Gary Cooper



USA, 1967


Director John Sturges went to his grave knowing that he had at least made some classic Westerns. The Magnificent Seven and Bad Day At Black Rock are the obvious highlights in a fine career.  Sturges, though, faltered after the success of The Great Escape in 1963. Hour Of The Gun appeared in 1967.   The opening credits of Hour Of The Gun feature the gunfight at the OK Corral.  The rest of the film is about what happened after the famous shootout.  The credit sequence promises a lyricism that the rest of the film fails to deliver.   In this opening scene there is an understated and mysterious moment.   As the Earps walk down the main street of Tombstone, we see and hear a distant figure urge the Earps to reconsider what they are doing.   Many years ago I walked the full length of Tombstone to the OK Corral, the same journey that Wyatt took with his brothers and Doc Holliday.  It is not a short walk. Wyatt Earp had plenty of time to think about what he was doing.

No Western character has inspired Hollywood moviemakers as much as Wyatt Earp. The story of what happened in Tombstone between the Earps and the Clantons has obliged many actors to reach for their holsters.   A few of these films have attempted a biography of Earp.  Others changed the names of the protagonists but shamelessly recycled the history.  Despite all this effort the character of Wyatt Earp remains as elusive as ever. Biographies like Tombstone and Wyatt Earp have their moments including a not to be forgotten performance by Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp.  All, though, fail to convince.  My Darling Clementine is supreme cinema from master filmmaker John Ford but romantic tosh.


Wyatt Earp was a hard case that was interested in making money and having authority. The best of him stood up to other hard cases but the worst was not averse to taking advantage of the weaker. In Dodge City, and before he arrived at Tombstone, he was the local lawman that ran gambling and prostitution.   In the revisionist movie Doc the conflict between the Earps and the Clantons in Tombstone is presented as an economic contest between two rival families who each wanted to control the town.  The Earps did have economic interests in Tombstone but the Clantons were rowdy and unruly and their behaviour needed a law enforcement response.

Hour Of The Gun is not tosh.  It is interesting, decent and even important but for all that the movie somehow falls flat.   There are various reasons. The proclamation of historical accuracy at the beginning of the film invites an audience to expect authenticity and suspend disbelief.  Sturges fails to deliver and if there is a heaven, he may be there right now wondering why.   There are various reasons.  The casting is not as disastrous as it was in Gunfight At The OK Corral, which Sturges made ten years earlier, but it is not right.   Authenticity benefits from fresh faces and a different style. They do not bring realism but can supersede familiar theatrics.  James Garner tries hard as Wyatt Earp but the supposed moral decline of the lawman as he seeks vengeance for the shootings of his brothers is beyond an actor noted for his charm.   Jason Robards is watchable but he supplies scorn rather than the vicious temperament needed to make Holliday convincing.  The great Robert Ryan plays Clanton but is underused. Hollywood paid good wages, so it should have been able to recruit decent support players. There is not one convincing cameo in Hour Of The Gun.


For the film to have impact we have to witness a supposed hero become a self-righteous serial killer. It never quite happens. The film suggests the dark side of Earp but it always gives the Western hero excuses. Nuance and ambiguity have merit but it is a short route from them towards timidity, and Hour Of The Gun takes it although even muted realism about Wyatt Earp is welcome. The gunfights in the film where the outcome is determined by the speed of the draw are fair contests that never existed. Earp killed the people he did because he was strong and sharp enough to gain an advantage.   This truth is hinted at in the gunfight at the train depot but the scene, which should have been a spectacular set piece full of suspense, is not well handled by Sturges. The point gets lost in our disappointment at the cinematic failure.

Edward Anhalt wrote the script for Hour Of The Gun.  Anhalt has an admirable sensibility and conceptual skill. The strength of the movie is how it analyses the changing relationship between Holliday and Earp. Before the film is finished Doc Holliday is warning Earp about seeking vengeance. The irony is satisfying because we are watching a man be counselled and restrained by the devil on his shoulder.   But Anhalt was a talented playwright who was tempted by Hollywood money.  His best work was outside the movies.  Hour Of The Gun would have worked better as a stage play with the emphasis on conversations between two men who have learnt much about themselves.   In Hour Of The Gun no one appears to learn anything of significance.   Holliday asserts that Earp will regret abandoning the law but that is about it.   The decision by Earp at the end of the film to quit being a lawman is not a surprise but the reasons behind the decision are unexplained and unexplored.  Earp spent much of the rest of his life as a gambler roaming the West.   He became an alternative version of Doc Holliday.  The two men were friends because they were alike.

