WYATT EARP (1994)

Filmic Context:  Print -- Video

Print Resources

Altman, Rick.  Film/Genre.  London: BFI Publishing, 1999.

In chapter two, Altman expresses the importance of film as an extension of genre literary study, thus imposing Aristotle’s poetics to film.  Altman concludes that “Genres are defined by the film industry and recognized by the mass audience. Genres have clear, stable identities and borders” (16-17).  He classifies the Western as a Historical genre of film: “The Western respects and recalls history of the Western more than it does the history of the West” (25).   “As if each genre were itself a complete and closed universe, discussion among film genre fans regularly evoke other genre films rather than the real world” (26).  Altman spends chapter three explaining the roots of genres, the Western being the second, following the musical: “‘Western’ quickly became the name for a loosely defined film genre capitalizing on public interest in the American West” ( 34).  This book is organized to helpful a reader seek out exactly why and how films have evolved in America, and how each film can be classified into its own genre.

Bogdanovich, Peter.  John Ford.  London: Studio Vista Limited, 1967.
Davis, Ronald L.  John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master.  Norman: U of Oklahoma P,
    1995.
Gallagher, Tag.  John Ford: The Man And His Films.  Berkeley: U of California P, 1986.
Sarris, Andrew.  The John Ford Movie Mystery.  London: Secker & Warburg Limited,
    1976.
Sinclair, Andrew.  John Ford.  New York: The Dial Press/James Wade, 1979.
Stowell, Peter.  John Ford.   Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

“JOHN FORD, apart from being one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, was one of America’s great chroniclers and mythmakers.  His position is unique, for not only are his films landmarks in the history of cinema, but they are also cultural artifacts that express America’s deepest concerns, problems, and ideals” (Stowell xi).  John Ford is remembered for his overwhelming power to illustrate the West.  Ford’s My Darling Clementine, the story of Wyatt Earp, is considered one of his best.  Use these six books to discover the power of a director that influences an audience.  Discover the things John Ford does with the camera that revolutionized the Western genre. The public seizes My Darling Clementine as the all-time classic Wyatt Earp film ever made, even though it is heavily fabricated.  John Ford knew how to entertain, glorify, awe, amaze, and rapture an audience.  Most of all, John Fork knew the West and the America that was connected to it.

Etulain, Richard W.  Myths and the American West.  Kansas: Sunflower UP, 1998.

“The essays that follow illustrate the varied approaches scholars and students have employed in studying myths associated with the American West.  Some essayists deal with major Old West figures like Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and Doc Holliday.  Others challenge earlier masculine, Anglo Saxon emphases by examining new, larger roles in the West for women, ethnic groups, and environmental concerns.  Still others add to our understanding of the West by taking fresh looks at cowboys, Mormons, and Rough Riders.  Taken together, these essays provide additional understanding of the complex roles myths play in defining the American West” (9).  The essay, "When the Dealing’s Done: John H. (Doc) Holliday and the Evolution of a Western Myth," by Shirley Ayn Linder focuses on Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp’s best friend in all the films made on Earp.

Faragher, John Mack.  "The Tale of Wyatt Earp: Seven Films."  Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies.  Ed. Marc H. Carnes. New York: Holt, 1995. 154-61.

Carnes uncovers some of the myths and stories behind film history created by Hollywood.  Faragher discusses seven films on Wyatt Earp: My Darling Clementine, Frontier Marshal, Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, Hour Of The Gun, Doc, Tombstone, and Wyatt Earp.  In addition, an eighth film, Law and Order is mentioned as one of the archetype films that assumed Wyatt Earp’s life but not his real name.  I feel this article accomplishes what it takes Terfertiller and Marks 400 hundred pages to summarize: the political, social, and economic events that occur in 1881 Tombstone.  Obviously, there is not as much collected data, but important sources are cited.  Faragher connects the importance of the year each film was made with the current history of the time.  He also gives a brief analysis of each film.  Faragher states, “Wyatt Earp is truer to the messy historical facts than any previous Earp film, but it’s lifeless.  Loading us down with facts, it presents very little of what Earp’s life might have meant and finally has nothing important to say” (160). “The trick for future westerns," Faragher predicts, "will be to tell truer tales that inspire audiences with their breadth of vision about the meaning of Ameican past. To paraphrase John Ford, when the facts outgrow legend, revise the legend” (161).

French, Philip.  Westerns:  Aspects of a Movie Genre.  London: Secker and Warbury, 1973.

