Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster

'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' is a Western adventure movie, one of the major movies of 1957, directed by John Sturges and with an all star cast headed by Burt Lancaster as the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday, backed by a solid cast of great character actors. The screenplay was written by Leon Uris, author of 'Exodus', from a story by George Scullin.

The film was a substantial hit at the box office and was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound, Recording. It influenced the future policy of the big studios to make big-budget adult Westerns with known actors.

The movie depicts a real event, the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, which took place between Wyatt Earp and the Clanton gang in October, 1881. It was not the first film version of the famous battle but Sturges's film is a little more accurate than John Ford's 'My Darling Clementine' in 1946. Ford, for example, has Earp's associate Doc Holliday killed in the battle; in fact he survived six more years. Sturges made a more realistically down-beat treatment of the Wyatt Earp story in a 1967 sequel, 'Hour of the Gun', with James Garner as Wyatt Earp and Jason Robards as Holliday, in which the incident at the OK Corral is just the start.

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The movie shows the developing relationship between Marshal Wyatt Earp, played by Burt Lancaster, and the alcoholic gunman Doc Holliday, played by Kirk Douglas. Earp's loving relationship with Laura, played by Rhonda Fleming, is put under threat when he travels, with Doc, to Tombstone to support his brothers against rancher Ike Clanton and his law breaking gang of cowboys. They have many run-ins with the Clantons, which lead to the climatic and famous shoot-out.


'Gunfight at the OK Corral' is a slick, big budget production, technically excellent, and it benefits from a fine cast. Filming took place between 12 March and 17 May, 1956 and much of the movie was shot at the famous "Old Tucson" facility, not far from the real Tombstone. Later street scenes were shot in southern California, on the Paramount Ranch north-west of Los Angeles.

In 1954 producer Hal Wallis purchased the film rights to George Scullin's article "The Killer," which dealt with the relationship between the legendary Western figures Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. He originally wanted Humphrey Bogart to partner Burt Lancaster, with Barbara Stanwyck in the Kate Fisher role.

In his 1988 autobiography, Kirk Douglas wrote that he carefully planned exactly how many coughs he would have to make his scenes easier to edit.

The melodious score, by Dimitri Tiomkin, who also did the music for other town-taming Westerns such as 'High Noon' and 'Rio Bravo', made a considerable contribution, and Frankie Laine's theme song was a big hit and is impossible to forget.

Main Cast

Burt Lancaster ... Marshal Wyatt Earp
Kirk Douglas ... Doc Holliday
Rhonda Fleming ... Laura Denbow
Jo Van Fleet ... Kate Fisher
John Ireland ... Johnny Ringo
Lyle Bettger ... Ike Clanton
Frank Faylen ... Cotton Wilson
Earl Holliman ... Deputy Sheriff Charlie Bassett
Ted de Corsia ... Shanghai Pierce
Dennis Hopper ... Billy Clanton
Whit Bissell ... John P. Clum (editor, 'Tombstone Epitaph' / Head of Citizens Council)
George Mathews ... John Shanssey (Saloon owner)
John Hudson ... Virgil Earp
DeForest Kelley ... Morgan Earp
Martin Milner ... James 'Jimmy' Earp
Lee Van Cleef ... Ed Bailey

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas made numerous films together, including I Walk Alone (1948), The Devil's Disciple (1959), Seven Days in May (1964), and Tough Guys (1986) and formed a strong partnership. Lancaster's upstanding Wyatt Earp is balanced perfectly by Douglas's more flawed and aggressive Holliday, although either could have performed the other's role perfectly well.

Burt Lancaster(1913-1994) Lancaster was one of Hollywood's leading stars for over thirty years, known for his powerful screen presence. He was nominated four times for Academy Awards and won one Best Actor Oscar for his performance in 'Elmer Gantry' in 1960.

Kirk Douglas (b.1916) Kirk Douglas is another iconic Hollywood heavyweight. Hiscaree r started in 1946 and he has become well known for his tough guy roles as cowboys and gangsters in over 80 films. He has received three Best Actor Oscar nominations and he also was awarded a special Oscar in 1996 for "50 years as a moral and creative force in the motion picture community". He is the father of Hollywood actor Michael Douglas.

Rhonda Fleming (b.1923). She appeared in over forty movies and was one of the most beautiful actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age, becoming known as the "Queen of Technicolor" because of her fair complexion and flaming red hair. She has little to do in the movie except look beautiful as the lady gambler with whom Earp falls in love. And that was enough.

Jo Van Fleet (1914-1996) After a successful stage career Jo won an Oscar for her first film role, in 'East of Eden' in 1955. She went to create a range of dominant, proud women on both stage and screen.

John Ireland (1914-1992) Canadian born John Ireland started his movie career in 1945 and was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in 'All the Kings Men' in 1949. He excelled at playing brooding bad guys like Johnny Ringo. He appeared in more than 200 movies in a long career.


Director ... John Sturges
Producer ... Hal B. Wallis
Writer ... Leon Uris
Cinematography ... Charles B. Lang Jr.in VistaVision and Technicolor
Music ... Dimitri Tiomkin
Release date ... 29 May 1957
Running Time ... 122 mins
Distribution Company ... Paramount Pictures Corp.

Academy Awards

No Wins:
2 Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Film Editing ... Warren Low
Best Sound, Recording ... George Dutton (Paramount SSD)