Director: Jacques Tourneur.
Starring: Joel McCrea (Wyatt Earp), Vera Miles (Laurie McCoy), Lloyd Bridges (Gyp Clements), Wallace Ford (Arthur Whiteside), Edgar Buchanan (Doc Black), Peter Graves (Morgan), Keith Larsen (Bat Masterson), Carl Benton Reid (Mayor Andrew Hope), John Smith (Jim), Walter Coy (Sam McCoy), Robert J. Wilke (Ben Thompson), Jack Elam (Al), Mae Clarke (Mrs. Mary Elizabeth McCoy), Walter Sande (Clint Wallace).
1874, Wyatt Earp tries to bring law and order to Wichita, Kansas
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A herd of Texas cattle is being driven towards Wichita, Kansas. The man in charge is Clint Wallace and the ramrod is Ben Thompson. Wallace tells Thompson that they will be quitting early for a couple of days because he wants to fatten the cattle up before they reach Wichita. When they stop for the day Thomas and Wallace see in the distance a lone rider. They wonder if he could be a cattle rustler. The guys send out Al to check on the lone rider. The guys are already eating when the rider reaches them, with Al trailing behind the lone rider. The fellow says hello and that his name is Wyatt Earp.
Earp ties up his horse, gets some grub and starts eating. Earp will sleep overnight and leave for Wichita in the morning. During the night, Gyp Clements and his brother steal a lot of money from Earp's saddlebag. They walk over to the chuck wagon and start counting the money. Suddenly the men notice that Earp is standing close to them, not saying anything. Words are exchanged and Gyp's brother starts to draw on Earp, but the former buffalo hunter's draw is much faster. The brother's pistol just does clear the holster, but there it stops. Ben Thompson gets up and asks what this is all about? Earp says they stole his money and Gyp says Earp is a liar. Thompson says that regardless of who is in the right, Earp ain't killing any of his cow hands. So Earp and Gyp fight it out with their fists. Earp is the easy winner of the fight. Earp gets his pistol back, collects his money and leaves.
Along the path to Wichita there is a sign saying: "Everything goes in Wichita". Two stage coaches come roaring down the path and Earp has to get out of their way. The coaches are filled with dance hall women.
Earp arrives in Wichita and the whole town seems to be on the move. The livery is full up with horses, so Earp stops in at the local newspaper office and asks if there's another livery in town? The old newspaper man, Arthur Whiteside, tells Earp to put his horse in the back of their shop. The newspaper reporter and printer is a young fellow named Bat Masterson. Out on the street Earp steps in between Bat and the owner of the Texas House, Doc Black, when they are arguing about Bat telling Black that he doesn't have the time to take the Texas House advertisements and pass them out. Doc Black was just about to pull his pistol on the unarmed Bat when Earp stepped in between them.
Earp walks away with Bat, telling him he is a brave man to be unarmed and still standing up to a man with a pistol. They walk down to the new railroad depot. The town is having a big celebration to honor the arrival of the railway to Wichita. Sam McCoy is the man who brought the railway to Wichita. Pretty Laurie McCoy, Sam McCoy's daughter, notices Earp in the crowd and seems impressed by his look.
Earp deposits $2,400 dollars into the local bank. Into the bank comes McCoy, Masterson and Laurie, followed by three bank robbers. The robbers decide to collect the women's jewelry too and one of the men starts to snatch Laurie's necklace. Masterson tries to stop the robber, but get hit over the head and goes down. With this distraction, Earp pulls out his pistol and shoots two of the robbers and gets the drop on the man trying to take the money out of the safe.
The three men are taken to the town jail. McCoy thanks Earp as do others. McCoy introduces Earp to his wife and daughter. The mayor offers Earp the position of lawman for the town, but Earp turns it down. McCoy says that he and the other businessmen can see to it that Earp is extremely well-paid. Earp still says no and leaves the bank. The mayor tells McCoy that it's a shame, but McCoy tells him that Earp may yet take the job as he seems like a natural lawman. He adds that they will just have to keep the pressure on Earp.
