Masterson Goes Out to Bat
Now if like me you enjoy the western genre you've probably watched at least one, probably more, movies which focus on the character of Wyatt Earp and as such the name Masterson will ring a bell as it almost always crops up. As such "The Gunfight at Dodge City" may be of interest because this is a movie about Bat Masterson, one of the Masterson brothers who helped Wyatt Earp. But whilst this may focus on the character of Bat it is worth knowing that this is not a biopic, this is a western which is more fiction than fact. But even so it works; it has drama, action, romance, a corrupt lawman and various other western standards crammed into a comfortable 81 minute running length.
After killing a man in self defence Bat Masterson (Joel McCrea - Ride the High Country) is forced to leave Hay's City and head to Dodge City to visit his brother Ed (Harry Lauter) who is not only the City Marshal but also standing for election as County Sheriff against the corrupt Jim Regan (Don Haggerty). Deciding to settle in Dodge for a bit Bat buys a share in the "Lady Gay" a saloon run by widow Lily (Nancy Gates - Comanche Station). But when Ed is murdered, not only does Bat find himself becoming the new Marshal and candidate for County Sheriff but also getting close to Ed's intended Pauline (Julie Adams - The Man from the Alamo). But can the notorious gunman become a law upholding lawman or will he be forced back to his old ways.
Now as already pointed out, whilst "The Gunfight at Dodge City" may focus on Bat Masterson this is a movie which is more fiction than fact. As such whilst the opening series of scenes allude to the true story of him being involved in a gunfight over a woman, what happens is not fact. And the same with Bat heading to Dodge City to hook up with his brother Ed, interestingly there is no mention of the other brother Jim. So basically don't expect to watch a movie which is a biopic, just a western which takes a few facts and then amends them to create a story.
Now as stories go there is a surprising amount going on in "The Gunfight at Dodge City" especially as it only just passes the 80 minute mark. The main storyline revolves around Bat running for County Sheriff when Ed is gunned down in Dodge and in doing so trying to bring law and order to a town which had become corrupt under the eye of Jim Regan. But there is a lot more to it than just this as we also have an element of revenge as the brother of a man who Bat killed is coming after him. And of course there is romance as Bat falls for Pauline the woman who was going to marry Ed before he died, but there is also Lily the saloon owner who is fond of Bat. The thing is that there is a lot going on but it is never complex, which means it is easy to follow, maybe a little too easy at times.
Now whilst the storyline works to a point what doesn't is the lack of action. There are a few gunfights and a brawl but they are all over with so quickly that they lack any power, no intensity of rush of adrenalin. And in a way it is surprising as some of director Joseph M. Newman's camera shots are brilliant, creating an atmosphere in the static scenes, especially in the "Lady Gay" saloon.
As for the actual acting well to be honest whilst no one is terrible most of the performances are not impressive. Julie Adams is attractive as Pauline and Nancy Gates is instantly likeable as Lily there is no depth to their characters and whilst Joel McCrea is handsome and confident, again there is no depth to his character. In fact despite McCrea being the star of "The Gunfight at Dodge City" he is out shone by John McIntire who is amusing as Doc Sam Tremaine, not in a comical sense but in that he's seen it all sense.
What this all boils down to is that "The Gunfight at Dodge City" is an entertaining western and at just 81 minutes moves at a nice pace but it is only average. And because we have the real character of Bat Masterson it is disappointing that what is delivered is more fiction than fact.