BR: Hour of the Gun (1967)

November 7, 2017 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: September 19, 2017

Genre:  Western

Synopsis: The repercussions of the gunfight at the OK Corral between Doc Holliday, Wayatt Earp, and the Clantons in chronicled in this brisk, tough and lean drama.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




In between the sprawling super-productions of The Hallelujah Trail (1965) and Ice Station Zebra (1968), in 1967 John Sturges switched to a smaller intimate project that was ostensibly about the stubborn friendship between two men of differing moral character bonded by an unwavering loyalty.

Hour of the Gun is one of many film and TV examinations of the near mythic events surrounding the killings at the OK Corral and Wyatt Earp’s quest for revenge, but unlike the epic (and beautifully bombastic) Tombstone (1993), the story remains fixed on Sheriff Earp and Doc Holliday, the former dentist turned gambler and gunslinger with a toxic appetite for booze and worsening pulmonary disease.

Lacking the greater backstory given to the characters in Tombstone, Hour’s Main Titles start just as Holliday (Jason Robards), Earp (James Garner) and brothers Morgan (Sam Melville) and Virgil (Frank Converse) walk the streets before halting at the OK Corral where the sons and goons of Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) lie in wait, and after the dust has settled, Clanton’s tasked with burying three sons and Earp’s brother Virgil is grievously wounded.

A fair chunk of Hour involves the court cases in town where blame is argued and blatant lies are told, and after Clanton’s goons murder Earp’s brother Morgan on the eve of winning a local election, Wyatt packs up his family and leaves town, with a plan to return with a posse for the Clanton goons.

Throughout these events Holliday remains close, functioning as a lieutenant but also an alter ego, warning Wyatt to stay close to the law or become a man corroding from the inside out.

There’s plenty of gunfire within Hour, but each scene in Edward Anhalt’s meticulous and lean script adds longer scenes to show the strength of Earp and Holliday’s friendship. The downside is that by reverse-engineering the film’s central character ties, it takes a while to get a sense of these mythic men. Sturges may have wanted the film to start with a bang, giving western fans an opening shootout and follow-up revenge kill before slowing down the narrative and letting scenes play for mannerisms, wry dialogue, and subdued reactions.

Court scenes excepted, Hour’s script is lean on dialogue, and Anhalt’s construction balances plot with quiet character gestures, and not unlike Tombstone, Holliday has exclusive rights to dry, ironic, self-deprecating quips. Robards is in top form as the sickly gambler-gunslinger, and Garner’s reserved performance gives room to a little fire when he tracks down his brother’s killers, and Garner allows rage to bleed from his eyes and clenched jaw.

For its day – and preceding the mayhem in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1968) – Sturges’ film is still pretty brutal. The OK Corral shootout is covered in a handful of shots that actually feel like an elaborate montage because of the intensity of content and invisible cuts by veteran Ferris Webster (The Manchurian Candidate, The Magnificent Seven, The Enforcer). Jerry Goldsmith’s score is monothematic, but the iterations gradually shift to more abstract versions as the hunt for the Clanton gang becomes more far-reaching and vicious. (Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a mono isolated music & effects track.)

Robert Ryan could make a scene compelling just looking at the floor because of his style of internalized acting, using the lines in face and long body to convey character, turmoil, and intensity. Ike Clanton is admittedly an underwritten foe, and the casting of Ryan gives the thin figure depth: direct eye contact indicates a hard line and an expectation for action; looking away signals a quick assessment and change in plan; and a sudden pause and cold eye to a minion meant failure is wholly disallowed, and the consequences would be meted out personally and physically.

Sturges’ production is also packed with a truly extraordinary cast of character actors, some veterans in film, and many better known to TV viewers. Albert Salmi is wonderful as Clanton’s slimy lawyer, Steve Ihnat (The Satan Bug, The Chase) conveys cold-blooded cruelty with his posture and chilly eyes; and Jon Voight is menacing in his few scenes as a Clanton goon. Also in the cast is Monte Markham, Michael Tolan, an excellent William Windom (The Detective, Planes Trains and Automobiles), and Karl Swenson, Richard Bull, and William Schallert, each of whom appeared on TV’s family-friendly Little House on the Prairie!

TT’s Blu is likely to earn a bit of criticism akin to their Comes a Horseman (1978) disc, as MGM seems to have similarly supplied a source transfer that’s crisp but lacks any restoration to address marks, speckles, a scratch that appears over a few brief shots, and 2-3 shots where white levels on bright surfaces run hot. Presumably MGM did a series of straightforward HD transfers a few years ago, just to get the movies on theor HD channel, but with no restoration, and there are occasional fine lateral lines indicative of a videotape master in less than ideal shape. The film’s availability on Blu shouldn’t be negated – it’s still a crisp transfer with balanced colours – but there are issues that MGM should’ve addressed in what is a modest but important work in Sturges’ filmography.

Sturges would direct two more westerns, the Clint Eastwood oddity Joe Kidd (1972) and Chino (1973) with Charles Bronson, and end his career with the goofy McQ (1974) and The Eagle Has Landed (1976). Edward Anhalt’s filmography is packed with a mass of classics, including Panic in the Streets (1950), The Young Lions (1958), Becket (1964), and The Boston Strangler (1968).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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