘s portrayal of Wyatt Earp is easily the best I’ve ever seen. He hits the right notes of righteousness and weariness of the law business and his intention to settle down with his wife and family around him.
Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton (in the first role where he actually plays a good guy) played their parts equally well. Elliot as the stiff-necked and doomed Earp brother Morgan and Paxton as the eager and righteous (and most experienced of all the brothers in the world of law enforcement in real life) Virgil both help bring this strong willed family to life.
Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Jason Priestly, Val Kilmer and Dana Delany all provide the ambiance and backbone of the film. Kilmer (who lost so much weight to play the consumptive Doc Holliday that he made himself ill) almost stole the show as the man who could not fear death as it was already a constant companion.
Biehn as the over educated yet bestial Johnny Ringo and Boothe as the over bearing Brocius were brilliantly cast as the two ‘main men’ behind the Cowboys gang.
The film looks stunning capturing the colours and hues of a ‘boom town’ in the late 1800’s American west. The sets, the costumes and the props all look great. Overall this film shows the greatest attention to the facts leading up to and following the infamous gunfight. There are a few things that the film makers have chosen to change or gloss over, but the fact remains that this film is pretty damn accurate.
The actual gunfight is a perfect example of the ‘liberties’ taken by the film makers. In reality the entire gunfight at the OK Corral lasted under 30 seconds. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne both fled the area when the fighting started and Ike did tell Wyatt that he was not armed, to which Wyatt replied, “Get fighting or get out. [sic]“
No one entered a photo studio to be shot down.
Incredibly, most of the important details they got right. Virgil Earp did give Doc Holliday the sawn off shotgun and took his walking stick in return. The Earps entered the vacant lot behind the Corral not expecting a fight, Sheriff Behan who met the Earp’s as they were walking towards the Corral told them that the Clanton’s were not armed.
When Virgil called for the Clanton’s to turn over their weapons and guns were pulled and cocked by the gang Virgil shouted out, ” Hold! I did not mean that (or ‘Hold on! I did not mean that!) and a party from each side opened fire simultaneously.
Behan did attempt to arrest the Earps immediately following the gunfight and Wyatt did indeed say, “I won’t be arrested today. I am right here and am not going away.”
In reality there was a trial and the Earps, as well as Holliday were found innocent of any wrong doing. This was what inflamed the already bitter feud between the Cowboys and the Earps.
That Wyatt Earp and Josephine Marcus were a couple was common knowledge at the time.
Russell’s own feud with Kevin Costner about the film (which Costner was meant to be in) lead to Costner leaving the project and starting up his own version of events in the the mediocre Wyatt Earp (1994). After he left Tombstone, Costner then lead a ‘hate’ campaign against Russell’s film and attempted to prevent it from getting distributed by any major studio.
Suffice to say that history repeated itself with Russell’s Earp’s winning against the nefarious actions of the pretender (Costner). Tombstone opened well and pulled in a decent box office receipt. Costner’s film did not do as well.
I can vaguely remember as a child travelling through Arizona with my parents. We stopped at Tombstone and someone (dammed if I can remember who) took pictures of the OK Corral for our own posterity. For years the entire gunfight has been re-enacted for thousands if not millions of tourists. I have never seen one of these re-enactments. I don’t need to. I can picture the entire thing in my mind.
Of course if I’m feeling lazy, I can always watch Tombstone.
Because folks, it’s about as accurate as you can get.
*If you’d like to read more about the Earp’s and the gunfight at the OK Corral, check out Wikipedia, it’s a good starting point and will reference many different sites for more information.*
- Ghostly Pics: Tombstone Cemetery Ghost (newsfromthespiritworld.com)
- Lancaster as Earp – the ‘Grin’ and the Grim (myfavoritewesterns.com)
- [Review] Wyatt Earp (1994) (supermarcey.com)
- Old West Day recalls famous Wyatt Earp shootout (galesburg.com)
- The Buntline Special – Mike Resnick (yellowedandcreased.wordpress.com)
- Wichita (1955) (timneath.wordpress.com)
- Monmouth celebrates Wyatt Earp (galesburg.com)
- Earp’s … doing ‘The Walk’ (myfavoritewesterns.com)