Wyatt leads the posse
Yet another chapter in the long story of the fictional Wyatt Earp was written for us in 2012, in the shape of the Darren Benjamin Shepherd screenplay from a story by Jeffrey Schenck and Peter Sullivan for the straight-to-video production of Wyatt Earp’s Revenge. Like most Wyatt Earp stories, it is complete hooey historically, but we don’t watch screen Wyatts for fact; we watch them as fiction.
This one starts in San Francisco in 1907 with a young journalist (David O’Donnell) interviewing an aging Wyatt (he would have been 59) about an event that took place when he was in Dodge in 1878. The older Wyatt is played by Val Kilmer, 53. Mr. Kilmer was of course Doc Holliday in 1993, in Tombstone, but here he was been promoted. The younger Wyatt, for most of the film, is played by Canadian Shawn Roberts, 28 in 2012 (Wyatt was actually 30 so it’s pretty close). This was Mr. Roberts’s first and last Western, to date. He’s OK, I guess. He plays a rather stern and unsmiling Wyatt, very tough naturally.
Val as Wyatt
Wyatt Earp in 1907
Bat Masterson, Charles Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Bill Tilghman
The screen versions
Wyatt blames all the violence on the Civil War. “You have to understand the War Between the States. The war formed us, made us who we are. After killing your own cousins, your own brothers, killing strangers meant nothin'. Lawless times followed those long dark years.” He also tells how his family suffered when his daddy went off to the war (he didn’t actually).
What really happened? Well, Jim Kenedy, known as Spike (the photograph left is said to be of him), was the son of rich rancher Capt. Mifflin Kenedy of the Rancho de Los Laureles in Texas. The younger Kenedy, a known rake, had got into a scrape in Ellsworth back in 1872 when he shot cattleman Print Olive (click the link to read my essay on him), whom he accused of cheating at cards. Olive’s bodyguard and fixer, Jim Kelly, shot Kenedy in the leg. Friends of Kenedy got him away and back to his daddy’s ranch. He seems to have led a reasonably quiet life there for the next five years but Dr. Henry Hoyt, who knew him well, recounts in his highly enjoyable memoirs A Frontier Doctor (clink the link for a review of that) how Spike could not resist the siren lure of Dodge City.
The screen Spike
Spike seemed to think that his daddy’s wealth meant that he was above the law. In July 1878 he was arrested by Assistant Marshal Wyatt Earp for carrying a pistol and was fined. A month later he was back in court and fined again after being arrested by Marshal Bassett for disorderly conduct. Kenedy complained bitterly about these arrests to Mayor James ‘Dog’ Kelley but Kelley gave him short shrift, saying he backed his officers to the hilt and Kenedy had damn well better behave while in Dodge. Some versions have Kenedy being thrashed by Kelly in a fistfight and going off to Kansas City to recover from his bruises. At any rate Kenedy vowed that he would get revenge.
James 'Dog' Kelley
Kenedy came back to Dodge with a fine racehorse. Kelley had gone off to Fort Dodge for medical treatment and during his absence allowed actresses Fannie Garretson and Fannie Keenan (the latter the stage name of Dora Hand), who were appearing at the Varieties Theater, to use his house. At about four in the morning of October 4, four shots were fired through the thin walls into Kelley’s bedroom, killing Dora Hand as she slept. Assistant marshals Wyatt Earp and Jim Masterson (Bat’s brother) investigated. In the Long Branch saloon the bar tender told Earp that Kenedy had left shortly before the shots were fired and returned soon after. Earp and Masterson then found a friend of Kenedy’s who confirmed that Kenedy had fired the shots.
Fannie Keenan aka Dora Hand
Diana DeGarmo as Dora, lovey-dovey with Wyatt
The posse members searched for some time, in vain. As the five rested their tired horses at a ranch, almost by a miracle they saw a distant rider approaching and it was Kenedy. Their horses were scattered so they awaited Kenedy on foot. Masterson ordered that if the man tried to escape, he, Masterson, would shoot at Kenedy while Earp should shoot the horse. About 75 yards in, Kenedy spotted them and went for a gun, wheeling his horse to make a run for it. As planned, Earp downed the horse and Masterson shot Kenedy in the shoulder. The posse hired a team and took Kenedy, who was badly hurt, back to Dodge.
