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Paramount Studios presents
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

"The only thing I'm scared of is dying in bed."
- Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: April 29, 2003

Stars: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland
Other Stars: Dennis Hopper, Whit Bissell, DeForest Kelley, Martin Milner, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam
Director: John Sturges

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 02h:02m:28s
Release Date: April 22, 2003
UPC: 097360621846
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB+A- D-

DVD Review

No single event in the history of the Old West captures the imagination quite like the showdown of the Earp brothers and the Clanton Gang at the OK Corral. Although it was already a familiar piece of Americana, this picture drove the gunfight irrevocably into iconic status, propelled in large part by the charismatic power of the stars.

Lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) is in pursuit of Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger) and his gang when he comes to Griffin, Texas and meets the alcoholic, tubercular dentist Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas), who makes his living playing cards from town to town. Earp has a dislike for the man with a reputation as a killer, but soon grows to admire Holliday's character, not to mention his talents with a gun. Doc has trouble with his woman, Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet), who soon abandons him in favor of Johnny Ringo (John Ireland), a member of the Clanton Gang. Wyatt falls in love with the gambling woman Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming) himself, but when he is summoned by his brother Virgil to Tombstone to deal with the Clantons, who intend to ship out a herd of stolen cattle, he must make a choice twixt love and duty.

The reference to High Noon isn't accidental; the themes of the two films have a great deal in common, thanks to screenwriter Leon Uris (Exodus). Not only is there a decision to be made between a woman and honor through gunplay, but Earp finds his way blocked by the cowardice and selling out of the local law on nearly every side (though the local vigilance committee here is at least active, the Earps must nonetheless face the Clantons on their own). The mirroring is underlined by the musical score by that old cowpoke Dimitri Tiomkin; he repeats his device from High Noon of having a Western singer (this time, Frankie Laine) warble the theme song throughout, with additional lyrics to comment on what's being shown onscreen. The script inserts a number of love interests, with a couple of different triangles to complicate matters; perhaps the most intense one is the one that never really comes to the surface: Doc's own unspoken longing for Laura Denbow. This additional triangle lends a tough-guy resonance to the uneasy friendship between Wyatt and the Doc.

The screen presence of Lancaster and Douglas, especially when together, is simply electric. When they're on the screen, no matter what's happening, they hold the viewer's attention raptly, a useful device in a picture that has fairly languid pacing. The climactic gunfight lasts under ten minutes (still nearly ten times longer than the real-life fight), which means that there's nearly two hours of setting the stage. But that's done masterfully, to the point that when the Earps go marching to the corral for their date with destiny, Tiomkin's score hardly needs to underline the drama; when it does so anyway, the tension is practically unbearable. Sharp-eyed 1960s TV viewers will note DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) and Martin Milner (Adam-12) as two of Wyatt's brothers; among the Clantons we find Dennis Hopper and Jack Elam. Yet-to-be spaghetti western star Lee Van Cleef also has a small role early on as a gunslinger out to kill Doc.

The result is highly entertaining, if faulty, Western history. But as the man said, when faced by history and legend, "Print the legend."

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks very good, with a couple of caveats. The opening titles are in shabby condition, mostly due to the printed-on opticals for the colorful titles themselves. Ringing is frequently visible at high contrast moments, and through the first half there are several spots that are lighter color than the rest of the frame, indicating someone wasn't paying attention at the telecine. There's also a bit of flicker, especially in the sky. But these complaints are fairly minor in light of the VistaVision frame, which captures a multitude of detail. This detail is translated quite nicely in the transfer, which renders textures in a highly realistic manner, with strong color and deep, rich blacks. For the most part, this looks first-rate.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono soundtrack is quite pleasing as well. There is a bit of minor hiss but it's not too obtrusive. Dialogue is rich and full, with a good presence, and the music sounds terrific. The gunfire has a great punch for a mono track, with Wyatt's gun in particular sounding like a cannon at times. It's a first-rate mono soundtrack that packs a heck of a punch.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:02m:52s

Extras Review: Absolutely nothing, not even a trailer. Chaptering is adequate (barely).

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

One of the iconic westerns hits DVD with a nice transfer, but unfortunately devoid of extras.


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