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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (film)

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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral/Last Train from Gun Hill 1963 film poster
Directed byJohn Sturges
Screenplay byLeon Uris
Based onThe Killer
1954 article Holiday Magazine
by George Scullin[1]
Produced byHal B. Wallis
CinematographyCharles B. Lang Jr.
Edited byWarren Low
Music byDimitri Tiomkin; lyrics by Ned Washington main title: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral sung by Frankie Laine
Color processTechnicolor
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • May 29, 1957 (1957-05-29) (New York)[2]
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[3]
Box office$10.7 million[3]

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a 1957 American Western film starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday, and loosely based on the actual event in 1881. The film was directed by John Sturges from a screenplay written by novelist Leon Uris. It was a remake of the 1939 film Frontier Marshall starring Randolph Scott and of John Ford's 1946 film My Darling Clementine.


In Fort Griffin, Texas, Ed Bailey (Lee Van Cleef) comes looking to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of gunslinger John H. "Doc" Holliday. Seeing him in a bar, Holliday's girl, Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet), returns to Holliday's room, where the two argue while Holliday throws knives at the door - near her once she brings up Holliday's once-prominent family. Well-known marshal Wyatt Earp arrives in Fort Griffin thinking he will take outlaws Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger) and Johnny Ringo (John Ireland) into custody, but instead finds out that the local sheriff, Cotton Wilson (Frank Faylen), released them despite the outstanding warrants for their arrest. Holliday refuses to help the lawman, holding a grudge against Wyatt's brother, Morgan (DeForest Kelley). Holliday kills Bailey with a knife-throw when Bailey attempts to shoot him in the back. Holliday is arrested for murder, though Wyatt and Kate allow him to escape from a lynch mob.

In Dodge City, Kansas, Wyatt finds out that Holliday and Kate are in town. Holliday tells him he has no money, so Wyatt allows him to stay if he promises to not fight while he is in town. Meanwhile, gambler Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming) is arrested for playing cards since women are not allowed to gamble. She is released and allowed to play in the side rooms of the saloon. Wyatt is forced to deputize Holliday because a bank robber kills a cashier and Wyatt's other deputies are out in a posse catching another outlaw. The bank robbers attempt to ambush Wyatt outside of town, but they are instead killed by Wyatt and Holliday.

Back in Dodge City, Holliday learns Kate has left him for Ringo, who taunts Holliday to a shootout and throws liquor on him. Holliday steadfastly refuses to fight him. Shanghai Pierce and his henchmen ride into town, wound deputy Charlie Bassett (Earl Holliman) and attack a dancehall, but Wyatt and Holliday hold the men and defuse the situation. As Ringo attempts to intervene, Holliday shoots him in the arm. Holliday returns to his room and Kate is waiting for him, but he refuses to take her back. Kate swears she will see him dead. By now, Wyatt and Laura have fallen in love, but when he receives a letter from his brother Virgil (John Hudson), asking him to help clean up Tombstone, Arizona, she refuses to go with him unless he changes into the man she wants him to be. Holliday catches up to Wyatt on the trail and both head to Tombstone.

In Tombstone, Wyatt finds out that Ike Clanton is trying to herd thousands of head of rustled Mexican cattle but cannot as long as the Earps control Tombstone's railway station. Morgan Earp criticizes his brother's association with Holliday, but Wyatt insists the gunslinger is welcome in Tombstone as long as he stays out of trouble. Cotton offers Wyatt a $20,000 bribe if he allows the stolen cattle to be shipped, but Wyatt refuses. He rides out to the Clanton ranch, returning Billy Clanton (Dennis Hopper) to his mother after finding Billy drunk. Wyatt informs Ike that he has been made a U.S. Marshal and has legal authority in every county in the United States. Finding no recourse, the Clantons decide to ambush Wyatt as he makes his nightly rounds but kill his younger brother James Earp (Martin Milner) by mistake.

The next morning, Ike and five of his henchmen go to Tombstone to face off against the Earps at the O.K. Corral. Holliday, who is sick from tuberculosis, joins them. Though Virgil and Morgan are wounded in the gunfight, all six in Clanton's gang are killed, including Billy, who is given a chance to surrender, but refuses. After the fight is over, Wyatt joins Holliday for a final drink before heading off to California to meet Laura, as promised.




The screenplay by Leon Uris is based on a 1954 article entitled The Killer in Holiday Magazine by George Scullin.[4] The film’s plot contains numerous historical inaccuracies and takes liberties with actual events at the real gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

A decade later, director John Sturges made a more historically accurate version named Hour of the Gun, starring James Garner as Wyatt Earp, Jason Robards as Doc Holliday and Robert Ryan as Ike Clanton. This film begins with a more accurate version of the O.K. Corral gun battle, then covers its aftermath.


