Wichita (Tourneur, 1955)

Wichita (Jacques Tourneur, 1955)

As Joel McCrea’s Wyatt Earp rides into Wichita he passes signs and banners that read ‘Everything goes in Wichita.’ And, yes, this is true. Sacrificing safety for economic success, the town’s leaders openly endorse the arrival of cowboys despite knowing (and even promoting) a wild atmosphere. Before any of this happens though, Tourneur treats us to a small town with solid characters and a great attention to detail. There’s a scene where Earp, the mayor, and the newspaper staff sit in an oil lamp-lit room with the sounds of the piano at the local saloon lingering in the background. They talk about the town and the mayor (who is drinking) spits out and indistinguishable sentence – and I laughed. This scene did wonders for placing me right in the film’s setting.

In the second half, though, Tourneur uses too many dramatic plot points to help shape the characters’ motivations and move the story. It’s entertaining enough, but it’s hard for me to look past the slight manipulations. It’s too bad because his storytelling during the first half is great. The way we are introduced to the antagonists before any other characters (and the way they are presented as normal, non-bad guys) is a nice shift away from a standard film opening. Tourneur gets all the little things right, but doesn’t quite nail some of the big things.  8.5/10

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