When Wyatt Earp (Randolph Scott) arrives in the town of Tombstone, he takes the law in his own hands by preventing a local outlaw named Indian Charlie (Charles Stevens) from destroying the saloon owned by Ben Carter (John Carradine). For his trouble, Earp is beaten up by Carter’s men. Earp, however, does get a job as the town’s new marshal.
After some initial weariness, Wyatt befriends an alcoholic dentist and gunfighter named Doc Holliday (Cesar Romero). While Earp keeps the peace in Tombstone, Doc is torn between two women, dancehall girl Jerry (Binnie Barnes) and his ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Nancy Kelly).
With Carter and his man planning on robbing a payroll train and also kidnapping frontier performer, Eddie Foy (played by the real Foy’s son, Eddie Foy, Jr.), it is only a matter of time before Earp takes on Carter at the legendary O.K. Corral.
Frontier Marshal was only the second sound film to be made about Wyatt Earp’s time in Tombstone and it was the first to use Earp’s name. (In the first film version of the story, also called Frontier Marshal, Earp’s name was changed to Michael Wyatt.) This was because Wyatt’s widow was offended by some of the material that was included in the biography that served as the basis for Frontier Marshal and threatened to sue anyone who wanted to make a movie out of it. In order to get her permission to make the film, 20th Century Fox agreed that no reference would be made to Wyatt’s marriage in the film. Mrs. Earp ended up suing anyways. 20th Century Fox settled.
As for the film, it’s in no way historically accurate and it pales in comparison to My Darling Clementine, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, and the Star Trek episode where Kirk, Spock, and McCoy thought they were in the old west. It is, however, better than The Gunfighters episode of Dr. Who. Randolph Scott is convincing as an upright and law-abiding Wyatt Earp, quite a contrast to the real Wyatt. The movie though is stolen by Cesar Romero, who plays Doc Holliday as being pathologically self-destructive. Cesar Romero is not necessarily the first name that comes to mind when you think of a great western actor but he’s very convincing here. John Carradine is a perfect villain and keep an eye out for Lon Chaney, Jr. as one of his henchmen. Unfortunately, the final gunfight feels rushed and, for all the build up, it isn’t as exciting as it should be. Frontier Marshal will mostly be of interest to those curious to see how Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Tombstone and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral were portrayed in films before they became a sacrosanct part of the mythology of the Old West.
Frontier Marshal was later remade, as My Darling Clementine, by John Ford. Ward Bond, who played Morgan Earp in Ford’s film, plays the original town marshal in Frontier Marshal. Charles Stevens, who plays Indian Charlie in Frontier Marshal, was often falsely described by the Hollywood publicity mill as being the real-life grandson of Geronimo. He also appeared in My Darling Clementine, once again playing the role of Indian Charlie. It was one of the nearly 200 films he made before he died in 1964.