Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957): Lavish Western Starring Lancaster

Released on May 30, 1957, the star-driven Western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was one of the top 10 hits of the year, grossing $4.7 million at the box-office.

Of the many versions of the October 26, 1881, O.K. Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona, this is the most impressive one.

Burt Lancaster plays Wyatt Earp, the renowned lawman, while Kirk Douglas is the gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday.  The two meet when Earp discovers that Holiday is being held on a murder charge and set up for a lynching.

After saving him, the action shifts to Dodge City, Kansas, where Earp is marshal and Holiday on his side.  Later, in Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt’s brother Virgil is city marshal, and Wyatt confronts the Clanton-McLowery outlaw gang

The film concerns the tensions through the many months leading up to the famous battle, which lasted less than 2 minutes.

Scripted by novelist Leon Uris, from a magazine story by George Scullin, the story involves two parallel plot-lines: The vendetta against Holliday and the efforts of Earp to bring the Clanton-McLowery gang to justice . Woven into the proceedings are Earp’s and Holliday’s romantic dalliances with lady gambler Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming) and Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet), whose switch in affections from Holiday to outlaw Johnny Ringo (John Ireland) helps bring the bloody climax.

Director John Sturges takes some dramatic license with this confrontation, stretching the battle to 6 minutes.

The cast includes Earl Holliman as Charles Bassett, Dennis Hopper as Billy Clanton, Kenneth Tobey as Bat Masterson, Lee Van Cleef as Ed Bailey, Jack Elam as Tom McLowery, and John Hudson, DeForest Kelley and Martin Milner as Virgil, Morgan, and James Earp, respectively.

Sturges would produce and direct a more factual account of the story a decade later, entitled Hour of the Gun, starring James Garner, Jason Robards, Jr., and Robert Ryan.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s melodic score and a song sung by Frankie Laine provide the transitions of scenes.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Sound Recording: George Dutton

Film Editing: Warren Low


Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

Sayonara won the Sound Oscar and The Bridge on the River Kwai the Editing.