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DVD Review: The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp – The Complete Season One (1955- 1956)

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The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp is an American western television series based loosely on the career of frontier marshal Wyatt Earp. The series ran for six seasons beginning in 1955 and ending in 1961. It starred actor Hugh O'Brian as Earp. He was chosen for the role because of his resemblance to the Marshal. The series was produced by Desilu Productions.

The series was loosely based on Stuart N. Lake's 1931 biography of the famous "Frontier Marshal" whose trademark was a pair of Buntline Special pistols with extra-long barrels. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the real Wyatt Earp and whether the Lake biography is credible today, but I will leave that to the historians.

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp begins the first season with Wyatt Earp reluctantly becoming the Marshal of Ellsworth, Kansas when the current marshal is killed by gunmen. After capture, the gunmen are released by a corrupt judge. It becomes the goal of Earp and the Mayor to relieve the Judge of his duties and restore order to the town.

This is effectively the theme of the show where someone is attempting to disrupt order in the town and Marshal Earp uses his wit to solve the problem when he can or with his guns when he can't. It is interesting in that throughout the series, it seems that lessons are being taught about right and wrong. The early part of the series features a young Bat Masterson. There are also other famous real-life figures that appear in the series such as John Wesley Hardin and the Thompson brothers.

Another interesting thing about the six-year run of the series is that it is not just based in one town. As in real life, Earp moves on and takes new jobs (such as in Wichita) and at the end of this season, he ends up in Dodge City, Kansas. It is all of these things that make The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp an impressive series for the mid-1950s and early television.

Now not everything is pristine in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. While I have not been to Ellsworth, Kansas, I have been to Kansas, and I don't remember many mountains in the background. I also don't remember the scrubland that appears in the show either. It looks a little too much like California (I have been there, too) terrain as opposed to Kansas terrain to me.

While the scripts are very good, there are a few that seem a bit contrived. One that comes to mind is "Marshal Earp Meets General Lee," where Earp, to defeat a Confederate soldier, places a picture of General Lee with what looks like a sign made by a printing firm that says something like "Celebrate General Lee's Birthday" which has the former Confederates saluting and riding out of town. While most of this episode was pretty good, the ending killed it.

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp is presented in full-frame black and white. The quality of the audio and video are very good for a series of this time. There is some speckling and the occasional blip of negative damage, but you really have to pay attention to notice it.

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp comes on five DVDs that run 15 hours and include 35 episodes. Each episode runs around 25 minutes. Special guest stars on the series include: Glenn Strange, Rita Lynn, Mike Connors, Angie Dickinson, Elisha Cook Jr., Fay Baker, John Carradine, James Coburn, Ron Ely, Andy Clyde, and Louise Fletcher. There are no special features that come with this set.

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp was the first of many western series to come out during the mid to late '50s. It broke new ground and, while it didn't always work, it did try to present fresh and interesting stories of an iconic figure from the American west. The overall quality stories, the acting, and presentation make this a recommended buy.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.