Doc Holliday, the consumptive tooth-puller turned gunslinger, was the more fallible of the Wild West's odd couple. Ever since Hollywood first told their tale, just three years after Wyatt Earp's death in 1929, Doc has been threatening to overshadow his more principled, but decidedly less interesting, other half. It was always going to be difficult to sustain the iron-willed moral crusader Earp, over 60 years and 18 films. Without Holliday, the Tombstone tale would probably have bitten the dust long ago.
Now, in these morally confused and cynical days, in which the good guys inevitably turn out to be the bad guys, the dysfunctional Doc has struck a discordant note that is perfectly in tune. Racked by physical pains and ridden with guilt, an outsider living on borrowed time, he could almost be a post-modern invention.
The mythical Earp was pretty much one-dimensional--and, as played by Kevin Costner in Lawrence Kasdan's new 190-minute epic, Wyatt Earp, profoundly dull--but the engagingly corrupt and morally ambivalent Holliday has always been a rich and biblically resonant source of inspiration for any actor.
Dennis Quaid is the latest to step into his boots and gives a mesmerising and powerful performance. He has succeeded in resurrecting his own career while casting a shadow over the entire proceedings. Quaid lost 43 lb for the role but as a result put on much-needed weight as an actor, and this "talent-laden bore" of an epic is worth seeing just for his dandified portrayal of Holliday. Quaid needs Costner, just as Holiday needed Earp: the marshal's unshakable principles provide the perfect foil for Doc's soul-destroying dilemmas and uncertainties.
Holliday may have looked to Earp for salvation but he ended up by finding his straight man and one of Hollywood's enduring partnerships.