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Earp only abandons the law when it proves ineffectual. When he can, he utilises the power of vested interests to give him the legal authority he requires.  Earp is also a public sector employee willing to cut corners.  For a brief period he is supported by Holliday, a man who is used to operating in a market where the winner takes all.   All this is believable but it is undercut by the cinematic presentation of Sturges and the performance of James Garner, which ensure that we cannot forget we are watching a resolute hero.   The truth, though, is that the story of what happened after the OK Corral gunfight is a dull one. Two public employees did what civil servants in Britain do often.   They exceeded their responsibilities and bent the rules to suit themselves.  Hour Of The Gun does not conceal the mundane element in the legend but its exposure weakens the action without ever providing enough intellectual interest.   No one should object to subtlety, and there is no reason why an audience cannot be expected to think about what they are watching. But for that to succeed or be justified the moviemakers need to approach their material with integrity, and it is lacking in Hour Of The Gun.   The subtlety on show feels like timidity.

Before Hour Of The Gun appeared in 1967 there were already precedents for realism in the Western.  Man Of The West appeared in 1960.  Gary Cooper is the hero with the dark past. Director Anthony Mann provides a bleak vision of human nature and somehow combines a King Lear tale with impressive action.   Hour Of The Gun has historical detail and two contradictory characters but, when compared to Man Of The West, it is superficial. Sturges and Anhalt refuse to be honest about a tale of vengeance and murder, material that could have been interpreted as stylised horror. There is nothing wrong with characters that are not obvious heroes or villains but the darkness within Holliday and Earp is underexposed.   Instead, we have the compromises in the life of a public sector employee presented as a Western adventure.   The inevitable happens. Hour Of The Gun is interesting but dull.


Yet the film should be seen. A superficial man too willing to slay others is given the benefit of Hollywood glamour, and the result is an aesthetic confusion that pricks the conscience of the viewer. It may be an unintended consequence but, when we watch Hour Of The Gun, our relationship to violent drama becomes as baffling as the misunderstood men who inspired the tale.  Earp is an action hero but we do not know how to respond to his confident courage.  Something else stays in the mind, and it is the sense of entitlement that some people have.   Although Earp and the Clantons are preoccupied with each other, there is no concern for how their behaviour affects the townspeople.  People without power are invisible in Hour Of The Gun.  Earp feels entitled to his vengeance and influence.  He will not be denied. Holliday has appetites and expects comforts and pleasure beyond his enfeebled body.   Neither man has a conscience about the privilege that enables them to cut corners. They are philosophical about the premature death of others and callous.


Those British Civil Servants who thought it would help their careers to accept impossible targets for reducing immigration into the UK were also willing to cut corners.  Because their careers and privilege were so important, they were prepared to have legal British citizens removed from their homeland.   No chance, though, of any of them becoming legends.  Earp was lucky.  He outlived his enemies and was able to present himself to writers as a hero. As hard as they try, the present British Government will not be able to rewrite their own history.   The stain is already spreading and it will be remembered.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.





Apart from Psycho there is no Hollywood B Movie as polished or as crafted as High Noon. The simple plot of High Noon was why the film lasted no more than 82 minutes. Later the work of director Fred Zinnemann became dull and worthy but even on a mammoth middlebrow bore like A Man For All Seasons his technical skills and intelligence prevailed. Before he became fashionable, Zinnemann made two fine low budget crime movies. Kid Glove Killer is slight and light but has irresistible charm. The two heroes reflect the decent values that made Zinnemann a civilised individual. Their relationship hints at the possibilities that exist for the principled and capable.  Act Of Violence is a dark film noir. The great Van Heflin stars in both films. In High Noon Grace Kelly may be too young, beautiful and East Coast upper class for a one horse western town but most of the time Zinnemann recognised a talented actor. Marlon Brando was one of many offered the part of Sheriff Will Kane in High Noon. Brando would have been fabulous and he was the right age for the part of Kane. Gary Cooper was not only old; he was not well. But despite his physical limitations Gary Cooper is perfect as Sheriff Will Kane.


High Noon is neither the best film nor the best Western that Cooper appeared in but, as always, he mixes anxiety and strength to reveal a limited but honourable man of practical violence. His virtues are inspiring and transcendental. Kane is patient, cautious, able to weigh options and to be courageous.  Sheriff Will Kane does not use the word integrity but he understands the meaning of responsibility. One scene deserves to be mentioned. His single enthusiastic volunteer discovers that Kane has been unable to acquire more men to help face the Miller gang.  Now aware that there is a real possibility that he could be killed the volunteer hands in his temporary badge. Kane says little about the betrayal but thanks to the subtle changes in the expressions on the face of Cooper we watch a lonely man understand his own limitations, recognise the weaknesses in others and appreciate his fate and the conspiracy that is beyond human betrayal.



High Noon would have had more political resonance if the townspeople had applied pressure to a Quaker wife who had persuaded her husband to renounce violence. Kane is neither a moderate nor a pacifist. Carl Foreman wrote the script and, because he had been a member of the Communist Party, he was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Russian Government, though, condemned High Noon as same old American individualism. Stalin had his faults but, as Eisenstein discovered, he could analyse a movie. The old monster may have had a point.

