Tombstone Film Details
Overview: A successful lawman’s plans to retire anonymously in Tombstone, Arizona are disrupted by the kind of outlaws he was famous for eliminating.
Tagline: Justice is coming.
Review: The opening narration by Robert Mitchum is told among scenes from several early silent features: “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) and “The Bank Robbery” (1908). The narrator further states that the discovery of silver created the boom-town of Tombstone (1879). A large gang of ruthless outlaws, led by psychopaths Curly Bill Brocius (Powers Boothe) and Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), ride hard at a Mexican wedding party and thoroughly destroy it. An incensed priest warns them about the ominous signs of the apocalypse: vengeful men riding on horseback. He is abruptly gunned down by Ringo. Only a few months after rowdy Tombstone’s founding, three Earp Brothers (Wyatt = Kurt Russell, Virgil = Sam Elliott, and Morgan = Bill Paxton) arrive with their three wives (Mattie, Allie, Louisa) to settle down and make money. We do not hear about brothers James or Warren, even though they were there in the 1880s; James was a saloon-keeper not involved in the politics. Tombstone is typically western in that saloons and gambling establishments thrive. Confidence men check out the Earps as they disembark from wagons. County Sheriff Behan (Jon Tenney) introduces himself; the Earps also meet town marshal Fred White (Harry Carey, Jr.). After that, Wyatt enters the Oriental to confront bully Johnny Tyler (Billy Bob Thorton), who had seized the gaming table. By disposing of the coward, Wyatt obtains 25% of the faro take. Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), an old friend who has pneumonia, turns up to renew his old acquaintances. Entering town by stagecoach is actress Josephine Marcus (Dana Delaney) and her small acting troupe. Over time Josephine will replace laudanum-drinking Mattie as Wyatt’s wife. At the Oriental gaming table, Wyatt and Doc make the acquaintance of Curly Bill, Johnny Ringo, and Ike Clanton (Stephan Lang). Ike warns Wyatt that the Cowboys dislike lawmen; Wyatt, though, is “retired”; he had been a noted peace officer in Dodge City, Kansas. Curly Bill wins $500 and walks away happy, although Doc and Ringo eye each other. Leaving an opium den, Curly Bill is of unsound mind and fires his weapons against town regulations; eventually he murders Marshal Fred White while corrupt Sheriff Behan does nothing. The mayor wants Wyatt to be town marshal but he initially refuses. Later Wyatt becomes a lawman, along with his two brothers. Meanwhile some outlaw cowboys pull into town armed. The Earps deploy to disarm the cowboys, an action that sets up the famous shootout at the OK Corral (26 Oct 1881). When the smoke clears, two McLaury Brothers and Billy Clanton (Thomas Haden Church) are dead; Virgil, Morgan, and Doc are wounded. Billy Clairborne (Wyatt Earp III) and Ike Clanton have run away. Actually Ike did not shoot at the Earps from Fly’s studio; he simply ran towards the stables. Unsuccessfully, Behan tries to arrest the Earps. “Tombstone” is unique in that it covers six months after the OK Corral gunfight. Because of the shootout, the cowboys commence cowardly acts of vengeance. They hold a funeral for their dead comrades, carrying a sign that reads “Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone.” On a subsequent stormy night, Virgil is ambushed by some cowboys; resulting in a buckshot-shattered left arm. After (actually three months later), Morgan is shot in the back while playing pool; he lives only a few minutes before expiring. Wyatt decides it is time to send Virgil, Allie, and Louisa to California. Curly Bill sends Frank Stillwell (Tomas Arana) to the train station to wipe out the remaining Earps. Stillwell, however, is shot to death by Wyatt, who now becomes a renegade for his vengeful action. The rest of the movie focuses on the Earp Vendetta (1882). This was a federal posse that included “Texas Jack” John Vermillion (Peter Sherayko), “Turkey Creek” Jack Johnson (Buck Taylor), Sherman McMasters (Michael Rooker), Warren Earp (although Warren was not in the movie), and Wyatt. These are the men of the apocalypse, the earlier warning of the priest. Cowboys are shot to death on site, whether on the plains, in the woods, at an opium den, or in a barber shop. It’s not easy, though. Once, Wyatt’s band is trapped in a crossfire by Curly Bill and some cohorts at Iron Springs. Wyatt bravely extricates himself and runs towards the cowboys, blazing away, and killing Curly Bill. Doc says Wyatt walks on water. (It is an historical fact that Wyatt was never wounded in any of his gun battles.) Although Sheriff Behan forms a posse (that included outlaw cowboys) to arrest Wyatt, he never locates him. Wyatt’s band rests at the ranch of sympathetic Henry Hooker (Charlton Heston). Ringo sends a message challenging Earp to come to the Oak Grove (Silver Springs), but Doc Holliday arrives first and challenges Ringo, who is slain. The remaining gang-members are systematically wiped out. Ike survives (only to be killed later while rustling cattle). After the vendetta is over, a dying Doc has checked himself into a Colorado sanitarium. On his deathbed he has converted to the Roman Catholic faith. (Doc actually lived longer, until 1888.) In snowy Colorado, Wyatt visits Josephine and proposes, even though he owns nothing. Josephine says she comes from a rich family. The narrator tells us that they lived together for 47 years; Wyatt died in 1929. Two of his funeral pall bearers were silent screen cowboys William S. Hart and Tom Mix. Credits appear at movie’s end. Director George P. Cosmatos has created a vastly underrated western. The photography magnificently pictures the grandeur of the West, like its sunsets. Notice the interior of the telegraph office at the beginning, the ornate bar of the Oriental, or the candle-lighting around the actors’ stage. The sets are authentic, even finer details like clothing, wallpaper, saddles, and pistols of the 1880s. The exception is the red sashes, which appear solely for Cowboy identification. There are 85 speaking parts and characters are well-developed. This might have been the best western since the 1970s.
Language: English, Latin, Spanish
Duration: 130 min
Genre: Action, Biography, Drama, History, Western
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