Judge Ben Saylor wishes he had a men's vocal group to hum background music to his life.
"Wyatt Earp! Wyatt Earp!
I count My Darling Clementine among my favorite films of any genre. For sheer entertainment value alone (as well as a fine Val Kilmer performance), Tombstone resides in my DVD collection. Until recently, these and Lawrence Kasdan's mediocre Wyatt Earp represented the sum total of my screen experiences (both big and small) with the famed lawman.
That changed with the arrival of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: Season 1 in my mailbox. While this series, produced on television in the 1950s and early '60s, differs vastly from the afore-mentioned silver screen depictions of Earp, the show nonetheless offers clean, family-friendly entertainment.
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: Season 1 charts the beginning of Earp's career as a lawman, beginning with his reluctant assumption of a vacant marshal position in Ellsworth, Kansas. It isn't long, however, before Earp is lured away to become marshal in Wichita. By the season's end, Earp has tamed Wichita and moved on to Dodge City.
As far as decades-old television goes, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp is pretty good. Certainly, watching the show today, it can come across as dated and corny at times (the latter thanks largely to the show's silly incidental music, consisting of a male vocal group humming), but for Western fans there's still a lot to like, starting with the character of Wyatt Earp. While O'Brian's Earp doesn't go around kicking outlaws' faces with his spurs or threatening to turn their heads into canoes (as Kurt Russell's Earp does in Tombstone), he's not perfect either. Most of the time, O'Brian's Earp is content to subdue opponents by shooting them in their gunhand or shoulder or simply buffalo-ing them, but in "The Frontier Theatre," Earp loses his cool and beats a nemesis much more than the situation seems to demand.
The Earp of the series also reveals himself to be a stubborn man whose judgment is not always correct. In "The Suffragette," when a speech by the titular activist (played by Linda Stirling) leads to violence, Earp throws both the suffragette and her chief opponent, Senator Teague (Howard Wendell), in jail, even though he doesn't really have cause to arrest either person. Rather than apologize, the stubborn Earp actually resigns as marshal (although he takes the position back within minutes).
Through it all, Hugh O'Brian does a convincing job in the role, imbuing Earp with thoughtfulness and integrity. He is particularly effective when Earp is getting riled up about something; without resorting to theatrics, O'Brian makes the character believably forceful.
The plots of the show are fairly varied, although a common theme is someone (cowhand, gunslinger, businessman, etc.) looking for trouble in whichever city Earp is serving as marshal for that particular episode. More often than not, these men have unusual names, among them Mannon Clemments and Shanghai Pierce. Although their names are often unique, their plots against Earp generally are not; bushwhacking is frequently the order of the day. Still, by focusing on different subjects (the women's suffrage movement, crooked gambling and music hall shows, bitter Confederate soldiers), the show manages to sustain interest.
Season One of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp also contains appearances by Bat Masterson (Alan Dinehart III), a character who would eventually receive his own series starring Gene Barry. On Earp, Bat starts off as a Jimmy Olsen type who quickly goes from so-corny-he's-funny to flat out annoying. Most of the supporting characters come or go, although one near constant is Marsh Murdock (Don Haggerty), a Wichita newspaperman and close friend of Earp's. There are a few notable guest stars in this season as well, such as Denver Pyle in a recurring role as Ben Thompson, who starts off as Earp's enemy but eventually comes around. Angie Dickinson also turns up in "One of Jesse's Gang," playing the wife of a former associate of Jesse James.
The 35 (!) episodes of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: Season 1 are spread out across five discs, held together in three slim (and flimsy) plastic cases with episode synopses printed on the back of each. Technical quality is mediocre; there are many instances of damage on the prints, and the sound isn't what you could call robust. In terms of extras, this set is as barebones as they come; there aren't even any subtitles included.
I'm guessing fans of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp will want to pick up this set regardless of its subpar technical pedigree and total lack of special features. Anybody else, however, should give it a rent first.
Wyatt Earp and his friends are ordered released, pending Infinity
Entertainment's payment of a fine for the release of a DVD set without special
features within city limits.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Infinity Entertainment
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