Tag Archives: Sunset movie

Sunset . . . and Wyatt’s War

Young Wyatt

It’s not a very good movie in the final analysis. Mostly dreck, to tell the truth. But one of the very first scenes .  .  . well, that’s another matter.

The late, and very great  actor James Garner plays an aging Wyatt Earp in the 1988 crime comedy, Sunset.

Early on in the film, Wyatt is serving as a consultant and advisor on a Tom Mix (played by Bruce Willis) motion picture featuring the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. Mix, and the participants of the gunfights are dressed up ridiculously in overly ornate boots, spurs, chaps and ten-gallon hats. They carry pistols that are not much more than cap guns, making feeble little silly popping noises as they employ them.

They are filming the gun battle, running around in childish fashion shooting their fake pop-guns at each other, grabbing at their chests and falling over in absurd pantomime of death. It is totally inane. A troop of grade-schoolers could have done it better.

Wyatt watches all this, a faint smile playing on his face. The watcher of the film Sunset however, gets to see inside Wyatt’s head at the same time. And he’s remembering the real gunfight. The gunfight where guns boomed, where real people died, where real blood and guts flowed. Where people fell over and stayed dead–real dead. It plays in slow-motion in his memory, the dirt and the dust, the screams and shouts of the wounded and the dying, the panicked and bucking horses. Without any doubt, it is a memory of a dark day, a bloody day, a day that old Wyatt will never be able to erase from his mind. It is part of him forever.

When the scene is finished filming, Tom Mix wanders over to Wyatt, and asks how the scene went. Wyatt smiles even more broadly at the question, and replies .  .  . “Perfect boys–that’s just the way it was.”

Like I said, Sunset is a pretty crummy movie. But it’s worth watching just to see that one sequence. And maybe the rest of the movie as well, just to see the incomparable James Garner doing his thing one more time.

OK Corral after a fire.
OK Corral after a fire.
The OK Corral today.
The OK Corral today.

The well-known and much filmed real gunfight at the OK Corral happened in the mid-afternoon, October 26, 1881, one hundred and thirty-three years ago tomorrow. It happened in Tombstone, Arizona territory. It was a bloodbath. Eight participants; three ended up dead and several more seriously wounded. Only Wyatt was not harmed. But then, a bullet never touched him in his long and bloody career. He led a charmed life that way.

It happened in a very small vacant lot, and it was over in thirty seconds, something like 33 or so bullets being fired. One side made out a whole lot better than the other. The “cowboys” lost big, with three of their members buried up in Boot Hill Cemetery a couple of days later.  The Earps, and their friend John Henry “Doc” Holliday, all walked away, but Virgil and Morgan would pay a heavy price, with Virgil being crippled for life a few months later by the cowboys, and Morgan killed, shot in the back as he played pool. Doc died in bed a few years later, of tuberculosis.

For those who are interested, the gunfight was filmed best in Kevin Costner’s movie “Wyatt Earp.” It is a nearly perfect recreation,  realistic–at least as much as a movie scene can ever get to be.

Wyatt went on to  a long life, living until 1929 when he was eighty years old. But the memory of that day never left him. He would never return to Tombstone. He would never go near blood alley again, except perhaps in his nightmares. He was a haunted man until the day he died.

You see, he kind of started it. It all, the entire grudge that turned into the most famous gunfight of all time, was largely due to the machinations of one man, Wyatt Earp, gunman, lawman, sinner and saint. Take your pick. But he was also a consummate politician, running for a well-paying public office, and playing both ends against the middle to get the job. It all blew up in his face.

I often wonder if Wyatt, watching his brother Morgan’s body being lowered into the ground, wished it might have been him that died that night, and Morgan lived.

Wyatt was a circumspect man. In his later years however, he talked a lot about his Tombstone days.

But that little tidbit–he never divulged.

His dying words were .  .  . “Suppose .  .  . ”

Wyatt Earp at 80.
Wyatt Earp at 80.

Later this week .  .  . the origins of that most wonderful day of the Fall.