Sturges made portions of the movie on the set of Paramount Ranch.[5][6]

Historical accuracy[edit]

On 26 October 1881 the real gunfight did not take place in an open space like the corral, but in a very strict adjacent little street and lasted less than 30 seconds while in the film it lasted about 11 minutes. This is only the first of the historical inaccuracies present in the film:

  • Virgil Earp was a marshal when he arrived at Tombstone while Wyatt at the time had little, if any, legal authority in the jurisdiction of Tombstone.
  • Wyatt arrived at Tombstone with a lover, that he then sent away to make her be with her family so that they can keep her far from opiates.
  • Johnny Ringo was not present during the gunfight. Afterwards he committed suicide.
  • Ike Clanton accused the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday of homicide. The Cochise County Cowboys asserted that the Earps had killed their cronies in cold blood while these ones had surrendered. The judge Wells Spicer decreed that the lawmen had acted correctly according to their own authority.
  • Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded during the gunfight while Holliday was only grazed. Wyatt remained unharmed.
  • It was the youngest brother of Wyatt, Morgan, not James who was the victim of an ambush by getting killed at Tombstone. This happened after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, not before. Even Virgil Earp was involved in a trap at Tombstone following the gunfight, but he was wounded only on the arm, losing the use of the limb.
  • James Earp was the oldest of the Earp brothers and he was never a lawman.
  • Ike Clanton was never the leader of the Cowboys. "Old Man" Clanton controlled the gang until he was killed in 1881 and the leadership of the band passed to Curly Bill Brocis and Johnny Ringo.
  • The film introduces a romantic story that involves Wyatt Earp and a beautiful female gambler, a fictional character (based on Lottie Deno) who had no role in the gunfight and has none in the film.
  • Charlie Bassett was the leader of Wyatt at Dodge City. Charlie Bassett was older than Wyatt Earp, in the film instead Bassett is younger than Wyatt.
  • Doc Holliday did not directly follow Wyatt at Tombstone. He arrived in town only some time after Wyatt had settled in.
  • Doc Holliday saved the life of Wyatt Earp not the other way round.
  • The real name of the sheriff was John Behan not Cotton Wilson. The sheriff was not killed the day of the gunfight and the band of Clanton did not shoot at anyone in town before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.


Box office[edit]

The film was a big hit and earned $4.7 million on its first run and $6 million on re-release.[3]

Critical response[edit]

Reviews in 1957 were generally positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the film as "firmly directed" and "ruggedly acted," though he lamented "odd, embarrassing moments when Cupid lets fly with his arrows," and thought that the inclusion of a ballad was too derivative of High Noon.[7] Variety called Lancaster and Douglas "excellently cast" and added, "in its development and exciting climax John Sturges has captured the stirring spirit of the period in his sock direction."[8] Harrison's Reports agreed that the two leads were "excellent in their respective roles" and found the action "tense and suspenseful throughout, culminating in a highly exciting and thrilling gun battle."[9] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post deemed the film "just what its title suggests — blood-thirsty, empty-headed and good fun of its sort."[10] The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "carefully and lavishly mounted, but it is ultimately overlong and overwrought. Leon Uris's script dulls the final scene of action by the introduction of too many minor climaxes, which never blend."[11]

Its Dimitri Tiomkin score, featuring the song "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral", with lyrics by Ned Washington, sung by Frankie Laine, pushes the movie's momentum relentlessly throughout.[12]

Members of the Western Writers of America chose the song "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[13]


The film was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Film Editing (Warren Low) and Best Sound Recording (George Dutton).[14] Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were nominated for Golden Laurel in the category of top male action star.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) - Notes - TCM.com". Archived from the original on January 10, 2019.
  2. ^ "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral -Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Glenn Lovell, Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008 p151-153
  4. ^ "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". www.tcm.com.
  5. ^ Hughes, Howard (October 24, 2007). Stagecoach to Tombstone: The Filmgoers' Guide to the Great Westerns. I.B.Tauris. p. 145. ISBN 9780857730466.
  6. ^ Maddrey, Joseph (June 6, 2016). "Filming Locations". The Quick, the Dead and the Revived: The Many Lives of the Western Film. McFarland & Company. p. 170. ISBN 9781476665511.
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley (May 30, 1957). "Screen: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". The New York Times: 33.
  8. ^ "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". Variety: 22. May 15, 1957.
  9. ^ "'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Rhonda Fleming". Harrison's Reports: 78. May 18, 1957.
  10. ^ Coe, Richard L. (May 30, 1957). "Earp Takes A Back Seat". The Washington Post. p. B10.
  11. ^ "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 24 (282): 83. July 1957.
  12. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". AllMovie. All Media Network. Retrieved January 12, 2015.
  13. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on October 19, 2010.
  14. ^ "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. December 31, 1956. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  15. ^ Hoffmann, Henryk (October 9, 2012). Western Movie References in American Literature. McFarland Publishing. p. 73. ISBN 9780786493241.

External links[edit]