If there is one tragedy to award seasons (and I understand there are multitudes of tragedies) it’s that sometimes truly wonderful performances, award worthy performances, get over looked and fall through the cracks, the failure to garner any nominations let alone even one statue. It may take time to come up with a list but there is one performance that pushes to the forefront of my mind when this topic is brought up, and that is Dennis Quaid in the often panned Wyatt Earp.
The film itself has been criticized from it’s release on even by some of it’s stars, I think of Michael Madsen in particular. It is long and can be dry at times and isn’t Kevin Costner’s strongest performance but none the less it has several high points. Two that come immediately to mind are the performances of Gene Hackman and Dennis Quaid. Part of the criticisms of Wyatt Earp is it’s release timing. It was released 6 months after the very popular and highly praised film, based on roughly the same subject, Tombstone. Tombstone also turned in a magnificent performance from Val Kilmer, who played the same role as Dennis Quaid, the infamous, Doc Holliday.
I could write all day about the differences between the Wyatt Earp and Tombstone films but the focus here is on Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of Doc Holliday, one of the most notorious gunfighter’s in the old west.
Doc was well know for a few things. First was his name, John Holliday was given the name Doc, because he was, in actuality a dentist before a famed gunfighter. After Doc contracted tuberculosis he turned to the outlaw life as a way to thumb his nose at his illness and God whom he blamed for his illness. Being the most famous old west figure to hail from great state of Georgia, there is a special place in Dixie’s heart for Doc. There are museums and monuments to Doc in his hometown of Griffin, Georgia.
The factors that lead me to feel the way I do about Quaid’s role in the film are several but I will only examine a few. My goal is not to compare it to the favored Val Kilmer performance because I feel that would be unfair to Quaid.
First is the effort that Quaid put into this role. A normally thick well built man, Quaid lost over 30 pounds to play the dying and sickened gunfighter. With a gaunt look and spot on Georgian accent (I would know I heard it growing up), Quaid almost doesn’t eve look like himself, rather his is a shell of a man, almost as if he had tuberculosis. Quaid became someone different and looked and sounded more different than ever, he had become Doc.
My next thought lies within his performance and compared to historical recored, Quaid captured the ornery disposition that Holliday possessed. With a strong opinion and easy ability to offend, Doc truly on made one friend late in his short life and that was Wyatt Earp. The scenes in the film between Wyatt and Doc are what makes the film worth the entire experience. Costner and Quaid played against and with each other so naturally you are overcome with the thought that it truly was Doc and Wyatt. This has very little to do with Costner’s acting and everything to do with his trust and faith in Quaid to carry each scene.
Quaid will never get an award for his role of Doc Holliday despite whether or not he deserved one but from this fan’s viewpoint, it wouldn’t have hurt or been out of line to give recognition where recognition was due.