Tombstone is a 1993 American biographical western film starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, and Dana Delany. It was directed by George P. Cosmatos and written by Kevin Jarre. The film depicts several notable events that occurred in the 1880’s in Tombstone, Arizona, including the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Famous gunfighter and lawman Wyatt Earp retires and meets back up with his brothers Virgil and Morgan. The brothers (and their wives) decide to settle in the boomtown of Tombstone, AZ. Despite officially being done with law enforcement, the upstanding Wyatt quickly gets on the bad side of Sheriff Johnny Behan and the Cowboys. Wyatt also meets up with his old comrade Doc Holliday. After the head Cowboy shoots the local U.S. Marshal and is forcibly arrested by Wyatt, Virgil’s outrage at the lawlessness displayed in Tombstone compels him to become the local U.S. Marshal. Events transpire that lead to the famous Gunfight at the O.K Corral and the Vendetta Rides after Cowboy retaliation against the Earps.
Even though this is a biographical film depicting events that did occur, unlike Spotlight or Band of Brothers, I intentionally chose not to do any sort of fact-checking for this viewing. In this time period, the saying “the man, the myth, the legend” rang true. People had no way of knowing if the heroes they read about or heard about actually did the extraordinary things they were claimed to have done. Yes, more often then not, these newspapers, biographies, and supposed first-hand accounts told by some drunkard at a bar were greatly exaggerated for free drinks or notoriety, but, when it comes to the American Old West, the stories people come up with are a lot more entertaining then the truth, most of the time.
Tombstone is an oft-quoted favorite of my family and friends. Though not as famous or well liked as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, or Unforgiven, the fact of the matter is that Tombstone is a hidden gem of the Western genre. This is mainly due to the talents of Kurt Russell and the once great Val Kilmer. Seriously, Batman Forever must’ve messed this guy up, because he was on a roll with his roles and then he…
Swapped big roles…
For big rolls…
Here though, Kilmer gives the best performance of his career. Holliday, during this time period, travels to Tombstone to ease his suffering from tuberculosis (AKA consumption), then incurable and a guaranteed death sentence. Holliday is clearly sick and dying throughout the entirety of his time onscreen. That doesn’t stop him from living up to his name as the most talented quickdraw to ever live.
That’s the thing. What makes a good Western film? The sets are of old-fashioned buildings, and those are easy to make and/or find. The special effects are just blanks and gunpowder, maybe some blood. Westerns are probably the easiest films to make, which is probably between the advent of film in the very late 1800’s to the 1990’s, so many Westerns were made that they oversaturated the market for nearly 100 years until the genre asphyxiated. Some are worried that comic book movies will go “the way of the western,” which one day they will. Not for a really long time, though, so shut your face and enjoy them. Anyway, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of Western films. Most of them are entirely forgettable black-and-white made for TV fare my great grandpa would pass out to during the family reunion. What makes the memorable ones so memorable? Why do we remember The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, High Noon, or Django Unchained for a more recent example? Take a look at these clips.
Here, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are incredibly likeable, funny, and charming, bringing a unique perspective to a genre full of stone-cold-killer protagonists.
There is a reason Clint Eastwood was the go-to actor for playing complete badasses from his stint on Rawhide in 1959 all the way up to his retirement from acting following 2008’s Gran Torino (which he also directed). Today, Clint is 89 years old, and he is still probably just as intimidating as he was 40 years ago. YOU DO NOT MESS WITH CLINT, EVER. EVER!!! I pity the idiot who decided to use that obviously fake baby when he directed American Sniper. “This is the prop gun I used in Dirty Harry, I think, Charlie. Or is it a prop? To tell you the truth, I was so angry when you threw that stupid doll in there I kinda lost track. The way I see it, Charlie, you only gotta ask yourself two questions. ‘Are people going to notice the doll?’ and ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” Sadly, people did notice and that probably wasn’t a prop gun. RIP Charlie
So now that I’m done revealing my undying man crush for the manliest man to ever be a man, the point I’m making is the same point I make about the Marvel movies. The actors and the characters are what makes a great Western. In Tombstone, Kurt Russell seems to be channelling Clint a little, and it works.
“You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?” Holy moly, that’s just awesome! All because of the dynamic between Russell and Billy Bob Thornton (thought I recognized him). There’s nothing great about Tombstone from a cinematic perspective or even from an action perspective. Where it is great is its actors. Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, and Michael Biehn give great performances here, and that’s what saves Tombstone from falling into obscurity and forgettability like the later 1994 Kevin Costner film Wyatt Earp. Instead, Tombstone is an infinitely quotable film made so by talented actors in almost all roles, and though not as good as Unforgiven or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in my opinion, it deserves much more recognition than it gets.