The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was Gunfight at OK Corral. It was a busy day at the Utopia on Union Turnpike in Queens. Not a big theater, especially back when movie theaters were palatial. There were hardly any seats left when we got there, having walked 2.5 miles from home. I had a non-driving mom who was a subscriber to healthy outdoor exercise. We did a lot of walking — she with enthusiasm and I because I had no choice.
We found a seat in the second row, from which vantage point Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out of Hollywood. When video taped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.
I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favored “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan, so it figures. We have our preferences and they aren’t based on logic.
In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into our mutual favorite version of the OK corral and one of our top 5 westerns of all time.
I don’t love it for its historical accuracy. As do all the Wyatt Earp – Doc Holliday movies, it omits more than it includes. The Earps were wild and crazy guys, a lot wilder and crazier than even the wildest, craziest portrayal Hollywood has yet put on the screen. Add Doc Holliday — who was a real nutter, a charming, psychopathic killer — and you have a seriously lethal bunch of guys.
There were quite a few other Earp brothers who are always left out of the story, maybe because they didn’t go into the peacekeeping business. Daddy Earp was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be persnicketty about historical details, not when watching westerns. No percentage in it. They are all horribly inaccurate.
Tombstone has a great balance of classic western ingredients. Justice, revenge, violence, horses, great lines, wit, drama, humor, excellent cinematography and enough western mythology to make me go “Yeah!!”
Quote of the day:
Curly Bill: [takes a bill with Wyatt's signature from a customer and throws it on the faro table]
Wyatt Earp: Curly Bill, huh? I heard of you.
Wyatt Earp: I’m retired.
Curly Bill: Good. That’s real good.
Ike Clanton: Yeah, that’s good, Mr. Law Dog, ’cause law don’t go around here.
Wyatt Earp: I heard you the first time. [flips a card]
Wyatt Earp: Winner to the King, five hundred dollars.
Curly Bill: Shut up, Ike.
Doc Holliday: That’s the rumor.
Johnny Ringo: You retired too?
Doc Holliday: Not me. I’m in my prime.
Johnny Ringo: Yeah, you look it.
Doc Holliday: And you must be Ringo. Look, darling, Johnny Ringo. The deadliest pistoleer since Wild Bill, they say. What do you think, darling? Should I hate him?
Kate: You don’t even know him.
Doc Holliday: Yes, but there’s just something about him. Something around the eyes, I don’t know, reminds me of… me. No. I’m sure of it, I hate him.
Wyatt Earp: [to Ringo] He’s drunk.
Doc Holliday: In vino veritas. ["In wine is truth" meaning: "When I'm drinking, I speak my mind"]
Johnny Ringo: Age quod agis. ["Do what you do" meaning: "Do what you do best"]
Doc Holliday: Credat Judaeus apella, non ego. ["The Jew Apella may believe it, not I" meaning: "I don't believe drinking is what I do best."]
Johnny Ringo: [pats his gun] Eventus stultorum magister. ["Events are the teachers of fools" meaning: "Fools have to learn by experience"]
Doc Holliday: [gives a Cheshire cat smile] In pace requiescat. ["Rest in peace" meaning: "It's your funeral!"]
Tombstone Marshal Fred White: Come on boys. We don’t want any trouble in here. Not in any language.
Doc Holliday: Evidently Mr. Ringo’s an educated man. Now I really hate him.
Tombstone is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bad guys.
It’s so cathartic! The only piece of armament I’ve ever owned is my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun and a 22 caliber target rifle, but I can pretend. And I’m a dead shot with the rifle and have slaughtered paper plates and other inanimate targets from New York to northern Maine.
I have a rich and rewarding fantasy life.
Thank you Tombstone!
- On This Day In 1887, Doc Holliday Dies of Tuberculosis (rememberinghistory.wordpress.com)
- Tombstone (1993) (timneath.wordpress.com)
- Dodge City, Tombstone, the OK Corral and ‘Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life’ (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Wyatt Earp Myth: America’s most famous vigilante was actually a horse thief and con man (sott.net)
- Doc Holliday items bring high bids at Harrisburg Wild West auction (pennlive.com)
- The OK Corral (thelegendseekers.wordpress.com)
- Wyatt Earp: Lawman of the American West (Famous People in American History) book (idzifome.wordpress.com)
- Interview With Historian Paul Lee Johnson (historynet.com)