Wyatt Earp is too long, too boring, too true, but in fact it is the only Earp movie that tries to do justice to time, place, and historical facts. Nobody wants facts when they watch Westerns. People want shooting. Wyatt Earp’s general criticism is directed toward Kasdan constructing a “research project” rather than entertainment. Sitting through three hours and twenty minutes of facts is more than any reader needs. However, the film is applauded for showing the dark side of Wyatt Earp as cold-blooded killer. Wyatt Earp breaks molds of the generic lawman that Ford offers in My Darling Clementine. Kasdan tries to make the fact and fails to entertain, while Ford makes the legend and wins public favor. Wyatt Earp can be considered a documentary because it tries to be historically truthful, while My Darling Clementine's place is in the realm of Hollywood magic.
Ansen, David. “Kevin Costner Rides Again.” Newsweek 4 July 1994, United States Edition: THE ARTS; Epics; Pg 71.
Ansen starts his review by quoting a line from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “This is the West, sir, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Ansen criticizes Kasdan for trying to make Wyatt Earp's life both fact and legend. “Kasdan’s trouble is that he seems to want to print the legend and the facts. What results is a stately, curiously remote muddle, with all the structural problems that come with the biopic form. Kasdan and Dan Gordon’s screenplay shows us the gritty violent reality of the West, where cowboys vomit at the sight of a bloody skinned buffalo. Yet when it comes to Wyatt’s love life -- first with his wife, then with Josie Marcus (Joanna Going) -- its mushy romanticism is as phony as old Hollywood ever got. For a movie so sure of its importance, it seems oddly uncertain of what it wants to say.” Ansen was also bored by the three-hour plus movie that did not even take the time to individualize the villains. Ansen screams, “What kind of a Western has anonymous bad guys?" Ansen felt that the Wyatt Earp script was poorly written and lacked focus and direction.
Berton, Pierre. “Wyatt Earp stars as the man who invented himself.” Toronto Star 2 July 1994, Final Edition: H3.
Pierre Berton’s courageous voice is much that of James W. Lowen in his national best-seller Lies My Teacher Told Me. Berton attacks all those who jumped on the band wagon in support of the mythical Wyatt Earp, instead of sticking to the historical record of a man. Stuart Lake’s fictionalized book, The Frontier Marshall, and John Ford’s famous My Darling Clementine are indicted by Berton for inventing the myth of Wyatt Earp as we know today. Berton shatters the American Hero, using facts that movies and books leave out. Berton asserts, “he was a gambler, a saloon keeper, a pimp, a con man, and a horse thief.” Berton both denounces the film for showing the lawman with integrity and also applauds the film for “mainly” sticking to historical record. Berton condescendingly concludes, “To make the story work, Wyatt must be a dedicated lawman.”
Carr, Jay. “Costner’s daring "'Wyatt Earp.’” Boston Globe 24 June 1994, City Edition: LIVING; Pg 47.
A very humble review that praises and criticizes the film for its courage in attempting to show the legendary law man’s duality. Flatters Costner for demythicizing the Old West but criticizes the film for losing the original energy that it starts with. Wyatt Earp is a classic Western, powerfully embodying on several levels the theme of loss.
Garner, Jack. “So Much Movie, So Little To See." Gannet News Service 22 June 1994.
Garner wishes the truth were not so tedious. He compliments director Kasdan for being closer to the truth than any other film that tried to tell the “oft-told Earp story.” Garner patronizes then later proves that the film disappoints, though, because that demythologized truth is dark and uninspiring, and we don’t care enough about this man to stay at his side for the film's exhausting three hours and ten minutes of running time.
Hoffman, Adina. “Shooting blanks at the OK Corral.” Jerusalem Post 22 Oct.1994, Arts; Pg. 5.
Hoffman disapproves of showing every detail of Wyatt’s life. Hoffman sums up the film as a “commemorative postage stamp,” mocking the length of the film and the seriousness that director Kasdan and Costner committed to. She complains, “But in the process of setting the record straight, Kasdan has also rooted out any and all remaining mystery. The man who was once a magical elliptical figure is replaced here by a dry research topic."
James, Caryn. “Wyatt Earp: Into the Heart and Soul of Darkness.” New York Times 24 June 1994, Late Edition; C1.
“Time and again, watching 'Wyatt Earp' is like being hit in the head with the butt of a rifle for no good reason at all.” Praises the film for powerful exploration of Earp’s dark side of a cold-blooded killer. Appreciates the intent to offer intelligent entertainment but criticizes Wyatt Earp for entertaining too little.
“Riding into the sunrise.” The Economist 16 July 1994, Arts, Books and Sport; Pg 79.
This unsigned article is very informative about the past and current box office flourishes of Western films -- as many as 140 a year (in 1940, for example) but shrunken in the 1980s to a mere handful. However, the nineties has started coming back with Westerns winning popular opinion. Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven, both winners of the best picture award in the early nineties, are the first ones to do so since Cimarron in 1931. This article blames money for the current revival of the Western genre films.
West, Woody. “The Man, Myth and Legend of Tombstone, AZ.” Washington Times 21 Dec. 1997, Final Edition.
In a review of Casey Tefertiller’s Wyatt Earp, quotes the New York Times to “Forget what you saw at the movies…the facts are more interesting than the legend” and assesses that the most recent Earp films (Wyatt Earp and Tombstone) skillfully twist the historical facts.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Joseph Daniel Gibbs, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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