Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Calendar of Hollidays: John Sturges in Tombstone, Part Two

The Voice of Conscience. Jason Robards Jr., Hour of the Gun (1967).

Ten years later, Sturges made a sequel of sorts to OK Corral starring James Garner and Jason Robards, Jr. It starts off with the gunfight and purports to tell the true story of what happened afterwards (the murder trial, Virgil getting shot, Morgan getting killed playing pool, Wyatt getting revenge) but its just as fictional in its own way as the previous film. Virgil is older than Wyatt, not younger; Ike Clanton never holed up in Mexico and Earp didn't kill him; and the faux-spaghetti-western coldness of Garner's Earp owes more to Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name than history. In fact, that's what this movie feels like: an attempt at a spaghetti western, only without any of the sauce, so all you end up with is a plate full of cold pasta.

I am the only nutritious part of this meal.

All bones and no meat except for Robards, who seems to stand off to the side of the action, which is straight out of the "hunt down a killer/kill him/repeat till everyone is dead" school of revenge movies. It's hard not to compare this to another movie from the same school, a movie that was taking geometry when Hour of the Gun was taking algebra: Hang 'Em High, made just one year later, which has that operatic, over-the-top quality that Gun is missing. (It also has Inger Stevens, which a lot of other movies in the 60's were missing.)

I can't wait to start filming Once Upon A Time In The West

Robards is about ten years too old to play Doc, but given that guys in their 30's in the 19th Century looked 45 to 50, the look fits. He coughs a lot more Kirk Douglas, but he never really looks ill. Just tired and fed up. And after trying to talk sense into Garner's Wyatt Earp for two hours, who wouldn't be? In this movie, Earp is the bad guy, telling innocent bystanders "You have a lot more to fear from me than Ike Clanton" while Holliday looks on from the side. It's a logical extension from OK Corral; in this movie, Earp's rectitude has hardened into the God-given right to kill anybody in the name of revenge.

I'm going to sit here and watch you hurt people.

The film is ostensibly about law and order, which is why there's the same three-part structure to all the confrontations: Earp works within the law to seek justice, the law fails, and Earp has to choose whether to go outside the law to get justice. Which would only be a real choice if there was a struggle involved, but there's no struggle at all. Just distance and irony.

The Big Irony: once Morgan's shot and Virgil's wounded, there's a reward for the arrest and conviction of those involved--not dead or alive, arrest and conviction. So naturally Holliday is in it for the money, as is the rest of the posse, and just as naturally, Earp kills everybody they could have arrested, which is Thematic (No Reward For Violence) and undramatic. If there was an ongoing battle between Earp the Lawman and Earp the Killer? That would create tension. But Robards watching Garner kill people and then chewing him out afterwards? That's two parts enabling and three parts nagging.

I stood by and watched you kill a man.
Now I'm going to chew you out for it. [Cough!]

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