American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Ten years after he made "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," producer-director John Sturges is back with the sequel, in case you've been wondering ever since what happened then. A lot happened. Wyatt Earp changed from Burt Lancaster into James Garner, grew a mustache and set out to avenge his brothers. Doc Holliday kept hitting the bottle and wound up playing gin rummy in a Colorado sanitarium. The Clanton gang got theirs. And Wyatt decided not to take the job in Tombstone after all.
About the only thing that didn't change was the Hollywood Western, which remains blessedly itself. Sturges has made some good ones ("Gunfight," "Bad Day at Black Rock," "The Magnificent Seven"), and "Hour of the Gun" belongs in the same company but slightly lower on the guest list.
It is, first of all, beautiful to look at. All but the interiors were shot on location in Arizona, and Sturges evokes the land more realistically than, say, all those panoramic wagon train shots in "The Way West" did. There are stereotyped landscapes with tumbleweeds and mountains in the background, sure, and you expect them. But there are also lovely little ponds at the bends of rivers, and horse paths with trees meeting overhead. Some of the towns and villages are probably stage sets, but others are obviously real and have the unmistakable feel of the old West to them.
The performances and plot are also sound and good, but the story doesn't have the perfect sense of poetic justice that "Gunfight" had. Somehow, we'd almost rather not know what happened to Wyatt Earp after his big day. Heroes have their great moment, and then they live on for an additional 40 years, scratching and spitting and posing for photographs. It's much more satisfying when they die neatly in the act of achieving immortality, so the biographers can end on an upbeat.
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