MASTERSON OF KANSAS was on the Encore Western channel the other day, and despite the liberties the script took with the actual facts concerning Bat Masterson and his relationship with Doc Holliday, it was a pretty entertaining western. It was released in 1954 by Columbia and directed by William Castle, better known for gimmicky horror flicks like “The Tingler.” It was made during the heyday of “B” movie westerns, and starred George Montgomery as Bat and character actor James Griffith as Doc.
Montgomery gave his usual stolid, wooden-faced performance and if that was all there was, it wouldn’t be much of a movie. It’s Griffith’s performance and the unusual twist the Douglas Heyes script gives to the Bat/Doc relationship that makes the film interesting. In this version, Doc hates Bat. In fact, he wants to kill him. But he’s got a gambling superstition. He never gets into a gunfight while he’s on a winning streak. He only kills when he’s losing.
There’s a plot concerning Bat’s efforts to prevent a Kiowa uprising led by Tonto, I mean Jay Silverhills. Some greedy cattlemen have framed a rancher for murder to stop the sale of grazing land to the Indians. Bat tries to find out who really is guilty. In the meantime, the fetching Nancy Gates shows up as the framed rancher’s daughter, and raises the blood pressure of most of the men in town, especially Doc and Bat.
Wyatt Earp (Bruce Cowling) is in town as the marshal and plays a supporting role in the drama, helping Bat establish the framed rancher’s innocence.
In the end though, the big question is, will Doc hit a losing streak and keep his promise to kill Bat? The leader of the greedy cattlemen hopes so and brings in a cardsharp to ensure that he does. The two plots converge when Bat, the cattlemen and their hired guns, and Doc walk down main street.
It isn’t the way any of it was, but so what? It’s a highly entertaining movie.