DOC (1971, Dir. Frank Perry, US)

keach as doc holiday

The legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday is inexhaustible, having given birth to numerous cinematic incantations, which have all in their own way brought something distinctive to the Western narrative. Frank Perry’s Doc, made in 1971 just as the term revisionist was about to take hold of the genre and begin in earnest the process of demythologisation, refuses to adhere to the Hollywood legend. Perry’s Doc is an austere vision of the West, and sets about validating Doc Holiday as the infinite star of this tale, not Earp and his brothers. Director Frank Perry’s work seems to be all but forgotten in the story of 1970s New American cinema, yet his career seemed to peak just as the idea of auteur cinema in Hollywood was ruled artistic bankruptcy at the end of the 1970s. Like many of his contemporaries Perry seemed to do most of his best work in the period of transition, the long sixties. When put up against the Hollywood Earp and Holiday legend, Doc opts for a deconstruction of sorts, presenting an oppositional counter narrative in which Earp is a cowardly, shrewd and greedy capitalist while Doc is a man who longs to be a father, and to leave behind a positivist vestige. Even the supposedly epic gunfight in the OK corral is reduced to a fleeting pitiless ritual that re-situates Doc as a disturbed, brutal killer. When Doc shoots the kid, Perry magnifies this transgression, shattering the doubling trope to suggest a provincial and monolithic archetype of masculinity remains unbroken. Stacy Keach was born to inhabit the Western landscape and his take on Doc Holiday is significantly understated and in some respects on par with Victor Mature’s sad laconicism in Ford’s My Darling Clementine. The luminous Faye Dunaway provides support as a reformed prostitute in what should have been a more substantial role. Doc is indeed an underrated Western but then so is the work of Keach and Perry.


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