1957 Movie Review: GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL, 1957

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Movie Reviews

Directed by: John Sturges

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland
Review by Jarred Thomas


After the long career of lawman that made him a legend, Wyatt Earp decides to quit and join his brothers in Tombstone, Arizona. There he would see them in feud with Clantons, local clan of thugs and cattle thieves. When the showdown becomes inevitable, the help will come from Doc Holliday, terminally-ill gambler who happens to be another Wild West legend.


The O.K. Corral is one of the most legendary moments in history that epitomized the lore of the old west. This event solidified the legacy of Wyatt Earp as well as Doc Holliday and as most talked about moments in time, it was immortalized in literature, stories, TV and film adaptations. In 1957, John Sturges took an interest in the popular history and cast Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the lead roles.

This was the second of the seven films Lancaster and Douglas starred in together. The two became a famous Hollywood pair which usually involved Lancaster getting top billing over Douglas. An interesting note however is that despite their professional relationship the two weren’t exactly friends, at least that’s how Douglas felt towards Lancaster.

He was not as good of a friend with Burt Lancaster as was often perceived. The closeness of their friendship was largely fabricated by the publicity-wise Douglas, while, in reality, Lancaster was often cruel and dismissive to Douglas. In an interview, Douglas stated that he never really thought Lancaster was a good actor, that’s not to say he thought he was bad, just not particularly good.

He said, “John Wayne was a great star. But he always played Wayne. Anything else he didn’t regard as manly. Now someone like Burt Lancaster is just the opposite. The living proof that you can be a sensitive actor and macho at the same time.”

Whatever their feelings, the two made quite a formidable team on the screen and Gunfight at the OK Corral shows just that. The film explores the friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday who are both known not only for their infamous reputation but their friendship rooted in mutual respect. Their relationship is some ways mirrors that of the professional relationship between Douglas and Lancaster.

The climax of the film centers on the epic gun battle. The actual gunfight took place on 26 October 1881 and lasted a mere 30 seconds, resulting in three dead men after an exchange of 34 bullets. Compared to this adaptation, the movie gunfight took 4 days to film and produced an on-screen bloodbath that lasted 5 minutes.

Of course for the purpose of entertainment and story, there are embellishments to what actually happened. But that’s okay since no one really knows what happened anyway and those watch are just looking to be more entertained than informed. I can’t help but think about that famous line from the “Man who shot Liberty Valance” in which the reporter said, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Sturges created an excellent and fun film, and the two leads are great in their roles, working well off each other and providing some compelling characters. If you’re a fan of westerns, you’ll enjoy this film.


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