Wichita

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(1995) ★★★

TCM: Saturday 16 January, 11.40am

The arrival of the railroad has turned cattle-trail troublespot Wichita into a boom town – Babylon on the Arkansas River, according to the newspaper editor. Joel McCrea is unwavering lawman Wyatt Earp, reluctantly cleaning up the mess. Cowboy movie clichés are given another airing in reassuringly familiar hoot’n’holler story, off to a deceptively cosy start with Tex Ritter’s corny theme song.

Versatile director Jacques Tourneur made better westerns – notably Canyon Passage and Great Day in the Morning – but this is sturdy if conventional fare, spruced up in CinemaScope. More modest than Gunfight at the OK Corral and the big-budget 1990s accounts, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, perhaps, but just as effective. And McCrea, so memorable in Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, makes Earp a figure of unshakeable probity: “It’s not a question of who’s right.

It’s a question of what’s right.” What’s interesting – and dismayingly ever-relevant – is that the town’s councilmen, dependent on the money of the rabble-rousing cowboys, are far more concerned about the chamber of commerce coffers than by the fatal shooting of a five-year-old boy during the drovers’ drunken carousing. They’d rather see Earp dead too.

The ‘hired guns’ are marshal Matt Dillon’s kid brother Peter Graves and Laramie’s Slim Sherman, John Smith. On Sunday at 3pm TCM has The Toughest Gun in Tombstone, a minor black-and-white 1958 bill-filler with George Montgomery taking on the likes of Johnny Ringo and Curly Bill Brosius.

Certificate: U

Duration: 82min

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