Wichita (1955)

“That’s a natural-born lawman if I ever saw one.”

Sharpshooter Wyatt Earp (Joel McCrea) enters Wichita, Kansas hoping to start a business, but quickly becomes lured into work as a marshall after a fatal night of lawless shooting. When Earp, with support from rookie reporter Bat Masterson (Keith Larsen), implements a ban on privately held guns, the pre-eminent townspeople — including a banker (Walter Coy) whose daughter (Vera Miles) Earp is in love with — fear this will lose them business, and try numerous tactics to get him to either soften up his policies or leave town.


Director Jacques Tourneur is best known for helming numerous horror classics — including Cat People (1942), The Leopard Man (1943), I Walked With a Zombie (1943), and Night of the Demon (1957) — as well as atmospheric noir outings such as Berlin Express (1948), Out of the Past (1948), and Nightfall (1957); but he was proficient across genres and also made a small handful of westerns, including Canyon Passage (1946) and this fictionalized tale of historic frontier marshall Wyatt Earp. The screenplay is notable for its still-relevant presentation of the ongoing gun-control debate: while Earp recognizes that the reckless cowpokes can’t be trusted not to harm the townspeople (especially after the senseless and shocking death of a 5-year-old boy), the citizens themselves assert that “Without guns, even the good citizens aren’t protected.” The driving role played by the profit motive is also presented front and center here: the new town of Wichita is willing to put up with a huge load of nonsense and danger (“Everything Goes in Wichita!”) as long as the cowboys’ newly earned money keeps rolling in; at one point a character states, “There’s a possibility we’ll all be ruined if the marshall isn’t curbed in his methods.” It’s worth watching to see how all this drama unfolds, especially given that a major corrupt character “is the one to suffer the worst loss before he learns his lesson.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine direction and cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a solid outing by a master director.



One Response to “Wichita (1955)”

  1. Yes, a must-see – and in agreement with the well-observed assessment. As per my post in The ’40s-’50s in Film (fb):

    “Hey, boys, look who’s here – and wearing a nice, shiny new badge, too!”

    ‘Wichita’ (1955) [on FilmStruck]: This being a re-telling of the Wyatt Earp legend, it’s amusing to read viewer comments at IMDb (i.e., by someone who grew up in Kansas, another by a US history teacher, etc.) who go on and on about the movie being bunk-and-hooey historically. And, yes, like a lot of other films,.that’s probably true. Still… director Jacques Tourneur once again shows he’s quite comfortable in yet another genre: the western. After ‘Stars in My Crown’, Tourneur teamed up with Joel McCrea (as Earp) again – and the result, if not the truth, is solid entertainment. It’s an 81-minute film and not a moment is wasted, there’s a lot packed into this flick and it’s rather intelligently written in terms of western movie dynamics. (I especially like the character of the world-weary newspaper editor played expertly by Wallace Ford – but the whole cast is good, including Lloyd Bridges, Edgar Buchanan, Vera Miles, Peter Graves, Carl Benton Reid, Jack Elam – and Sam Peckinpah in a small role as a bank teller!) There’s an esp. fun surprise in the last 30 minutes – and, in the last 4 minutes, just as the tension is at a boiling point and you’re wondering how in hell this thing will be wrapped up quickly enough.. that’s economically accomplished in about half that time.

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