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The Screen Lives of Wyatt Earp

Drawing comparisons

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Every movie about Wyatt Earp is revisionist. In real life, a brief skirmish at the O.K. Corral left three men dead and two Earps (Morgan and Virgil) wounded. On screen, the mythic confrontation has erupted in an array of tellings. But that’s O.K. Here’s the lowdown on the showdowns available on video.

*MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946, FoxVideo) John Ford’s vision of the Earp saga is the farthest removed from reality and the closest to enduring myth. Fittingly, the gunfight is much larger than life — a denouement that arrives at dawn amid stampeding horses, swirling dust, and deep, dark shadows. Gunfighters: Henry Fonda (Wyatt), Victor Mature (Doc Holliday), Walter Brennan (Old Man Clanton). Shots Fired: 36. Body Count: 6 dead (including Doc).

*GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957, Paramount) John Sturges’ overblown version of the events is partially redeemed by its sheer star power. However, the actors’ stature does little to enhance the drawn-out Corral climax, a classic + Hollywood hide-and-shoot affair in which the men fire away behind the cover of wagons and water troughs. Gunfighters: Burt Lancaster (Wyatt), Kirk Douglas (Doc), Dennis Hopper (Billy Clanton), DeForrest Kelly (Morgan). Shots Fired: 94. Body Count: 7 dead, 3 wounded (Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, Doc).

*TOMBSTONE (1993, Hollywood) Sporting the best set of mustaches of any Earp ensemble, this wild bunch sticks closer to the facts than any of its predecessors — and still delivers the leanest, meanest Earp movie yet. All that plus a centerpiece showdown that is sprawling, chaotic, and all the more exciting for it. Gunfighters: Kurt Russell (Wyatt), Val Kilmer (Doc), Sam Elliott (Virgil). Shots Fired: 60. Body Count: 3 dead, 2 wounded (Virgil, Morgan).

*WYATT EARP (1994, Warner) Lawrence Kasdan’s vivid re-creation includes a point-blank shoot-out filmed up close, then cut together in explosive bursts. Evoking the way it must have felt to be in the middle of this fray, Kasdan gets to have his myth and demythicize it too. Gunfighters: Kevin Costner (Wyatt), Dennis Quaid (Doc), Michael Madsen (Virgil). Shots Fired: 32. Body Count: 3 dead, 3 wounded (Virgil, Morgan, Doc).