In the newspaper Wyatt sees that Bat has written a story about the foiled bank robbery full of praise for the actions of one Wyatt Earp. He goes into the newspaper office and tells Bat that was quite a headline he put out: "Frontiersman Foils Felons" The mayor is in the office and he brings up the question of being a lawman. Again Earp turns down the job. He leaves the office. With Earp gone, Whiteside remarks that it seems to him that Earp is fighting against his own nature. The man is a natural lawman.
The cowboys come into town led by Clint Wallace. They are welcomed by the mayor, McCoy and another businessman.
Earp runs into Laurie McCoy again. He escorts her to her father's house and advises her not to go out without an escort at night. He thinks there will be violence. Laurie asks him to be careful tonight too.
At night Gyp and his brother get into a bout of playful wrestling. McCoy offers his house as a place to stay for Mr. Wallace and Wallace takes him up on it. Around midnight the ramrod of the Wallace crew starts an uproar about the liquor tasting terrible. He shoots his pistol into the ceiling of the saloon. Now they all rush out, get on their horses and start shooting up everything and anything.
Wyatt puts his holster on and goes downstairs. One of the dance hall girls has been shot in the arm. A little boy looking out an upstairs window is hit in the chest. The boy's mother brings his dead body downstairs. Wyatt sees this and decides to take action. He grabs the star off of the town marshal's shirt and puts it on. The mayor swears him in. Wyatt, with his pistol and a shotgun, and a little help from Bat, arrests the cowboys.
The next day Wyatt takes down the banners saying that "Everything Goes in Wichita". Mr. Wallace comes up to Earp and tells him that he wants his men let out right now. Earp says he can pay their fines around 10 a.m. when court is in session. Wallace threatens to bust his men out of jail and Wyatt arrests him for threatening a lawman. He places Wallace in with the rest of his men. McCoy comes to Earp and says that the one thing that the new lawman must remember is that the town depends upon the money from the cowboys. Earp says when the cowboys destroy property and lives, the cowboys have to go. McCoy says he didn't know anyone was killed. Earp tells him that Michael Jackson was killed and he was only five years old. That shuts McCoy up.
The next day Wyatt escorts the cowboys out of town. Bat comes riding up to Wyatt. He mentions that he would like to be Wyatt's deputy. Earp says he is going to contact a few people he knows about taking the job, but until he employs them, Bat can have the job. He and Bat now post a sign about there being no-guns-allowed in town.
Back in town Editor Whiteside tells Wyatt that many in the town are not going to like all these new regulations on the cowboys. It will hurt profits and wages. One businessman says that the new marshal could actually ruin the businessmen in town. McCoy says they'll invite Earp to a social event and there they can talk to him man-to-man. It's possible that Earp doesn't understand the precarious position in which the businessmen are being placed.
So McCoy has a big dinner party with lots of businessmen guests and the marshal. Laurie tells Wyatt that she would love to go out on a picnic with him. Wyatt asks about tomorrow and Laurie accepts. After dinner the women leave the dining room so the men can smoke and talk. McCoy explains the situation to Earp. The mayor backs up the businessmen saying that Earp's reforms have been a little too drastic. Earp bluntly says he won't change his methods and he won't quit the job. They will have to fire him. The businessmen tell the mayor to fire him, but the mayor remains silent. Bat knocks on the door and is let in. He tells the marshal that some of the Wallace boys are back in town. Wyatt can hear the sounds of gunfire.
In the bar the Clements's boys and another cowboy wait for the arrival of the marshal. Gyp shoots a big "W" into one of the side walls of the saloon. His brother now gets up and starts to shoot something, but Earp shoots the gun right out of his hand. He tells the boys that they were not to come back to town. He is not going to arrest them, but the next time he sees them, he's going to kill them. Wyatt tells Gyp not to force him to kill the cowboys.
Wyatt and Laurie are on their picnic. This time when Wyatt is a bit forward with her, she becomes shy and modest. Wyatt kisses and hugs her anyway and she does respond.
Two gunmen come into the saloon with their guns on. Doc Black hired the two men and he asks the bartender to send them in. One bad guy is named Morgan and the other is named Jim. Doc offers them $1,000 dollars to rid the town of Wyatt Earp. Doc adds that one of the gunmen has to keep out of sight.
