Despite all the things that I’ve written about Doc Holliday over the years, I’ve never actually written about the film Docs. I don’t know why it’s taking me so long to do this. So I think it’s time to fix this. Let’s start immediately! Let’s start with Dennis Quaid who played Doc Holliday in the 1993 film Wyatt Earp. He may not be everyone’s favorite Doc Holliday. That accolade goes to Val Kilmer by a long shot, at least I’m presuming that is who you would have chosen, am I right? Quaid is one of my favorites though.
Let’s talk about how dang skinny Quaid was in this film. According to an interview of the time, he lost 43 pounds to look suitably tubercular for the part. According to the LA Times he normally weighs around 180 pounds so that would have taken him down to around 137 pounds despite his 6ft 1 inch stature. That’s dangerously skinny for an actor who still had to ride a horse during filming. Keep in mind the real Doc Holliday was reputed to weigh in at around 112 pounds during some periods of his life. Doc was said to be around 6 foot tall. I tend to believe that he may have been closer to 5 ft 10 inches, but still, that’s quite thin. Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I’m not picking at Dennis Quaid, I think it’s wonderful that he was so dedicated to lose that amount of weight for the character. He really does look awful in some of the scenes, especially the close ups in the bar with Wyatt, where you can get a really good close-up of the gauntness of his skeletal cheeks and his scrawny wrists. It really gives you a feel for things historically.
Now, let’s talk about the shades he wears. Not to be biased, but I love the shades! it’s not something that’s normally included in period films, but it is historically accurate, especially for a gambler who would perhaps want to hide his eyes when playing cards.
I also love that he rides a pale horse just like death. Highly appropriate!
Doc’s drunkenness is portrayed in realistic manner. He’s shown in various scenes pouring and downing entire glasses of whiskey. It’s not portrayed in a rakish over-the-top drunken manner, more in a quiet depressed alcoholic manner. I’ve heard from plenty of people that didn’t like that. They don’t like to think of Doc as an alcoholic and they don’t really want to see him portrayed in this manner. I think though it may be inaccurate to imagine Doc as a prude. He spent a great deal of his life post Georgia in saloons and it would be unrealistic to see him as a squeaky clean teetotolar that never drank a drop.
I think that Doc’s loyalty is portrayed in an accurate manner. He practically follows Wyatt like a lost puppy in this film. One of my favorite scenes is where Doc has a heart to heart with Wyatt after his wife Mattie nearly dies of an drug overdose. Wyatt is drinking away his sorrows after years of being sober and Doc sees him and slides up to the bar to save him. The first thing Doc does is he drinks the shot Wyatt has just poured for himself and then he coughs all over the empty shot glass to deter Wyatt from taking another drink. Quaid portrays a genuine gentleness in this scene. In every other scene with strangers Doc takes a tough line, but here with Wyatt there is genuine concern and humility. There’s an excellent couple of seconds where the bartender comes over with another glass and Doc glowers at him, before turning his attention back to Wyatt.
Another scene that I particularly love is after Morgan dies, Wyatt goes back to the hotel and finds Doc sitting at the top of the stairs, crying in the dark. He says of Morgan, “I loved that boy like he was my own little brother.” Then looking concerned at Wyatt standing close to the window, “Don’t let them get you too.”
Sadly Quaid never gets the kind of memorable lines that Val Kilmer had to play with in Tombstone. He does however get a few good ones that help to lighten up a frequently overly serious film.
“I’m dying of tuberculosis, I sleep with the nastiest whore in Kansas..”
“All of you can kiss my rebel dick.”
“Wyatt Earp? I’ve heard that name before. Don’t know where, but it wasn’t good.”
“John here has been a good friend to me when many others would not. *Dave Rutabagh* is an ignorant scoundrel! I disapprove of his very existence. I considered ending it myself on several occasions, but… self-control always got the better of me.”
What the Deuce is up with that Hanky?
So you may have worked out that I love Dennis in this film. I do, I genuinely do, but what the flip is up with that dirty handkerchief in the first scene that has Doc Holliday? Yes, I know that Doc would have suffered hemorrhages from time to time. I’m sure too he may even have gobbed in his handkerchief from time to time, but come on! I’ve never seen such a dirty handkerchief in any film before. Doc must have dropped it in a puddle, let it dry and then thrown up all over it, because it is the nastiest film prop ever. Yes, it is there to get a point across, but by all accounts Doc was well brought up and also a good dentist at one time. I know that perhaps keeping things clean on the frontier was hard, but good grief I don’t think any gentleman from the 1880’s would be seen dead with a handkerchief as dirty as that.
What I didn’t Like
I didn’t really like the fight that he has with Big Nose Kate. I believe that the real Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate were well known to have domestics from time to time. All in all it’s a good scene, but I hate that there are suggestions that Doc has physically hurt Kate. Perhaps I’m naive, but I find it hard to deal with the idea of Doc physically hitting a woman. I can imagine him making a lot of noise and arguing, but I don’t like the idea of things getting physical. Again, perhaps I’m too in love with Doc from a legendary perspective to even entertain that idea.
I think that Dennis Quaid plays a wonderfully charismatic Doc Holliday. He’s sarcastic, intelligent, quick witted and deadly. He also brings a depth of sadness and gentleness to the character. He looks like an old man, but you get a sense that that there’s still a young guy underneath who is dealing with a terrible condition.