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Hour of the Gun

29 Apr

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Ten years after making Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Director John Sturges paid a return visit to Tombstone. Where his earlier film drew to a close with the shootout of the title, Hour of the Gun takes it as the starting point and proceeds from there. Although the 1967 movie is more or less a direct sequel, it is a very different production. Those intervening ten years had seen the western evolve away from a brighter optimism to become something much darker. The Wyatt Earp of Hour of the Gun is far removed from the upstanding representative of justice and honour that had previously been the standard. This is a driven, vengeful man who manipulates the law more than he upholds it. 

The first half of the film sticks pretty close to the known facts and it is only towards the end that it drifts off into the realm of fantasy. It opens at the O.K. Corral and is quite accurate in depicting what actually happened; all those involved in the real incident are shown to be there and, for the first time, behave in the way that history has recorded. The story continues with the trial of the Earps and what would come to be known as the Earp vendetta. It is only the ending, where Wyatt and Doc Holliday track down Ike Clanton in Mexico for a final confrontation, that departs radically from the truth. However, aside from greater vercity, the most distinctive feature of this film is the way Wyatt Earp is portrayed. In all the previous versions he was a man whose primary motivation was the service of justice and the badge of office that symbolised it. In Hour of the Gun he starts off in much the same mode, but the attacks on his family bring about a rapid and drastic change. This Wyatt Earp is an anti-heroic figure paying only lip service to the law as he takes advantage of his position to exact a cold and bloody revenge on those he holds responsible for the shootings of his brothers. Although he carries arrest warrants, it becomes increasingly clear to his companions on the posse, and to the viewer, that he has no intention of ever serving them. One by one, the hired gunmen are shot down in what amount to legal executions. 

Jason Robards & James Garner

If you’re only familiar with James Garner as the easy-going Jim Rockford, then his work here is a revelation. His Wyatt Earp doesn’t indulge in shy romances or offer fatherly advice to wayward teens – he is instead the angel of death. For the most part he comes across as aloof and unemotional, yet there is a maniacal, almost psychopathic, gleam in his eyes in those scenes where he blasts away his enemies. Jason Robards was frankly too old to play Doc Holliday although he brings a world-weary cynicism to the part that is attractive. The script makes a number of references to his deadly reputation but his main function in the film is to act as the conscience to Earps dark avenger, taking him to task for using the law to his own ends. Robert Ryan was always good value in any film which he graced with his presence, and his Ike Clanton is more of a politically savvy string-puller than an out and out gunslinger. There’s also a small role for Jon Voight (his big screen debut) as Curly Bill Brocius. The direction from Sturges is a solid, professional job and the story moves along at a nice pace. I’ve become very fond of Sturges as a director; he was no groundbreaker or innovator like Ford, Peckinpah or Leone but he almost always turned out strong, quality product. The film also benefits from a fine Jerry Goldsmith score, downbeat and relentless like the story itself. 

Hour of the Gun seems to be the Wyatt Earp film that no one remembers, and that’s a pity. I think it’s a little hidden gem of a movie that deserves much more recognition. MGM have had this out on DVD in R1 for a few years now in a mediocre interlaced transfer. It’s recently had a R2 outing in what looks like the same print but this time it seems progressive – at least it runs a lot smoother on my system. All things considered, I’d say this is a worthy addition to the Earp canon and a film that I’m more than happy to have in my collection.

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8 Comments

Posted by on April 29, 2008 in 1960s, James Garner, John Sturges, Robert Ryan, Westerns

 

8 responses to “Hour of the Gun

  1. Ian W

    May 13, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    My favourite Earp film (I know I’m in the minority) and a far more interesting western than Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (much as I enjoyed that film).

    James Garner’s is terrific, and, like you say Colin, it’s a performance that’s a world away from Jim Rockford or Support Your Local Sheriff/Gunfighter. He played similarly against type (though this time as an outlaw) in the underrated spaghetti western A Man Called Sledge, directed by Vic Morrow.

    I think you’re right as well about it being the Earp film no one remembers, which is a real shame as it’s a better film than some of the more well known films about the famous lawman.

     
  2. Suzanne

    February 4, 2009 at 1:51 am

    I couldn’t agree more. This is a classic Earp film, and one of my favorite James Garner movies.

    I also was impressed with A Man Called Sledge.

     
  3. Cavershamragu

    October 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    One of my favourite John Sturges films (hell, his last good one really) – seen this one probably more times than OK CORRAL actually,

     
    • Colin

      October 17, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      You know, I think I prefer this to Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and that’s a film that I love. There’s something very powerful and compelling about Garner’s work in this movie that makes it stand out.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        October 17, 2012 at 9:50 pm

        yeah – it’s a grittier and tougher movie and much less glossy. I like them both but I think you’re right.

         
        • Colin

          October 17, 2012 at 9:53 pm

          Indeed. Mind you, to quote the Duke, I’d hate to have to live on the difference.

           

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