Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hour of the Gun



For the life of me, I don’t know why director John Sturges’ (a magnificent director of westerns) Hour of the Gun (a film that says more happened after the gunfight at the OK Corral) isn’t heralded as a sterling example of how to direct a western about Earp without necessarily all-the-way glorifying him. Oh, he’s considered justified in sense for seething with a desire for vengeance considering his brother, Virgil, is crippled after being shanghaied by Ike Clanton’s hired guns and another brother, Morgan (running for election as County Marshall) is shot-gunned from behind while playing pool (and waiting for election results which, tragically, dictated he had won, when up against one of Clanton’s paid politicians) in a saloon. A local in Tombstone saw the Virgil shooting but Wyatt promised to keep his testimony secret so it isn’t presented in a court of law. So the gunmen involved in two shootings are dispersed, either to kill Earp or to “disappear”. Clanton has his own posse work as deputies while the marshal, Spence is “excused” to leave Tombstone “on a business trip”. 

After watching the whole movie, I believe the film's critics will point to the pacing "issues" (I wasn't bothered by this but I have seen the word "tedious" used, so viewer beware) because there are confrontations with those involved in murders that impacted Earp. An early scene has Ike at the front of a funeral procession thanks to his encouraging the gunfight due to his defiance of Earp and his deputies. Ike loses a brother and takes two from Wyatt, fueling the rest of the film. There's a journey from territory to territory as the big hunt of the killers has Earp and Doc in pursuit, accompanied by handpicked posse of a most unusual sort. I can't imagine, though, that those accustomed with Leone epics can't withstand the pacing of Hour of the Gun. Jerry Goldsmith (I believe you can hear Rambo in this score along with other western dramatic touches following Earp's adventures) lends a memorable score and cinematographer Lucien Ballard's work is especially impressive early on.

Clanton has a joke murder warrant for Wyatt’s arrest which is only issued so that Earp would be killed before trial. So Doc Holliday (played as a cool, honorable-to-a-fault character by Jason Robards; he also serves as a type of “moral compass” for Earp) will form his own posse for Earp, but they’re not exactly the most efficient or textbook examples of “fine law-abiding deputies”. On the run but also provided his own warrants (federal not state) for Clanton’s hired guns that killed his brothers, Earp “attempts” to arrest them, but ultimately each fall to the gun. Before long, Doc starts to serve as a voice against how Earp is handling the on-the-lam criminals, loosely (very) abiding by the law to ascertain them for trial. “County Marshal” Spence was involved in a stagecoach mine payroll robbery and tries to kill Earp, so he winds up another dead body. 

If the criminals are killed, the reward money doesn’t go to those trying to arrest them. So Doc begins to drink and worsens in his aggravation towards Earp. As the film continues, Doc gradually succumbs to failing health and alcoholism. Robards steals the film as Doc. Garner is intense, embittered, brooding, and scowls angrily as Earp. He does imbue Wyatt with a sense of justice (“the law”) and loyalty to those who are “on his side”, but that festering need for revenge subtly surfaces as a matter of convenience, “allowing events to result” which gives him “permission” to kill those who wronged him. But when he kills Warshaw (who watched both brothers die for $50 but didn’t shoot), basically enforcing a shootout he’d know he’d win, Earp’s upholding of the law is called into question by Doc. 

Fueled by booze, partially, and disappointment in a man he respects, Doc calls Wyatt out for his “transgressions”. His advanced Tuberculosis starts showing itself so Doc, when back handed by Earp for chewing him out as a gunfighter using warrants to kill, falls to his knees which lets us know he’ll be a goner soon. Learning that Ike moved off to Mexico (prospering on a ranch with stolen breeds), Sheriff Bryan left to his own (which means he was “finished”), and the posse “paid off” by Tombstone’s politico, Earp (with a tag-along Doc Holliday who figures he’s going to take down Clanton in Mexico) plans to meet with federales and arrest his nemesis. Earp is up for Chief Marshall of Arizona and Tombstone’s lead law officer while Doc knows his days are numbered. Eventually Ike will square off with Earp but this isn’t the kind of Sergio Leone gunfight the film builds up to, so I guess the climax might feel a bit of a let-down.

This, I figure, will be of interest to Garner fans because the typical wide-smiling charmer with a radiating personality is absent. Earp is a mostly introverted, expresses very little, emoting reserved and confined, but that need to set right what Ike did wrong (by killing his brothers who were “following the rules”) pushes him to confront Clanton, with Doc riding alongside of him because of a loyalty, not by his usual standards of money (which says just how he feels about Earp). While the film opens with what a lot of western fans expect when Earp is produced on screen—the gunfight at OK Corral—this adaptation of the legendary lawman and his boozing buddy is more of a build-up to Wyatt and Ike facing each other one last time. Two heated rivals in a run-down Mexican hacienda finally settling a score. Doc has plenty of room here to be a star (as was Kilmer in the Kurt Russell Earp film, Tombstone) and Robards makes damn sure to make the most of it. He’s the voice in the wilderness that Wyatt is a different man than him and should follow the protocols and standing of his badge and law-abiding philosophy. I think this could have easily had been retitled “Wyatt and Doc” because truthfully both are treated with equal screen time. Robards is that good and Garner, normally an actor who does his own scene-stealing, can play Earp straight and dead serious. No matter how sick, though, Doc’s still better than anyone else at poker.
 http://brianscarecrow88.tumblr.com/post/93038826461

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