This film would probably have made a great two or three stories. In fact, if you chopped the movie into three stories, they would have made great 30 minute western TV episodes. But this is the early 40s and years before TV.
The film reeled me in with the promise of Richard Dix as Wyatt Earp in yet another tale based on the Tombstone Legend. Yes, not all of the Earp brothers who were in Tombstone are in the film and Doc Holliday is completely healthy, but then none of the filmed versions of this western tale have ever been totally accurate.
What is bothersome is how the much the script just changes course using hackneyed themes. The film starts out with what seems to be a head villain, Curly Bill Brocious (Edgar Buchanan) menacing the town and Wyatt accepting the job of sheriff to rein him in. Bill has a kind of "headquarters" out of town and is discussing how to get rid of Wyatt when in walks a completely fictitious character, Johnny Duane, who is looking for a job and doesn't care if he works for Mr. Evil (Bill) or not. His job is to get close to Wyatt, and work for him if he can, and ultimately kill him. So then bad guy Bill totally disappears and this becomes all about Johnny Duane and how conflicted he is over good versus evil, Wyatt versus Bill. Then it segueys into a romantic conflict when Wyatt sends for Johnny's girl and they break up after a heated argument. Next thing you know Johnny's girl is working as a saloon girl??? In 21st century terms that would be the equivalent of a CPA breaking up with her boyfriend and deciding the way to get even is to change careers and start slithering around a pole unclothed in a seedy nightclub. What the???
So in come the Clantons and the McClowerys, the historic shootout at the OK Corral, and yet Ike Clanton (Victor Jory), who is portrayed as a cowardly little weasel (my apologies to weasels everywhere, they make great pets), is just told to get out of town after shooting at law enforcement???? In probably the strangest development in the entire film - and there is lots of competition - Wyatt is simultaneously indicted for murder in the OK Corral shootout AND named a US Marshall. How this is resolved is never explained.
Then there is Doc Holliday apparently shot to death by a cowardly assassin in a pool hall, and then bad Bill Brocious - back from a vacation? - reappears for the big finale, which I have to admit was cleverly done and not just your generic shootout. However the still gray and double-minded Johnny Duane is still hanging around Wyatt, who says that Bill was one villain that he respected???Huh???
Totally weird western that is one part Bill Brocious versus Wyatt, one part Johnny Duane versus himself, one part western romance, and one part the traditional shootout at the OK Corral story. The writer definitely should be run out of town. Actually, the writer was Charles Reisner, a director of early talking comedies at MGM that were not half bad. The western genre, or maybe writing, is definitely not up his alley.
Kudos to Edgar Buchanan as bad Bill. I'm used to seeing him as sedentary Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction and I never knew he could move so much. This film appeared on the Starz Western channel, obviously restored. I can't believe with so many first rate Paramounts in their library, Universal would choose this one to clean up for modern audiences.