Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) Review

Director: John Sturges

Genre(s): Biography, Western

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a bit on the disappointing side, considering it was directed by John Sturges, one of the better (possibly the best) action-adventure directors out there at the time of its release. Still, it has a few redeeming values that may make it worth a watch for the curious. During the Wild West period, lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) befriends dentist-turned-gunslinging-gambler Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas), with their camaraderie coming in handy when the former needs to face down the villainous Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral.

This movie is, well, pretty talky. Sure, sometimes guns or knives do the talking, but most of the film is jibber-jabber. Add to this a loose plot that doesn’t get focused until about halfway through and there is trouble. The feud between the Earp family and the Clantons feels a little undercooked, with that conflict not really getting explained until relatively late in the flick’s runtime (okay, it’s not that late, but it should’ve been introduced sooner). Both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have separate romantic subplots (well, if you could call Holliday’s “romantic”) that further bring the feature down.

Despite these flaws, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral benefits from a sensational final shootout that just might be the best firefight in western movie history up to the point of this picture’s release. Dimitri Tiomkin’s musical score is appropriately epic, complete with a catchy theme song sung by Frankie Laine. The macho bonding between Burt Lancaster’s Earp and Kirk Douglas’ Holliday is also cool to watch.

I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the Sturges’ best movies, thanks to a story that sometimes meanders. It would’ve benefited from a tighter script. However, the titular action sequence, the music, and chemistry between the two leads may draw in some viewers. Also, don’t come here looking for historical accuracy. At the end of the day, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is just okay.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

To Hell and Back (1955) Review

Director: Jesse Hibbs

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Drama, War

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The main draw of To Hell and Back is to see Audie Murphy play himself, an American hero of World War II who fought in several campaigns of the European theater. The picture starts with its star as a poor, rural Texan, who joins the U.S. army as a way of helping support his family. Other than the Murphy-as-Murphy factor, this film plays out like a fairly typical grunts’-eye-view war movie.

Most viewers will probably choose to watch To Hell and Back for Murphy and the recreation of his heroics. On this level, the flick works pretty well. There’s a reasonable amount of battle scenes, but their realism is mixed. They’re explosion-heavy and oft-muddy, capturing what small-unit combat must feel like to a fair degree. On the other hand, the violence often seems sanitized, although small amounts of blood show up once in a while.

Other cons related to To Hell and Back are the pointless romance scenes, which add nothing, and the fact that the family sequences towards the beginning feel a bit schmaltzy, but they’re over soon enough. Most of the supporting characters are pretty interchangeable, which hampers the drama. Understandably, the horrible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that Murphy suffered from post-war is left out, as the movie concludes with the end of World War II.

To Hell and Back sometimes feels like an advertisement for the American military, considering the lack of PTSD-related content and other factors, but it would be a mistake to let that deter one from watching it. I listed quite a few negatives for the film, yet the “gimmick,” if you want to call it that, at the center of the flick, Murphy playing himself, is strong enough to make it worth a watch. The humble heroism on display here keeps it afloat.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Free State of Jones (2016) Review

Director: Gary Ross

Genre(s): Biography, Drama, War

Runtime: 139 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Perhaps trying to cover too much ground for one film, Free State of Jones tells the true story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Confederate deserter during the American Civil War who led a local insurrection against the Southern government. It has good intentions and an undeniably intriguing plot, but this probably would’ve been better as a mini-series or two separate movies.

I’m not sure that I would describe the flick’s pacing as slow, but the storytelling lacks energy much of the time. Lots of stuff takes place, but things never get kicked into overdrive. The action scenes are reasonable, although there are a few unconvincing bullet impacts on people (probably achieved using computer effects, rather than traditional squibs). It should be noted that this isn’t an action picture, so don’t expect battles galore.

Free State of Jones accurately shows who won the American Civil War…and who won its peace. The film’s politics interestingly parallel the populist insurgency taking place in the U.S. at the time of its release. It will probably please people on both sides of the aisle, with gun rights and Bibles for the right and class consciousness and racial justice for the left.

Overall, the motion picture serves as an important history lesson, shedding some light on a subject that may not get enough coverage. It won’t blow you away, but it’s watchable. It’s sincere, which counts for a lot, but I wish it was more consistently engaging.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Dillinger (1973) Review

Director: John Milius

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Crime

Runtime: 107 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Written and directed by John Milius (it was his directorial debut), this biopic of legendary 1930s bank robber John Dillinger (Warren Oates) throws historical accuracy out the window in favor of telling the story of the man in a way fitting for a cheap pulp novel. This is not actually the way events took place; it’s the way events should’ve taken place for storytelling purposes. Dillinger here is alternately charismatic, egotistical, and vicious.

Nearly every scene in Dillinger involves guns in some way. Even the part where federal agent Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson) tells a kid to stay out of crime involves a firearm being pulled out. The whole thing is crammed with action, featuring some shootouts that are beyond superb. The body count is huge by gangster movie standards. You want lots of mayhem with antique, 1930s-era firearms? You got lots of mayhem with antique, 1930s-era firearms!

The humorous, yet hard-boiled, script maintains a quick pace, and Barry De Vorzon provides the competent musical score. The flick had a relatively low budget, so it doesn’t exactly have an expensive look. Despite the limited resources the cast and crew had to work with, it does a good job creating a Great Depression-era atmosphere. There’s an all-star cast of character actors, and they all seem to be having a blast. The characters that they play are highly colorful.

This is simply one of the most underrated action movies of all time. It’s proudly pulpy, action-packed, and reasonably short as well. It’s nothing more than a big slab of pure entertainment.

My rating is 10 outta 10.