Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Doc (1971)


Yet another in the string of revisionist Westerns designed to upend romantic myths about legendary gunfighters, this soft-spoken drama takes a fresh look at tubercular outlaw “Doc” Holliday and his fateful friendship with lawman Wyatt Earp. Stacy Keach, seething with the quiet intensity that made him one of the most interesting leading men of the ’70s, stars as Doc, and Harris Yulin, better known for the character parts he’s played in countless movies and TV shows, costars as Earp. (A miscast and ineffectual Faye Dunaway appears as Katie Elder, Doc’s lover.) Although Doc covers the same events as most Earp stories—he ruthlessly wields his power as the lawman of Tombstone, Arizona, until a showdown with the violent Clanton clan becomes inevitable—the picture examines the events surrounding the notorious “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” from a new perspective. Yulin plays Earp as a cold-blooded opportunist using his badge to build a petty empire, and Doc is the thoughtful but troubled friend drawn into Earp’s grudge match. Written by celebrated newspaper columnist and novelist Pete Hamill, the script for Doc is probably too probing and sensitive for its own good—it’s one thing to strip archetypal heroes of their mythic power in order to reveal the flesh-and-blood people behind the legends, but it’s another thing to make them so blandly ordinary that they’re not interesting enough to sustain a feature-length narrative. Matters are not helped by the fact that director Frank Perry is calling the shots. At his best orchestrating pretentious oddities like The Swimmer (1968) and Play It As It Lays (1972), Perry offers no special flair for straight drama or, for that matter, the unique demands of the Western genre. So while admirable for its intentions, Doc isn’t exciting to watch or even particularly memorable, even though the richly textured performances by Keach and Yulin hint at what the movie could have been.

Doc: FUNKY

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