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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Hour of the Gun (Blu-ray)
Hour of the Gun (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // September 19, 2017 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at ]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 10, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Hiding behind its inapt title, Hour of the Gun (1967) is a fascinating if not entirely successful revisionist Western made several years ahead of Sam Peckinpah's seminal The Wild Bunch. It attempts to expose as frauds notions of the traditional, sanctified Western hero. Rather than symbolize righteous law and order, this film's Wyatt Earp (James Garner) uses the law as an instrument of personal vengeance. Director John Sturges had contributed to the myth making of Earp in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), an entertaining but very inaccurate account of the famous gunfight. Before that, John Ford's great but even less historically true My Darling Clementine (1946) also solidified myths about Earp and Doc Holliday in the popular consciousness.

Sturges's The Great Escape (1963), about the mass P.O.W. escape from Stalag Luft III, had been hugely successful, partly because Sturges realized this true story didn't need any embellishing. It was historically accurate to the tiniest details, taking only a few, very reasonable dramatic licenses. Hour of the Gun opts for a similar approach. It's far more accurate than My Darling Clementine and O.K. Corral though it gets other details wrong.

Today, of course, the excellent 1994 film Tombstone has become the popular standard bearer of Wyatt Earp movies, though it too has its share of factual inaccuracies. Nonetheless, it probably gets more things right than all the others.

Also like The Great Escape, the cast of Hour of the Gun is almost entirely male, with only one brief speaking part, a barber's wife. (Almost no women appear in Sturges's Ice Station Zebra, either.) It's a grim, humorless film, with Garner cast against type, and caught 1967 audiences off guard.

Indeed, they were startled to find the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral at the very beginning of the story, unfolding even under the opening titles, and it's over and done with in less than 30 seconds, as it was in real life. The film follows its contentious, violent aftermath.

Cattle rustler and aspiring political figure Ike Clanton (a perfectly cast Robert Ryan) uses his influence to levy criminal charges against Wyatt (Garner) and his brothers Virgil (Frank Converse) and Morgan (Sam Melville), as well as Wyatt's alcoholic, tubercular friend, gambler Doc Holliday (Jason Robards). After the Earp's attorney (Charles Aidman) ridicules Clanton's hiring of men wanted on murder and robbery charges as bookkeepers and cattle scientists, the case against Earp collapses.

But when Virgil runs for city marshal, he's gunned down in the street and permanently crippled, and soon after Morgan, taking his brother's place, is assassinated, fatally shot through the window of a poolroom. Wyatt receives a telegram confirming his appointment as a Federal marshal, thus legally enabling him to form a posse with Doc Holliday to track down the killers and, ultimately, Ike Clanton himself.

Hour of the Gun emphasizes the political and legal battles between the Earps and the Clantons, and how each side subverts the letter of the law, Ike Clanton for personal gain, and Wyatt Earp to morally justify legal murder. Earp pulls together a posse consisting of Doc, Texas Jack Vermillion (William Windom), Turkey Joe Johnson (Lonny Chapman) and others with the promise of a $20,000 reward for bringing members of Clanton's gang to justice, but it soon becomes apparent Earp has no intention of bringing anyone back alive, and by the last part of the film he's basically murdering people in cold blood. Doc Holliday, the least "moral" of all the characters, is inverted here, effectively becoming Wyatt's conscious, not that Earp follows any of Doc's advice.

TV's Maverick made James Garner a star, and most of his best film roles, in The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily, Support Your Local Sheriff!, Skin Game and others played to a greater or lesser extent off that unique screen persona. He tried "straight" roles, even sometimes playing unlikeable characters (notably in A Man Called Sledge, a poor Italian Western) with mixed success. He was fine in Grand Prix, and The Americanization of Emily, Garner's personal favorite, was a more serious take on his breezy Bret Maverick character. What maybe Garner didn't realize for a long time was that while he was very good in serious parts, those were characters a dozen other good actors could have done just as well. Yet no one - but no one - could play the "James Garner character" better than he could. Not even close. Some actors are simply irreplaceable, their like never to be seen again. Garner, certainly, was one.

Hour of the Gun's fine cast of mostly top-tier character actors, and Sturges's great camera eye for outdoor action and building tension give the film an air of importance and class, while Jerry Goldsmith's musical score is excellent, appropriately the antithesis of Elmer Bernstein's rousing, noble score for Sturges's Magnificent Seven, that movie the polar opposite of Hour of the Gun. And yet in numerous ways the movie doesn't fully gestate to its full potential. Ryan, as almost always, is great, but his character here is all posturing with less depth than his gangster in House of Bamboo. The long trial scene of the first act has a perfunctory look to it, with awkward edits and exhibiting little of the imagination Sturges shows outdoors.

Video & Audio

The transfer MGM provided Twilight Time of Hour of the Gun disappoints. It looks like an early HD transfer from the early 2000s. It's not as sharp as it should be, the color is dull, and there's an awful lot of speckling and other visible damage and wear. The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is adequate, and English subtitles are offered. This is a limited edition restricted to just 3,000 units, so get yours now.

Extra Features

Supplements include an isolated music & effects track, an original trailer (that doesn't know how to sell the film to 1967 audiences), and Julie Kirgo's usual liner notes.

Parting Thoughts

It doesn't fully live up to its potential, but Hour of the Gun is, nonetheless, a particularly fascinating film on many levels, and Recommended, despite the blah transfer.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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