Earp agrees to become marshal and establish order in Tombstone in this very romanticized version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral (e.g., Doc is killed by Curley before the actual battle and Earp must do the job alone).
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Early low budget version of the famous Gunfight at OK Corral with Scott as Wyatt Earp and Romero as Doc Holiday. Remade by John Ford as "My Darling Clementine" in 1946 and by John Sturges as "Gunfight at OK Corral" in 1957 Written by
The film has Doc Holliday being shot to death in an ambush by Curly Bill Brocius shortly before the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26. 1881. Holliday actually died of consumption in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, on November 8, 1887. See more »
Randolph Scott, as Wyatt Earp, rides into Tombstone thinking about starting a stagecoach line. But Indian Charlie, drunk, starts shooting up the local saloon. The local marshal (Ward Bond) is afraid to go in and roust Charlie, so Earp dons a badge, goes in and drags him out by the feet. Earp becomes the full-time marshal. He meets Doc Halliday (Caesar Romero), a tubercular physician, gambler, and gunman, and after an initial wary brush, the two become more or less friends. Romero has a local trashy girlfriend (Binnie Barnes) whom Scott has to dump in a water trough. Doc gets liquored up, pulls his gun at the bar, and Earp knocks him out to save his life. An old flame of Doc's (Nancy Kelly) shows up in town, having pursued Doc all across the West, but Doc dumps her unceremoniously because he loathes what he's become. He redeems himself, however, by saving a badly wounded patient, only to be killed by Curly Bill and his gang as he walks out of the saloon door. There follows a shootout at the OK Corral in which Scott makes mincemeat of the bad guys. Binnie Barnes leaves town on the stage, and Kelly stays behind, probably not unaware of the moon eyes Scott has been casting her way.
Sound at all familiar? Seven years later it was remade as John Ford's "My Darling Clementine."
It isn't a bad movie, better than the majority of Westerns being made at the time. Yet one can't help wondering what makes Allan Dwan's "Frontier Marshal" an above-average Western and Ford's "My Darling Clementine" a classic.
Small things first. Dwan's movie is short on creativity in the wardrobe and makeup departments. Like most of the other principals, Scott dresses in an echt-1939 suit, only with a cowboy hat and gunbelt. The women's makeup dates badly, with dos out of the late 1930s and pencilled eyebrows and big lashes. It isn't that "Clementine" is extremely good in those respects -- it's just better.
The photography and location shooting don't reach the bar set by "Clementine" either. The photography isn't bad at all but it hardly fits into a Western frame. Almost the entire movie is shot at night, with no more than a handful of daylight scenes. The location isn't Monument Valley but it is, after all, Movie Flats which has been used expressively before. Here, it's not really present in any utilitarian sense because you can't SEE it at night.
Acting. Caesar Romero is probably as good as Victor Mature was in the later version. Binnie Barnes and Linda Darnell (in the same hooker role) are equally good, although they give us two quite different versions of what a hooker is like. Barnes is older, tougher looking, a bit treacherous. Darnell is younger, more Hispanic, tousle-haired, tempestuous, and childish. Scott is a competent actor, but Fonda is on the other hand outstanding. Throughout "Clementine" Fonda wears an expression that has something of puzzlement in it. When he whacks a guy over the head with the barrel of his pistol, he looks up from the unconscious body as if he's slightly surprised at what has happened and hasn't got a very clear idea of what's going to take place next.
Above all, there is the difference in direction. Dwan was a forthright story teller, a pioneer in the movies, and he does a good job. But Ford goes beyond the story, almost into visual poetry. "Clementine" has not only the family, but two opposing families, which gives the characters added depth and more intense motives. "Clementine" also has the familiar Ford opposition between the wilderness and the garden, which in Dwan's film is given very short shrift indeed. There is nothing in "Frontier Marshal" like the scene in which Fonda escorts Cathy Downs to the half-built church and awkwardly dances with her. What a celebration of community. Dwan's story deals with individuals who have conflicting ideas of how to get ahead. A couple of people know one another but there is little sense of a "town" in Dwan's movie. I won't go on about Ford's touches of roughhouse humor except to mention that they add another element lacking in "Frontier Marshal." There's an intentionality behind these brief incidents. Instance Fonda's dance with his feet against the porch post, or Darnell throwing a pitcher of milk in Ward Bond's face after he whinnies at her.
Still -- allright, so it's not a classic. But "Frontier Marshal" is better than most. And it's worth seeing for its historical value, a kind of lesson about how to make a good movie into a very good movie indeed.
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