Do yourself a favor. If you’ve never seen 1955’s Wichita and hate spoilers, watch the opening credits with the sound muted. The opening title song, performed by Tex Ritter, summarizes the entire plot, including the outcome.
On the other hand, doesn’t every western where the hero sets out to clean-up a lawless town pretty much end the same way? I, for one, have never seen any that conclude with the marshal shot full of holes while the lawlessness continues. So unless Wichita is the very first western you’ve ever seen, I guess the song ain’t much of a spoiler.
But a big part of what makes the film enjoyable is how earnestly it sticks to a tried & true formula, because who the hell actually wants to see a marshal shot full of holes while the lawlessness continues? Hence, this unpretentious oater is a nifty little piece of cowboy comfort food.
For the record, the story has Wyatt Earp (Joel McCrae) riding into Wichita, a booming and unruly cattle town (with a welcoming banner that reads, Everything goes in Wichita). He initially just wants to start a business, but when a huge crew of cowherds employed by Clint Wallace (Walter Sande) run rampant and shoot up the town, resulting in the death of a child, he accepts the job of marshal. Earp arrests a bunch of them, then bans all firearms in the city limits.
|"See? I made a sign. Problem solved!"|
I don’t know how much of this account of Earp’s early life is accurate, nor do I really care. Wichita tells an engaging (if familiar) story with great efficiency, quickly & clearly establishing the protagonists and antagonists. The only part of the film’s scant running time that feels unnecessary is the romantic subplot between Earp and Laurie McCoy (Vera Miles). Not only is it superfluous, their obvious age difference is kind of off-putting.
Other than that, Wichita is a fitfully entertaining western. It doesn’t rank among the classics, but if good guys vs. bad guys is all you're looking for, this one delivers with little muss or fuss. Just like the song says.
2 CARTOON SHORTS - “Deputy Droopy” & “The First Bad Man,” both directed by Tex Avery.