French deals entirely with the Western Genre vs. Altman who explains why individual genres exist.  French deals with five aspects of the Western: Politics; Heroes and Villains, Women and Children; Indians and Blacks; Landscape, Violence and Poker; The Post-Western.   French is very detailed in all five subjects and is able to link them all with the psychology of a Western.  French quotes Arthur Schlesinger, among others, introducing the book: “The Western remains, I suppose, America’s distinctive contribution to the films” (7).  French then states, “My concern here is entirely with American theatrical Westerns, mostly those made since 1950. . . . I think the best Western ever made is the 1939 version of Stagecoach; that my favorite directors in the genre are John Ford and Anthony Mann” (9-11).   After the fifties, French labels Western genre as Kennedy Western and as Goldwater Western, the pair of freshman senators in 1953 were respectively the spokesmen for and against the New Frontier.  The Kennedy Western contained elegant rhetoric underlying the absurd sense of life, such as High Noon in 1952,  while the Goldwater Western remained nostalgic and with an ultimately unforgiving moral tone, such Rio Bravo in 1959.  French argues, “As winner or loser, as a mythic gunfighter . . . whether battling forces of existential evil or keeping the peace in the face of misunderstood delinquents, the Western Hero nevertheless meets certain needs that other kinds of films and aspects of our culture fail to recognize or to satisfy in the same way” (53).  He compares the famous actors John Wayne and Henry Fonda on the screen to evoke a familiar face and represent the sense of ritual the Western creates: Wayne less complex, Fonda much interior conflict.  “The history of the American West has been the story of the accelerating intrusion of civilization into virgin territory” (135).   The loner in a vast beautiful Virgin landscape dominates the Western genre.

Garfield, Brian.  Western Films: A Complete Guide. New York: Rawson Associates, 1982.

“This guide to Western movies tries to provide in one volume a critical encyclopedia of all 'A' Western features shown in the United States since the advent of talkies.  The guide lists films alphabetically from Ablilene Town to Zandy’s Bride; each listing provides credits, information and commentary.  The scope of coverage is not limited strictly to traditional horse opera.  There is no adequate definition of the term 'Western'—the guidelines for inclusion in a book like this one must be arbitrary…Additionally, and perhaps more tenuously, the guide lists certain films that are set in the West flavored by Western trappings but are not Westerns in the usual sense: The Misfits and The Grapes of Wrath are included, for example, a note in the commentaries explains why” (Preface).  This volume contains more than 2,000 films and by no means have I been able to read it in its entirety nor is it meant to be.  The book acts as an index to find immediate information on individual Western films, and it contains every Earp movie made up to the publishing date.  The reviews of each film are short concise detailed responses.

Hitt, Jim.  The American West from Fiction (1823-1976) into Film (1909-1986).  Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1990.

In the preface, Hitt confesses his work is different.  “It is a survey that attempts to cover the entire genre of western fiction that has been adapted for the American screen.  The novels and short stories discussed herein were all written as fiction before reaching the screen.  Novels written to capitalize on the success of movies—novelizations of films—are not included, although this practice is certainly not new. . . . I have consulted critical writings that pertain to both literature and films, and in a few cases the films were not available for viewing” (vii).  Hitt has developed his organization in three parts: Red Man, White Man; Six-Gun Heroes; and The New West.  The importance of this book for us lies in the later two.  "The Creation of a Myth" ties the literature of Bret Harte and dime novels to the adaptation into film by famous director John Ford.  Hollywood is portrayed as twisting the facts of already skewed novels of somewhat real events. Because of the narrowing of the open, the cowboy needs to make a transition: his territory and profession no longer exist.  For example, The Shootist, John Wayne’s last film, portrays the famous icon dying of prostate cancer at the end of his career, symbolizing the end of  gunfighters.  The New West calls for the reformation of the cowboy living in a world where his values and morals no longer exist.

Levy, Emanuel.  John Wayne: Prophet of the American Way of Life.  London: The
    Scarecrow P, Inc., 1988.
McGhee, Richard D.  John Wayne: Actor, Artist, Hero.  Jefferson: McFarland &
    Company, Inc., 1990.
Olson, James S., and Randy, Roberts.  John Wayne: American.  New York: The Free
    Press, 1995.

John Wayne is synonymous with the Western.  Use these three book to help grasp the importance of the frontier and the many Wyatt Earp films, for Wayne himself has admitted to modeling Earp when on the big screen.

Mellen, Joan.   "The Western."  The Political Companion To American Film.  Ed. Gary Crowdus.  Chicago: Lakeview Press. 1994.  469-75.

