The movie was well received on release by both critics and public and although it received no Academy Award nominations, it has since become regarded as a classic of the genre, having been described as one of the finest Westerns ever made. In 1991 it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The film has a powerful storyline with a nice mixture of action, comedy and romance. It recounts the events in Tombstone, Arizona leading to the gunfight at the OK Corral between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday on the one side and the Clanton family on the other. The film is based on actual events, although the plot deviates greatly from actual historical fact.
The characters are well drawn as real, multi-dimensional people by director John Ford and the cast is first rate, led by Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp, giving a masterclass in high quality understated acting which would be difficult to beat. He is ably backed up by a sensitive performance by Victor Mature as Doc Holliday. Walter Brennan is a revelation in a non-stereotypical role as the evil Old Man Clanton and the rest of the cast, mostly members of Ford's 'stock' company, is excellent.
John Ford directs with his usual sure hand, employing majestic and awe-inspiring black and white cinematography in his favorite location - Monument Valley, Arizona.
As with many Ford movies, the film can be viewed on several levels; first as a rousing adventure story, or it can be seen as a war between the forces of good, represented by the Earps, and evil, as seen in the Clantons. It can also be taken as an illustration of civilisation (personified by Clementine, played by Cathy Downs) gradually taking over from the old lawless, immoral West (in the form of Doc's girlfriend Chihuahua, played by Linda Darnell.) We see this civilising influence also in Marshall Earp himself as he develops from an unkempt cowboy into a mature, civilised upholder of the law. Lastly the town of Tombstone itself also develops through the film from a rough frontier town to a model, God-fearing community, complete with Church and school.
The movie is full of wonderful scenes, crisp dialogue spoken by first class performers. If a sign of a good movie is that it can be seen and indeed needs to be seen, several times to be fully appreciated, then this is a good movie. A very good movie indeed.
Main CastHenry Fonda ... Wyatt Earp
Victor Mature ... Dr. John Henry "Doc" Holliday
Cathy Downs ... Clementine Carter
Linda Darnell ... Chihuahua
Walter Brennan ... Newman Haynes Clanton
Tim Holt ... Virgil Earp
Ward Bond ... Morgan Earp
Don Garner ... James Earp
Grant Withers ... Ike Clanton
John Ireland ... Billy Clanton
Alan Mowbray ... Granville Thorndyke
Roy Roberts ... Mayor
Jane Darwell ... Kate Nelson
J. Farrell MacDonald ... Mac the barman
CreditsDirector ... John Ford
Producer ... Samuel G. Engel
Story ... Sam Hellman
From the book ... Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake
Screenplay ... Samuel G. Engel, Winston Miller Music ... Cyril Mockridge
Cinematography ... Joseph MacDonald
Distribution Company ... Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date ... December 3, 1946
Running time ... 97 minutes