Friday, March 20, 2020

The Western Scores: Hour of the Gun

Ten years after 1957’s fictional film, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), director John Sturges revisited the infamous face-off between the Earps and the Clantons. Promoted as a more historically accurate piece, Hour of the Gun (1967) starred James Garner as Wyatt Earp, Jason Robards as Doc Holliday and Robert Ryan as Ike Clanton.

The ‘60s were a booming time for a post-war crop of composers who cut their chops on Western film scores, and when Sturges hand-picked Jerry Goldsmith for the job, the composer brought along his acclaimed experience with the genre. 

Five years earlier, having found success with the theme for Boris Karloff’s TV show, Thriller, Goldsmith had been introduced to the head of Universal’s music department by composer Alfred Neuman. Universal assigned Goldsmith to Lonely Are the Brave, with Randolph Scott, directed by John Sturges. The film’s lyrical score won Goldsmith widespread recognition, and before long he’d written music for another Western, Rio Conchos (1964).

Beginning with a rousing flourish of trumpets immediately followed by a volley of French horns reminiscent of Elmer Bernstein’s Magnificent Seven score, the theme from Hour of the Gun settles into a sweeping ebb and flow of strings and brass. There’s the hint of wide-open vistas and galloping horses, but I also detect an undercurrent of darkness in the bridge. 

The score continues with riffs on that single theme, and has been called “sparse and transparent – a refreshing and remarkably original take on the traditional western score,” by Screen Archives Entertainment.

After Hour of the Gun, Goldsmith would go on to write music for Bandolero (1968), 100 Rifles (1969), and Rio Lobo (1970).

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of AmericaRead more at


  1. Oh, I love this! I don't think I have ever heard it--not sure I've seen this movie, either, so that would stand to reason. I'm loving your series on western themes, Rich. This music is really great, isn't it? Wouldn't it be great to have the talent to write a piece of music that could call up the essence of an entire movie as some of these do? SIGH.

  2. One of the best Western scores ever. Haunting , brilliant, and visual. One of Jerry Goldsmith's best.

  3. I enjoy your highlighting the composers. Music enhances great movies and can make so-so ones better. Keep it coming.
    Knew 'Lonely are the Brave' was a film with Kirk Douglas, but if there is one with Scott, I'd like to find it. Doris

  4. I'm a James Garner fan, and I don't know how I missed this one. I'll have to hunt for it.

  5. Music can make or break a film, it seems. It can certainly help it tremendously. Thanks!