My Burt Lancaster film of last night was Gunfight at the OK Corral (John Sturges, 1957), a landmark hit of the fifties, with one of those ballads sung throughout (by Frankie Laine), that help pace and narrate and that Cat Ballou (Elliot Silverstein, 1965) would parody to great effect a decade later. What struck me most was not just the whiteness of Sturges’ West– there isn’t a black person, Indian or Mexican in the whole movie — but its blondness. Everyone seems fair haired or blu-eyed or both: not just Kirk and Burt and Joan Van Fleet, but the supporting cast as well: Earl Holliman, John Ireland, Martin Milner, DeForest Kelly, Lee Van Cleef. Rhonda Fleming’s red hair is about the only bit of diversity. Dennis Hopper as the youngest Clanton brother, fresh from his appearance in Rebel Without A Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955), lit very beautiful to underline the tragedy of his death to come, still to shed his baby fat, and half the size of Burt, is what led to this thought.
The film pays subtle hommage to John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946):
It’s worth comparing what this film might signify in contrast to Burt and Kirk’s first pairing as two Depression gangsters caught up in a postwar world of passion, crime and shadows a decade earlier in I Walk Alone (Byron Haskin, 1947).
It’s also worth contrasting to the presence of native peoples, Mexicans and blacks –the latter often in tiny or non-speaking roles but as soldiers or figures of authority — in the Robert Aldrich/ Burt Lancaster westerns such as Apache and Vera Cruz, both released in 1954.
The film was a worldwide success that left an imprint on several generations and was easily parodied. As you can see here in the Goodies episode of Bunfight at the OK Tea Rooms that Nicky Smith directed me to:
And Richard Layne has also pointed out to me that there’s also the Doctor Who version, complete with a song: