Marshal Wyatt Earp kills a couple of men of the Clanton-gang in a fight. In revenge Clanton's thugs kill the marshal's brother. Thus, Wyatt Earp starts to chase the killers together with his friend Doc Holliday.
James Garner ... Wyatt Earp (Tombstone city marshal / U.S. marshal)
Jason Robards ... Doc Holliday
Robert Ryan ... Ike Clanton
Albert Salmi ... Octavius Roy (prosecuting attorney)
Charles Aidman ... Horace Sullivan (defense attorney)
Steve Ihnat ... Andy Warshaw (Clanton man)
Michael Tolan ... Pete Spence (new Tombstone city marshal)
William Windom ... Texas Jack Vermillion
Lonny Chapman ... Turkey Creek Johnson
Larry Gates ... John P. Clum
William Schallert ... Judge Herman Spicer
Bill Fletcher ... County Sheriff Jimmy Bryan
Karl Swenson ... Dr. Charles Goodfellow
Austin Willis ... Anson Safford
Monte Markham ... Tucson Sheriff Sherman McMasters
Hour of the Gun is a superb western with a top-notch cast and a most memorable musical score. So why was it a box-office flop? Unfortunately it came along at a time when westerns were on their way out, no longer fashionable. The hour of the "ridiculous gun" had arrived. Westerns were soon replaced with parodies of westerns such as Support Your Local Sheriff, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, etc. Fun movies to be sure, but the cynicism which had begun to take hold in America in 1967 and made them hits was a death knell for serious films about the old west. For me, Hour of the Gun has stood the test of time. It's as absorbing now as when I first saw it. If it were re-released today, would it succeed at the box office? Probably not. Although the cynicism of 1967 is gone, it has been replaced by male-bashing. This film is strictly for guys. There's no female lead character or even a minor one. No wonder Hour of the Gun is still consigned to the rotten tomatoes bin. Although it's a darn good movie, its "hour" may never come, at least not in our lifetime.
The story of the showdown between the brothers Earp and the Clanton gang is certainly as much a part of American mythology as the Puritans on the first Thanksgiving or Lincoln at Gettysburg. Hollywood certainly loves to tell the tale over and over again. In fact this is director John Sturges's second telling.
The Gunfight at the OK Corral done in 1956 by this director had as the climax the famous gunfight. Here in Hour of the Gun, Sturges starts his story with the gunfight and the results afterwards.
Ike Clanton played by Robert Ryan in his usual grim fashion is not about to let Wyatt Earp triumph after killing some of his gang and his kin. He sets in motion a series of events that bring tragedy on the Earp family and a sinister turn in the character of Wyatt Earp.
The usual lackadaisical and quizzical James Garner is also pretty grim in this picture. He's throwing away the law he's sworn to uphold and the set of moral rules he lives by. And it's tearing away his character which is something Doc Holiday is deeply concerned with.
James Garner ranks right up there with all the fine actors like Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Randolph Scott, Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell who have played Earp. James Garner never turned a bad performance in on the screen and he even got to play Wyatt Earp again in Sunset for Blake Edwards.
And Jason Robards, Jr. goes every step of the way with Garner as Doc Holiday. Holiday is the usual cynical alcoholic who's a jaded idealist and recognizes Earp as the real deal hero. His concern for Earp's character disintegration registers well in his performance.
Watch for a young Jon Voight, pre-Midnight Cowboy, as Curly Bill Brocius, a Clanton gang member.
This is a real western classic. And accept for Hugh O'Brian's television series, the most accurate portrayal of the OK Corral events.
Although often criticized for its considerable historical inaccuracies, director John Sturges' 1957 film GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL has gone down in history as one of the western film genre's finest efforts. But stung by those criticisms, Sturges chose to revisit the story and go beyond the gunfight itself ten years later in 1967's HOUR OF THE GUN.
Whereas GUNFIGHT made the gunfight the climax of the film, and the later 1993 film TOBSTONE placed it in the center, HOUR OF THE GUN actually begins with Wyatt Earp (James Garner) and his brothers and the TB-ridden Doc Holliday (Jason Robards) confronting the Clantons and McLowerys at the corral. It also goes into the trial that got the Earps and Holliday off of murder charges. And it also goes into how the thirst for revenge that salivates in Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) turned Garner's Wyatt Earp from a stoic lawman to almost a mirror image of Clanton, just with a badge. Robards' Holliday can't stand to see his friend disintegrate, but he doesn't want to leave his side, despite his penchant for booze which is exacerbating his tuberculosis.
As has often been pointed out in films based on historical events, including Wyatt Earp's Arizona period, HOUR OF THE GUN does not totally stick with the facts. Ike Clanton's role in the Cowboys gang has been embellished in this film (in truth, Ike wasn't all that swift upstairs); also, Wyatt and Doc didn't track Clanton down to Mexico and kill him (Ike would be killed in a robbery some years later, and not at Wyatt's hand). It must also be said, too, that, instead of having filmed HOUR in the same southern Arizona locations as GUNFIGHT, Sturges filmed it on locations in northern Mexico; and even the most discerning film-goer who has been to either place will spot the differences.
Still, despite these flaws, and the fact that Robards was already too old to be playing the 36 year-old Holliday, HOUR OF THE GUN is a fairly substantial western, more hard-edged and cynical than its illustrious predecessor. Garner, perhaps serving as the bridge between Burt Lancaster's portrayal in GUNFIGHT and Kurt Russell's in TOMBSTONE, is at his very best as the increasingly disillusioned Wyatt; and Robards does a good enough turn as the good Doctor. Ryan's portrayal of Ike Clanton is one of very low-key, business-like villainy, perfectly suited to this constantly underrated actor's talents. Jon Voight is also on hand in his debut film, portraying Curly Bill Brocious.
Helped out by Lucien Ballard's first-rate cinematography and a flavorful Jerry Goldsmith score, HOUR OF THE GUN is an underrated sagebrush saga that deserves to be seen, especially as it came in the years between the wide-eyed optimism of the John Ford films and the more cynical westerns that were to follow in the wake of Leone and Peckinpah.
* Prior to production, United Artists had made it quite clear to director John Sturges that none of the primary roles were to be filled by the actors who played the same characters in Sturges' previous Wyatt Earp film, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Wanting to distinguish this film from the previous one, they demanded different actors be cast in the roles. However, Sturges believed that the roles of Virgil and Morgan Earp from the previous film were small enough that the same actors who played them could do it again without harming the film's uniqueness. The studio agreed and allowed Sturges to cast John Hudson (Virgil Earp) and DeForest Kelley (Morgan Earp). Unfortunately, Hudson had retired from acting in the early '60s and was unwilling to do the role. Kelley, on the other hand, was currently working on the TV series "Star Trek" (1966) and was unable to break away to play Morgan Earp. Thus, both Earp brothers were recast.