McCoy tells Wyatt that he doesn't want him to see Laurie anymore. They are interrupted by the bartender who tells the marshal that two men wearing guns are alone in the saloon drinking. Wyatt comes in and finds out that the gunmen are both his brothers. Earp tells Doc Black that he has just one hour to get out of town. Wyatt's two brothers escorts Doc to the city limits and watch him ride off.
Doc hires two Wallace cowboys to kill Earp: Al and Gyp's brother.
At night Laurie comes to the hotel where the marshal is staying. She asks Wyatt what's wrong between her father and him? Wyatt says that they have different opinions about how Wichita should be run. Laurie asks him to promise that there will be no trouble between Wyatt and her father. Wyatt just says he will walk her home.
The mayor comes over to the McCoy house. Mrs. McCoy asks the mayor why does her husband hate the marshal so much? The mayor doesn't really give her a reason. He now goes into the room to talk with her husband. McCoy says he wants the three Earps gone in the morning. He is shocked when the mayor says he can't do it. McCoy says he made the mayor what he is and he can unmake him anytime he wants. Earp comes in and tells McCoy that he doesn't have to answer to him. And McCoy will get no special privileges from the law. So McCoy says the next time Earp sees him, he will be wearing his gun. Earp says he will be ready for McCoy.
Black and his two assassins see Earp coming out of the McCoy house and they ride up and start shooting at him. Wyatt drops down prone on the porch floor. The cowboys only hit the house door with their shots. Inside the house, Mrs. McCoy has been shot by one of the bullets going through the door. Laurie and her father rush to Mrs. McCoy and cry over her body. Earp looks in to see what happened, but he doesn't go in. His two brothers have arrived on their horses. They are set to chase the would-be assassins.
Five men in all chase after Doc Black and his gunmen. The lawmen spot the three fellows ahead of them. The two gunmen get off their horses to shoot at the Earps. Doc Black rides away from them. Jim is shot by Gyp's brother. Then Gyp is wounded by Earp. Al takes careful aim at Wyatt and shoots his horse from under him. He prepares to fire another shot, but Wyatt shoots Al down.
Wyatt goes to see Laurie. Laurie is not mad at him. And she is shocked when she learns that Doc Black is the one responsible for her mother's death. Doc Black tells Wallace and his cowboys that the Earps didn't even give them a chance to surrender. Moreover, Al and Gyp each had ten shots in them. So Wallace and his boys decide to try and kill the Earps.
A funeral is held for Mrs. McCoy. Doc Black goes into the hotel and up to the second story holding a shotgun. After the funeral, Earp is confronted by the cowboys. The three Earps are ready for a fight. Suddenly, McCoy shows up with a shotgun. He tells Wallace to get out of here. Wallace says the Earps killed two of his boys. McCoy responds that his "boys" killed his wife. Wallace says he didn't know that and now he asks where is Doc Black? Actually, he is looking at them from a second floor window. Wallace tells his boys that they are going back. Only Gyp decides to stay behind to try and kill Wyatt. Gyp draws on Earp, but Wyatt shoots him in the belly and Gyp goes down. Doc aims his shotgun at Wyatt but McCoy fires two shotgun shells at Black and he falls from the window down to the street. Wyatt tells McCoy "thanks". The two men shake hands.
Wyatt and Laurie marry. There is a big celebration to cheer for the couple. Wyatt and Laurie are leaving for Dodge City, Kansas, where Wyatt will be a lawman again.
This is an enjoyable film to watch, but there's not much reality in it. The best film on Wyatt Earp is Wyatt Earp (1994) starring Kevin Costner. Earp was only in Wichita for a year and he didn't marry anyone there. He did have to confront wild cowboys. Bat Masterson worked with Wyatt Earp when they were hunting buffalo. And then Bat was there when Earp was a lawman in Dodge City. Earp lost his Wichita job for getting into a fist-fight over politics, but was rehired after a 50/50 vote on whether to take him back as a law officer. Anyway, the story is good, but not really good enough for a historian.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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