But, despite the reservations of Uncle Joe, High Noon still works both as an account of the struggle between pragmatism and integrity and as a commentary on what was happening in Hollywood. Will Kane is normally a self-sufficient Sheriff but against the Miller gang he needs help.  Kane thinks his decision to face Frank Miller is common sense. If he does not, Miller will be able to follow him to another town. At least if he stays put Kane has friends and those obliged to be loyal because of his previous work as a Sheriff. The people of the town have a choice, back Sheriff Will Kane against the Miller gang but risk death and injury or accommodate the villains and sell them food and drink to make extra money. This metaphor makes sense both as an explanation of what movie folk did to preserve their careers and of how we accept the iniquities of capitalism.


The resistance to Kane exists amongst the outsiders, the ordinary people who just want to have fun and enjoy life and the moralists who like to think they have a conscience and understand decency. The outsiders consist of an ambitious and troubled Deputy, the Quaker wife of Kane, and his ex-mistress who may or may not have been a whore before she acquired the saloon. There is an ambiguous moment in a conversation. The pause refers either to the Mexican nationality or the dubious past of the mistress. It is an elliptical highlight in an economical script. The people who want to have fun are the men in the bar who prefer to be left alone to have a drink and who are not too particular about their drinking partners. These are the willing dupes of the men who view the arrival of the Miller gang as a business opportunity. ‘We’re gonna have a big day today,’ says the barman. Kane is abandoned by the outsiders and dismissed by the fun lovers in the saloon. Life is too short for anything but fun, and the drinkers do not want to be interrupted. Kane confronts the moralists and the thoughtful in the church. These people are willing to debate the issue.  The congregation is persuaded by the speech of the Mayor. The speech is impressive because it presents an alternative view to that of the filmmakers. Unable to counter the eloquent arguments of the Mayor, Kane leaves to prepare for a violent contest that is likely to result in his death. As he leaves the church, children are playing a tug of war. At the end of their game all the children collapse on the ground. Debate is important but it is always undermined by self-interest and partisanship.  The church appears to have little to do with religion but is merely a place where the timid can huddle together and pretend they have principles.

Kane the virtuous man is more of a threat to the order and lives of the townspeople than the criminal elements. The immoral can be distanced by social hierarchy and utilised for business and profit. Instead of being shamed by Kane the townspeople dismiss his integrity as stubbornness. Even the original movie poster was ambivalent. It hailed a ‘man too stubborn to leave town’.


Jeremy Corbyn has also been described as stubborn. His friends and admirers regard him as principled and resolute. Others have described him as narcissistic. This is an easy accusation because integrity will always have its narcissistic element. Integrity depends on the mirror and what we are prepared to accept when we face our reflection. Cooper is admirable in High Noon because his resistance requires personal strength but he also has a figure that looks good as it strolls a dusty boardwalk. We like the way he looks. The protests of Corbyn against an economic system that has been reshaped by neoliberals have been resented by many MPs in the Labour Party.   These MPs have sounded like the drinkers in the saloon in High Noon, people who argue that change may spoil their fun.   The economic system may be unfairly balanced against the powerless but life is too short to be interrupted by serious protest.

The principles and values of Corbyn have never been compromised by the fear of defeat. His work ethic is impressive, and his commitment and energy are a match for any self-made man. In the 2017 election it appeared until the exit poll as if he would suffer a humiliating result. Prior to the campaign he had been mocked and attacked by a hostile British press. The lies about his character had been relentless. Corbyn persisted against entrenched levels of resistance. He behaved as if he was a key figure in the progress of history. In the 2017 election Corbyn campaigned on a manifesto that aimed to stimulate economic growth and contained proposals that would benefit working families. Nothing in the manifesto, though, suggested revolution or the weakening of the capitalist hegemony on British society. If it was radical, it was only because all the other politicians and mainstream journalists had huddled in their church and pretended that their supposedly informed debate had consequence and merit.


Corbyn may appear to have the demeanour of a revolutionary but his ambition appears to consist of nothing more than improving lives. His message has been described as cuddly socialism, and it is an apt phrase because Corbyn has more cuddles than most. He is not like normal politicians, those who prosper in huddles around utilitarian arguments.   Like Will Kane, he has been obliged to walk alone along the dusty boardwalk, knowing that others have ridiculed and condemned him. He may not have had to face death at the end of the street but for most of his life his efforts, which have been considerable, have resulted in predictable defeat.

Kane is victorious at the end of High Noon. His victory requires luck, mistakes by his adversaries and assistance from someone who does not share his principles. Brexit divided the Labour Party but it helped Corbyn to attract some Remain voters, which is why some journalists have said Corbyn was lucky. The psychological chaos that is Theresa May ensured her campaign was error driven, and there were more than a few people who voted for Corbyn despite having a real antipathy to anything that suggests change and a refusal to compromise.


Corbyn has not yet won an election but he achieved a result this year that has transformed British politics. No one can have faith in the judgement of the British electorate and its decision-making. The effort and integrity of those interested in social and economic change may make little difference to the history of Britain. Corbyn and his followers, though, have the satisfaction of treading a boardwalk that others have sidestepped. Sometimes there will be dust to taste in the mouth. Most of the time, though, the air should feel fresh and clean.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.