FRONTIER MARSHAL, starring Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp, holds an interesting niche in film history. It was the second film 20th Century-Fox based on Stuart Lake's book WYATT EARP: FRONTIER MARSHAL. Just a few years later FRONTIER MARSHAL would be remade yet again...as John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), which was reviewed here last May.
Directed by Allan Dwan, this film also stars Cesar Romero in an interesting performance as Doc Holliday (spelled Halliday here). The "good" and "bad" women in Holliday's life, played by Cathy Downs and Linda Darnell in the Ford version, are played in this film by Nancy Kelly and Binnie Barnes. Scott, always at home in Westerns, is fine as the calm, confident Earp. Ward Bond, who played Wyatt Earp's brother Morgan in CLEMENTINE, appears in another role early in this movie.
While not on a par with CLEMENTINE's visual poetry, FRONTIER MARSHAL is quite an enjoyable film in its own right. The movies are different in many respects, but they also share a number of similar scenes and characters. Moments such as the saloon girl being tossed in a horse trough, the girl from Doc's past looking at a photo in his room, an actor performing in the saloon, or Doc having to do emergency surgery will be quickly recognized by those more familiar with MY DARLING CLEMENTINE.
Whereas MY DARLING CLEMENTINE was shot in Monument Valley, portions of FRONTIER MARSHAL were shot in the striking, easily recognizable Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, California.
Nancy Kelly, who is lovely as the woman from Doc's past, deserves a footnote. In 1939, when she was a leading lady at 20th in films such as this and JESSE JAMES, her little brother Jack was a child actor in two notable films at the same studio, THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL and John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN. Nearly two decades later, Jack Kelly starred with James Garner in my all-time favorite TV series, MAVERICK (currently airing Thursday nights on American Life Channel). While most people seem to prefer Garner's better-known Bret Maverick, Kelly's brother Bart was always my favorite. :) Later in life Jack was the mayor of nearby Huntington Beach, California, and I was privileged to meet him on a couple of occasions. He was a friendly, gracious man.
The original 1939 New York Times review of FRONTIER MARSHAL can be found here.
FRONTIER MARSHAL runs a brief 71 minutes and was shot in black and white. The film does not appear to be currently available on either VHS or DVD. I viewed it on a borrowed video. Hopefully it will turn up on DVD at some point. It's an entertaining Western which is well worth seeing.
2007 Update: FRONTIER MARSHAL is now available as an extra in the Ford at Fox: Essential John Ford DVD Collection.
2012 Update: FRONTIER MARSHAL is now available on DVD-R in the Fox Cinema Archives Collection.
October 2015 Update: I had the wonderful chance to see this film at the Lone Pine Film Festival -- followed a few days later by seeing MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) at UCLA.