Cinema Station

Westerns: Another Wyatt Earp | May 26, 2010

We plan a detailed entry about the Western.  Until then, here we have a subject, a legend that has sparked so many renditions it stands at its own sub-genre within the Western: the Wyatt Earp picture.

A character from the early days of cinema to the present, this lawman has been interpreted by the likes of Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.  John Ford told his story, so did other American Primitives like Allan Dwan and the one we highlight today: Jacques Tourneur with the film he directed, Wichita.

This time around, Joel McCrea, one of the great unsung heroes of motion pictures (he worked with everyone from Hawks to Sturges to Hitchcock and settled down his career as a permanent cowboy), plays Wyatt as the reluctant citizen who just wants to start some business, make romances and advances on Vera Miles, and stay out of trouble.  As the townsfolk of the budding Wichita notice, trouble finds him anyway.  He simply cannot stand by when there is no law and order.

This is a quiet picture.  Tourneur does nothing out of the ordinary.  He lets the story play out the way it usually does, highs and lows, action accompanies danger, heroism confronts injustice.  McCrea too does nothing unusual.  By all that I mean that this is a good picture, a solid one, a movie that doesn’t try to remind us how great it is, it just tells us a simple story and lets us go.

-TM

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