Hour of the Gun (1967) is a forgotten Western from John Sturges, the director of The Great Escape and Bad Day At Black Rock. He had a unique sense of action, preferring immediate violence, as opposed to Sam Peckinpah, who enjoyed using slow motion as a storytelling tool. Sturges wasn’t like that, though, letting his action come as sudden jabs at the viewer. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the opening of Hour of the Gun, in which he again recreates the gunfight at the O.K. Corrall.
Unlike other films about Wyatt Earp (James Garner) and Doc Holliday (Jason Robards), the film starts with the famous gunfight. The screenplay, by Edwards Anhalt, instead focuses on what happened after (a point played to the hilt in the trailer), as Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan) does his best to convince authorities to go after Earp and his brothers. But his problem is that Earp is a member of the law technically, so he sends his own men (including corrupt officials) to kill Earp and his brothers.
Obviously, Wyatt’s brothers (the “redshirts” of the movie, if you will) are killed early on, setting up Wyatt’s violent journey to pick off Ike’s men. Doc stays around, despite his declining health – partly out of curiosity and partly because he knows he’s Wyatt’s conscience, the only person who can stop Wyatt from going on a murderous rampage.
The film’s strong suit is Jason Robards’ presence. Oddly, James Garner takes a very soft-spoken and quiet approach to Wyatt (partly thanks to the screenplay, which honestly makes him a one-note guy – get out of my way or I’ll kill you), but it’s a very different role for Garner. Around this time, he was still doing big-screen Westerns, many of which played on his charm. There’s no charm in Sturges’ leading men though. And all that makes Robards’ performance as Doc the greater. He truly steals this movie. Robert Ryan is deliciously vile in his scenes, but he’s sadly only in a few.
There’s also a wonderful Jerry Goldsmith score that deserves a shout out.
Hour of the Gun certainly deserves a Blu-ray release. I guess it will come from Kino eventually… should have come before Duel at Diablo.
The Mirisch Corporation presents Hour of the Gun
Starring James Garner, Jason Robards, Robert Ryan
Written by Edwards Ahnhalt
Produced and Directed by John Sturges
101 minutes, 2.35:1