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. It wasn’t a big theater, especially not in the days when movie theaters were palaces. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked the mile and some from home. I had a non-driving mom who was also a subscriber to healthy outdoor exercise. We did a lot of walking, she with enthusiasm and verve and I because I didn’t have a choice.
Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)
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 my favorite western, though there are a goodly number of contenders for second place.
I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than any other extant version of the story. As do all the Wyatt Earp – Doc Holliday stories, it omits as much, maybe more, than it includes. The Earps were wild and crazy guys.
John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)
Doc Holliday was an even wilder, crazier guy. They were all lethal as Hell and no more honest then they needed to be … or less.
There were other Earp brothers who are consistently left out of the story, maybe because they didn’t go into the peacekeeping business. Dad, on the other hand, was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, even I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy.
First, I watch them because … I’m embarrassed to admit it … I love horses. I will watch anything with or about horses. You could probably just put on films of horses running around a field and I’d watch that too.
Next, I love westerns because they make it easy to distinguish good from bad. When I was growing up seeing Johnny Mack Brown B movies on old channel 13 in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity. Many people never move beyond that … a discussion for a different day.
Most of all, westerns present my fantasies in Technicolor and surround sound. In the western movie world, revenge and righteous violence are terrific. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both and mow’em down. Justice is meted out quickly and permanently with no guilt attached. You can be a wimp preaching peace and love in real life, but sit down in front of another viewing of “Tombstone,” watch Kurt, Val and the rest of the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest while you cheer them on.
“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 bastards. 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.
Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.
Sign on a door in Tombstone, AZ
I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless the entire town of Tombstone was victim of a mass hallucination — mass hallucinations are not nearly as common in real life as in Hollywood — and merely thought a movie company came, rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then filmed a movie … unless you subscribe to this fairly bizarre theory, “Tombstone” was filmed in Tombstone.
I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was the best part or at least, our favorite part, of a one long summer’s sojourn through Arizona. So, although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years. Everyone talks about it. It was a big deal.
August was not the best time to visit, but our host still works a real job and it’s hard to find a good time to visit when he isn’t working. Regardless, the mercury climbed to 128 Fahrenheit and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. Which, that time of year, it does relentlessly. I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks.
It was painfully hot. Maybe that’s what the fighting was about. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat with no air conditioning? It makes one very cranky. I’ll bet the heat got to them, so they tried to kill each other. It makes almost as much sense as any other explanation.
We don’t watch movies for a dose of reality, or at least I don’t. I have plenty of reality. More than enough. I go to escape, to move from a reality I don’t care for to another world I like better. Westerns let me immerse myself in raw emotions that are unacceptable otherwise.
I love Tombstone.