For two weeks Kenedy languished in pain in a jail cell, until his father arrived. Then he was released by Judge RG Cook. Earp always maintained it was because of Captain Mifflin and his expensive lawyers, though the Times simply reported, “The evidence being insufficient, the prisoner was acquitted.” Mifflin and his son went back to Texas. Hoyt wrote that Kenedy’s arm and shoulder were shot to pieces and he only lived a year or two more. In fact he died in 1884.
Such were the facts of the case. Casey Tefertiller, in the most authoritative biography of Earp, Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, will give you a little more detail if you are interested.
Of course the movie has little truck with anything as boring as mere fact (though personally I reckon the true story would have made a great film). In this one Marshal Earp and his minions Masterson and Bassett take off their stars when Judge Hinkle (Lyle Kanouse) warns them they have no warrant and they ride out, later meeting Indian tracker Tilghman, who tracks Kenedy for them. Kenedy is heading for the Mexican border (that would be quite a ride).
The movie now invents a family that Kenedy comes across, farmer Ed (Wes Brown), his wife Susie (Kaitlyn Black) and their young son Conrad (Mason Cook). Though the family welcome Kenedy as a tired traveler, Kenedy is vile and perfidious. One good thing, though: he gives the boy a derringer, and of course he'd have one, being a skunk. You know how I like derringers. The parents don’t want their son playing with firearms but that doesn’t stop Kenedy, and it doesn’t stop the boy wanting it. Later we learn that the journalist interviewing Wyatt in 1907 is a now-grown Conrad.
Kenedy then murders a bill sticker who is putting up a WANTED poster on him, and shoots farmer Ed in the back. Then he does a border roll on a local lawman (Peter Sherayko) and shoots him too. When the posse come up to the farm, the boy begs to be allowed to go along, to get revenge with his derringer, but Wyatt says no dice.
Now we are introduced to Sam (Steven Grayhm), a brother of Spike. He joins his brother, along with some gang members, a man in a Confederate cap and a Mexican (i.e. bad guys), played by Brian Groh and Martin Santander. The posse manages to shoot Sam and they take him to a local doctor, who seems to take pleasure on inflicting pain while getting the bullet out. The doc introduces himself as John Holliday (Wilson Bethel, joining the long list of actors who have played Doc Holliday).
Bethel as Doc
Doc as Doc
(There are several photographs claimed to be of Holliday but according to an article in True West magazine, kindly sent to me by reader Walter, this is the only one that can be authenticated for sure. Holliday is 20.)
Still they haven’t got Spike, though. There’s a gunfight, in which Charlie Bassett is hit, Wyatt saves Bat in extremis and they dispose of Spike’s gang. Then Spike’s dad appears, in the shape of Trace Adkins. Singer Adkins liked Westerns and did quite a few but he never really convinced in the genre.
Trace as Mifflin
He says he asked Samuel Colt personally to make them (though Colt actually died in 1862). Stuart Lake, author of the racy and often fictional 1931 biography of Earp Frontier Marshal, claims that dime novelist Buntline (EZC Judson) presented these specials to Earp, Masterson, Bassett, Tilghman and Neal Brown in 1876 (though in fact neither Tilghman nor Brown were lawmen at the time).
If the gun existed at all (and the balance of probabilities is that it did not) it certainly had nothing to do with the posse chasing Kenedy for the Dora Hand murder. Still, I suppose it makes a good bit of the film.
EZC Judson, better known as Ned Buntline (c 1821 to 1886)
It was directed by Michael Feifer, his only Western. He is apparently best known for Merry Kissmas.
Oh well, it’s all harmless enough. I don’t think it’s that good a Western but as long as you don’t actually believe any of it you might be mildly entertained.