Since this town was sprung up from the ground
And the pioneers came
And the money came round
And it earned its fame
Being anything but tame,
Many drinks and fears were both poured and downed
At the unembellished name
Curing wanderlust with its drinks and dust,
It soon started to draw
Folk you could not trust,
For there was no law
When the West was raw
Till a man moved in to defend what’s just
When he reached his last straw
MPAA rating: R
Once again, I fear I’ve been neglecting my dear VC, who hasn’t gotten one of her movies reviewed in well over a month. This time, she picked Tombstone, an all-star western that I’m honestly surprised I hadn’t seen before. As a sweeping retelling of the events surrounding the gunfight at the OK Corral, it provides a fictionalized but surprisingly comprehensive look at the law enforcement career of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
I knew only the most general background information about the shootout at the OK Corral involving Wyatt Earp and the Clantons, but Tombstone offered quite a bit of context with its large ensemble cast. Not only do we see Wyatt Earp’s arrival in Tombstone and the increasing tension between his family and the violent gang called the Cowboys, but we get to find out the aftermath of the OK Corral incident, which could have ended the film as its climax.
Earp himself, played by a tough-as-nails Kurt Russell, is a well-known badass trying to retire from his days as a peace officer, yet an early confrontation with an unrecognizable Billy Bob Thornton confirms he can still put the fear of God in bad guys. Once we’re introduced to his family and sick friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), it’s only a matter of time before his attempted retirement yields to bloodshed and vengeance as the Cowboys threaten the peace.
Like Silverado, another favorite western of mine, Tombstone boasts a staggering number of famous faces, some of them before they became famous. Russell is a fantastic Wyatt Earp, while Kilmer brings an unflinching swagger to an all-around pip of a role, which is considered one of his very best with good reason. Since my VC is a huge fan of Sam Elliott, his appearance as Wyatt’s older brother explains in part why she likes this movie so much, but there’s also Bill Paxton as the other Earp brother, Powers Boothe as wicked “Curly Bill” Brocius, Michael Biehn as fearsome Johnny Ringo, Stephen Lang and Thomas Haden Church as two Clantons, Dana Delany as Wyatt’s love interest, and Billy Zane as a visiting actor. That’s not even mentioning the smaller roles for the likes of Charlton Heston, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, John Corbett, Michael Rooker, Harry Carey, Jr., Gunsmoke’s Buck Taylor, Jason Priestley, and (Lost alert!) Terry O’Quinn as Tombstone’s mayor. It’s hard at first for me to keep up with the less familiar faces, but the biggest stars stand out with strong support from the ensemble around them.
I suppose I ought to see Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp from the following year for comparison’s sake, but it would be hard-pressed to top this western epic. While liberties are taken, there were many events and details that I was surprised to learn were true upon researching afterward, such as the fate of Johnny Ringo, which is a point of historical mystery yet was worked plausibly into Tombstone’s plot. Russell and Kilmer are in top form here, and Boothe and Biehn make for genuinely despicable villains from their very first scene. I wouldn’t hesitate to put Tombstone high among the top ten westerns I’ve seen, and it would likely make my Top 365 List if only I was more partial to the western genre. (True Grit is still my favorite.) As it is, I enjoyed Tombstone for its strong performances, excellent script, and historical interest; it’s the kind of movie that makes me want to like westerns more.
Best line (simple but great characterization): (Turkey Creek Jack Johnson) “Doc, you oughta be in bed. What the hell you doin’ this for anyway?”
(Doc Holliday) “Wyatt Earp is my friend.”
(Johnson) “Hell, I got lots of friends.”
(Doc) “I don’t.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2018 S.G. Liput
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