"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Wichita (Warner Bros, 1955)

Wyatt cleans up the town - but not Tombstone

As we end 2010 I am going to finish my theme of Wyatt Earp by talking about three more films that featured him.

The first of the three is Warner Brothers' attempt (why should they be left out? Universal, Fox and United Artists had made an Earp film), Wichita, with the excellent Joel McCrea.

Wichita is a minor Wyatt Earp picture which does not tell of Tombstone or even of Dodge but recounts his first job marshaling, in Wichita. It’s all nonsense, of course, though Earp biographer Stuart N Lake was on the set again to give the picture some historical credibility as technical adviser.

Joel McCrea is Wyatt. Always a dependable Western actor, he had a quiet authority suited to town-taming marshals. He is supported by solid character actors: reliable heavy Robert J Wilke plays Ben Thompson with Jack Elam and Lloyd Bridges as his sidekicks; Edgar Buchanan is the rascally Doc Black. It's an excellent cast.

Bat Masterson (Keith Larsen) is a cub newspaper reporter, for some reason, whom Wyatt recruits as deputy. James and Morgan Earp turn up towards the end (John Smith and Peter Graves) but don’t have much to do.

There are some lively scenes of cowboys hurrahing the town. A little boy gets shot, a certain way to get that star onto the shirt of reluctant Wyatt. The new marshal duly passes a gun law, stands his ground grittily and cleans up Wichita. The gang of cowboys backs down. He also gets the girl (Vera Miles, later to be Laurie for John Ford in The Searchers and Mrs. Senator Stoddard in Liberty Valance) and they go off at the end to start anew in Dodge.

There is some location shooting by Harold Lipstein though ‘Kansas’ looks like California and in fact is. Much of the film is shot on the back lot. It is photographed in a pleasant blue tone. The Frenchman Jacques Tourneur directed (he had done the quality Western Canyon Passage ten years or so before).

There’s a pretty dire song at the start and end sung by Tex Ritter. 1950s Westerns felt obliged to have one, more’s the pity.

It’s satisfactory and more than a B-Western but not much more. Warner Brothers Westerns in the 1950s were not very good as a rule but this is a cut above.


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