Bat Masterson lived many lives - gambler, journalist, buffalo hunter, lawman, soldier. He had a lot of names, too. Born Bartholomew Masterson in Quebec in 1853, he went under the alias of William Barclay Masterson - only close friends got to call him Bat. Best known for his time spent policing Tombstone with the Earp brothers - Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil - he died, not at the hands of a darn tootin' varmint but at his desk at 'The New York Morning Telegraph'. Famed for his courage and for his gunmanship, Bat Masterson died rather unspectacularly of a heart attack in 1921, aged 67.
Although history now suggests Masterson - and the rest of the Earp posse, for that matter - wasn't the white-hatted hero many have him painted as, Bat has frequently been championed on screen. Essayed by Gene Barry in the long-running TV series and Tom Sizemore in Lawrence Kasdan's disappointing Wyatt Earp biopic, The Gunfight At Dodge City sees the great lawman played by the legendary Joel McCrea. In truth, McCrea was a little too old to take on the role and it sometimes stretches credibility that such an arthritic old cove could possibly protect the good people of Dodge City. That said, Joseph M Newman's picture is an appropriately sedate affair with even the titular shoot-up not asking too much of the ageing lead.
Given the complexity of his character and the rich variety of his life, it's a shame that someone hasn't told the real Bat Masterson story. For the time being, we'll just have to make do with Newman's serviceable if unspectacular picture. Fans of 1950s western film are sure to enjoy the manly playing of McCrea and John McIntire (aka Christopher Hale in 'Wagon Train' and Clay Grainger in 'The Virginian') and there's also an earlier uncredited turn from Timothy Carey, the eccentric actor-writer-director-teacher who'd become a favourite of Stanley Kubrick (The Killing, Paths Of Glory). As for how eccentric Carey could be, the story about him inviting close friend John Cassavetes over to his house, asking him to don a padded suit and then setting his attack dogs on the great director tells you all you need to know.