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TOMBSTONE, one of two epic westerns about Wyatt Earp released within a few
months of each other (1993-94) lacks the lyrical, 'warts-and-all' quality
Kevin Costner's WYATT EARP, but is a more successful film, with tighter
pacing, more clearly drawn characters, and a reverence to the genre that
made it the most popular Western of the last twenty years.
From the opening scene, narrated by the legendary Robert Mitchum, a nod to
the great Hollywood Westerns of the past is evident; a gang of outlaws
calling themselves 'The Cowboys' break up a Mexican wedding in a small
ruthlessly killing nearly all the men, including village priest Pedro
Armendáriz Jr. (son of the legendary Western actor), in a scene
of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Led by two of
Hollywood's flashiest character actors, swaggering Powers Boothe, and
psychotic Michael Biehn (playing Johnny Ringo), the presence of such pure
evil sets the stage for the Earps' arrival in Tombstone.
A powerful cast is essential for a great Western, and you couldn't find a
better group of actors as the Earp brothers; Kurt Russell, chiseled,
squinty-eyed, and razor-thin, is an ideal Wyatt; Sam Elliott, one of
Hollywood's best Western actors, plays Virgil with a growl but a twinkle
his eye; and Bill Paxton, soon to achieve stardom in APOLLO 13 and
makes a terrific Morgan. Then there is Val Kilmer, as Doc Holliday...While
Dennis Quaid, in WYATT EARP, gave the most realistic portrayal of the
dentist-turned-gambler/gunfighter ever recorded on film (he was superb),
Kilmer, relying on bloodshot eyes, an ambiguous sexuality, and a
Brando-esque line delivery, literally steals TOMBSTONE, and has become the
'Doc' everyone remembers. He is so charismatic that you nearly forget that
the Earps are the focus of the story! Watch for his early scene
a shotgun-wielding (and chubby!) Billy Bob Thornton (three years before
SLING BLADE), out to kill Wyatt, and you'll see my point.
The events leading up to the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral are
and decisively presented, from Wyatt's first meeting with future wife
(Dana Delany), to the murder of Tombstone's Marshal (Harry Carey, Jr., son
of another legendary Western star, and a staple of many John Ford films),
which leads to Virgil taking the badge and making his brothers (in Wyatt's
case, reluctantly) deputies, to the friction with Ike Clanton (GODS AND
GENERALS' Stephen Lang) that explodes into the short but bloody shootout
that became legendary.
Where TOMBSTONE and WYATT EARP both excel is in presenting the aftermath
the gunfight. Unlike MY DARLING CLEMENTINE or GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL,
the true story doesn't tie up neatly with a happy ending at the Corral,
becomes darker and bloodier. The Earps are placed under house arrest, and
after they are acquitted in court, friends of Clanton (in TOMBSTONE, Ringo
and other Cowboys), cold-bloodedly murder Morgan and cripple Virgil. Wyatt
explodes, and grimly sets about, with Holiday and a small band of gunmen,
execute every possible Clanton ally he can find ("You tell him I'm coming!
And hell's coming with me!"). Becoming a wanted fugitive himself, he only
stops his mission of vengeance long enough to take the ailing Holiday to a
friend's cabin (Charlton Heston has a brief but memorable cameo as the
rancher), but the gambler returns in time for the gunblazing climax of the
TOMBSTONE is the kind of Western that critics love to say aren't made
anymore, a throwback to the golden days of Ford and Hawks, when Good and
Evil were clearly defined. Director George P. Cosmatos grew up on those
films, as well as those of Sergio Leone, and he said, of TOMBSTONE, that
was made to honor the Westerns he loved so much.
It is his love of the Western that makes TOMBSTONE a truly superior
Tags for Tombstone Full Movie
, Kurt Russell
, Sam Elliott
, Val Kilmer
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