Wichita (1955)

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

Synopsis:
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.

Genres:

Review:
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.

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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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