This statement keys discussion: “The Western hero belongs to no social class.  He’s not Polish or Italian, Irish or Scotch or British, and only in a spoof like Blazing Saddles (1974) could he ever be black.  His loyalties transcend narrow distinctions of race, nationality, or class, as in his person he represents an ideal of the species.  He’s tall, fair, muscular, and straight-backed, an embodiment of courage and fortitude, selflessness and iron determination” (469).  This text then compares films that portray the description above of the typical Western hero, and My Darling Clementine is mentioned with others such as Silverado, High Noon, and The Searchers.   The importance of the Western in American culture is expressed with urgency:  “The Westerner embodies the myth that we can perpetually start over in this new land to be shaped by our own measurements.  It asserts that we can bury the past, just as the American experiment was a revolt against the antidemocratic institutions of the Old World” (471).  The article concludes that the Western is important American Heritage to recognize, and yet it has run its course as the new civilization forces a transition making the frontier obsolete

Pitts, Michael R.  Hollywood and American History: A Filmography of Over 250 Motion Pictures Depicting U.S. History.  Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 1984.

Contains analysis and filmography on Gunfight At The O.K. Corral  (149-53) and  My Darling Clementine (221-222).

Solomon, Stanley J.  Beyond Formula: American Film Genres.  Chicago: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Landscape, movement, the romance of the west, the lonely hero, sheriffs and marshals, the outlaw and the gangster are the specific focuses in the Western genre.  This text poetically enlightens the reader to the mysteries of the Western.  Solomon tries to embody the reader in a trance, much like a Western film will entrance an audience, as he starts with the landscapes of a demonic country as the lonely hero's dwelling place.  The mystery of the vast nothingness draws men, and men answer the calling -- some with morals and some without.  Solomon portrays the romance of the West as a driving force toward the Western movement.  Solomon compares the Western characters to the subjects of the Western genre listed above.

Warshow, Robert.  "Movie Chronicle: The Westerner." The Immediate Experience:  Movies, Comics, Theatre, & Other Aspects Of Popular Culture. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1962.  135-54.

Contains the core and meat of the Western film, with the focus on violence, which is innately in the life of Americans or for that matter any country.  “THE TWO most successful creations of American movies are the gangster and the Westerner: men with guns.  Guns as physical objects, and the postures associated with their use, form the visual and emotional center of both types of films” (135).  Warshow concludes that “Those values are in the image of a single man who wears a gun on his thigh.  The gun tells us that he lives in a world of violence, and even that he 'believes in violence.'  But the drama is one of self-restraint: the moment of violence must come in its own time and according to its special laws, or else it is valueless. . . . Really, it is not violence at all which is the 'point' of the Western movie, but a certain image of man, a style, which expresses itself most clearly in violence.  Watch a child with his toy guns and you will see: what most interests him is not the fantasy of hurting others, but to work out how a man might look when he shoots or is shot.  A hero is one who looks like a hero” (153). This chapter expresses the way I feel about what is the heart of the Western hero that our society clings too on the big screen.

Wilson, Wendy S., and Gerald H. Herman.  "The OK Corral Gunfight -- A Case Study."  American History on the Screen: A Teacher's Resource Book on Film and Video.  Portland: J. Weston Walch, 1994.  101-20.

Comparative study of My Darling Clementine, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and Doc.

Video Resources

American Cinema: The Western (co-production of the New York Center for Visual History, KCET-TV and BBC,1994).

This documentation is a series of interviews with Western directors John Sturges, Clint Eastwood, and John Ford, among others, and is narrated by Eli Wallach. The run time is sixty minutes, but that's not nearly long enough.  The information and insight is phenomenal, and along with interviews are a numerous amount of clips from famous Western films brilliantly edited.  One comparison made to the Western film was to religion.  “If movies could be a Religion I think you get more out of a Western than any other genre.”  The western was about moving on, yet Los Angeles was as far West as one could go, and ironically that is where Westerns are produced.  This film is one of reminiscence and nostalgia directed toward and given to the Western genre.

Play the Legend produced by KERA ; produced and directed by David Kennard ; created by William H. Goetzmann.  Princeton : Films for the Humanities, 1986.

Part of the West of the Imagination series.  Discusses the romanticized, popular view of the American West as it was depicted in traveling stage plays, motion pictures, and magazines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
 
 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Joseph Daniel Gibbs, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of the U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in
electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access.  Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other
terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.