We’ve been accused of not sufficiently writing about westerns, favoring instead film noirs, musicals and more glossy movies from Hollywood’s classic period.
There’s a quotient of truth in that observation, and today we thought we’d make modest amends by c0mparing a star-loaded Hollywood studio outing with a lesser-known (but now revered) spaghetti western import.
Which, we ask, was better?
Director John Sturges‘ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral tells the tale of the unlikely alliance of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in combating a nest of bad guys in a brief but deadly shootout in Tombstone, Az. in 1881. The movie is based on the actual incident, and is certainly compelling material for an action western.
Paramount Pictures spared little expense in the production of this over-two-hour, wide screen “oater” filmed on location in Arizona, and chocked full of big names. Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster play the two principals — Lancaster as upright sheriff Wyatt Earp and Douglas as the liquor-loaded cynic Doc Holliday.
The Hal Wallis production’s large and diverse cast includes some semi-heavyweights including Rhonda Fleming (snappy as always), Jo Van Fleet and John Ireland, especially good as chief bad guy, Johnny Ringo. Even the late Dennis Hopper gets a few solid scenes.
The picture has the look and feel of a “prestige” studio release. Douglas and Lancaster more or less play their big screen images. Douglas is the consumptive miscreant with a heart of gold. Lancaster is somber and humorless as the righteous sheriff. The plot moves along at a decent, logical pace, no surprises nor changes of pace.
Compare Corral to Italian director Sergio Leone’s wild and wooly western epic, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, which hit theaters about nine years after the John Sturges outing.
As even the above one-sheet suggests, this is NOT an ego exercise for overpaid stars. At the time of its making, largely in Southern Spain and Cinecitta Studios in Rome, Clint Eastwood was a tv castoff, Lee Van Cleef (who also appeared in Gunfight) a Hollywood journeyman miles from stardom and Eli Wallach a solid character actor with strong stage credits behind him.
Nonetheless, Leone wrung superb, unforgettable performances from each actor, although a strong case has been made that Wallach as the Mexican bandit, Tucco, stole the picture. The supporting cast, of largely unknown Italian supporting players, acquits itself credibly. The characters in this movie are so convincingly nasty that they probably would never pass front office muster in a big-budget studio western.
Another vitally important point: the score for Gunfight was by revered Hollywood film composer, Dimitri Tiomkin, garnished by an opening credits vocal by singer Frankie Laine. Compare this to Ennio Morricone’s incomparable score for Leone which set a new high standard for film music.
Which movie is better? Need you ask? Take another look at The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and enjoy.