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  Doc No More Heroes
Year: 1971
Director: Frank Perry
Stars: Stacy Keach, Faye Dunaway, Harris Yulin, Michael Witney, Denver John Collins, Dan Greenburg, John Scanlon, Richard McKenzie, John Bottoms, Philip Shafer, Ferdinand Zogbaum, Penelope Allen, Hedy Sontag, James Greene, Antonia Ray, Marshall Efron
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Doc Holliday (Stacy Keach) is making his way on horseback to the town of Tombstone when he stops off in a dust storm at a tiny bar in the middle of the desert. He ties his horse outside, walks in and quietly asks for a whisky, but the bartender cannot supply him with one, so Doc asks for a cold beer only to be told they don't have that either. What do they have? Warm beer, is the reply. He takes one of those and notes the men and a woman sitting in the corner, saunters over and puts a proposal to them: if he loses at poker, they get to keep his horse, if he wins, he gets the woman, Kate Elder (Faye Dunaway). Lucky for him he is an expert at the game...

And he is good at gunfighting too, just as well when there's a rendez-vous with the now-famous OK Corral in his near future, in yet another telling of the tale related in the more celebrated likes of My Darling Clementine and, well, Gunfight at the OK Corral which took a heroic look at Wyatt Earp. In this case, director Frank Perry and screenwriter Pete Hamill (not to be confused with the prog rock frontman of Van der Graaf Generator) were set on taking down the myth a peg or two, and to that end crafted a story which was no more accurate than the movies praising Earp's gang, but was nevertheless an interesting view of the heroism of the Old West.

There was a problem, however, in this being one of the most self-conscious of the revisionist Westerns to arrive in the wake of the European variation boom, so there was a lot of dialogue which practically winked theatrically and said, ah, do you see what we did there? Not so laudable, were they? Indeed, an early scene saw Doc and Big Nose Kate discussing around the campfire the subject of how beans make you fart, and though we don't actually hear anyone do so, you did wonder if Mel Brooks had seen this and a lightbulb had lit up above his head as he was planning Blazing Saddles. That wasn't the only way Doc was attempting to keep things as down and dirty as possible.

Not least thanks to costumes that made it look as if the actors had been instructed to roll around on the ground before every take, and the occasional item of strong language to underline this was a Western for grown-ups. As if that were not bad enough, we were told Wyatt Earp had a massive grudge against the Clanton Gang not simply because they threatened his political ambitions, but because their leader Ike (Michael Witney) beat the living daylights out of him when Earp went to confront him at home, including a forceful boot to the bollocks, though that scene has a precedent when Dunaway administers her knee to the groin of an unwanted admirer. The effect was less a measured criticism of the legend and more someone blowing raspberries as it is being told.

In spite of that, Doc did have a view to making serious points about the nature of heroism, but when much of that was telling us there was really no such thing there was a definite disillusionment about all those cowboy movies large and small that America and indeed the world had been raised on, inspired by the anti-authoritarian spirit of (some of) the times. As far as the performances went, Keach was appropriately pained as the tubercular Holliday, coughing his way through the awkward silences, and Dunaway was feisty enough as Kate, though really no more than that thanks to a script which left her an accessory to the title character. It could be the main drawback was not who was behind the scenes but who was not: this was the first film Frank Perry made without his by then ex-wife Eleanor Perry, and many noted their works together were better than his works without her, not entirely true, but not entirely untrue either. What you were left with was a film so determined to be negative and revealing of feet of clay that it forgot to be entertaining. Music by Jimmy Webb, a legend himself.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Frank Perry  (1930 - 1995)

American director who worked closely with his wife Eleanor Perry to create some curious work throughout the sixties: David and Lisa, Ladybug Ladybug, The Swimmer, Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife.

After they divorced in 1970, Frank Perry's work became less interesting, although Doc, Play It As It Lays and Rancho Deluxe all have their fans. Mommie Dearest, his silly Joan Crawford biopic, has fans for other reasons. He was singer Katy Perry's uncle.

 
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