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Tuesday, July 05, 2016


The film that most people know about the Earps and the O.K. Corral is probably Tombstone, a successful release from 1993, which came right before the much more epic Wyatt Earp (which I'll talk about in a few days). I've come across many men of a certain age who consider this one of their favorite films, and have posters of it in their office.

To be sure, it is fairly accurate historically. There are differences that are almost too small to mention, such as Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany) already being in Tombstone, having given up acting to be the mistress of Johnny Behan before Wyatt Earp ever arrived. But the film gets the mechanics of the gunfight right, and also continues to show the "vengeance killings" that occurred afterward.

Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell, an unsung actor in perhaps his finest performance) is in town with his brothers to set up a faro game. He literally muscles out the local dealer (Billy Bob Thornton) and has no interest in being a peace officer. But his older brother Virgil (Sam Elliott) becomes marshal after the death of the former one, and all of the brothers get involved in a squabble with the "cowboys," an organized gang who run things. They team up with Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) to rid the town of the blight, but this is just the start of things.

Directed by George Cosmatos and written by Kevin Jarre, Tombstone does a great job of incorporating a lot of characters and complexity into a two-hour-and-fourteen minute film. They do leave stuff out, like the stagecoach robbery that is central to the reason the shootout happened, as well as the trial that the Earps underwent after the gunfight. But they got the characters right. Wyatt Earp was a stoic, bullheaded man, and that's how Russell played him. He doesn't use his gun often, unless he's hitting someone over the head with it. His line, "Are you just going to stand there and bleed?" seems authentic.

But Kilmer steals the show. He should have received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Holliday, a southern aristocrat and dead-eyed killer. He has the best and most memorable lines, which you can get printed on a t-shirt or coffee mug: "I'm your huckleberry," or "You're a daisy if you." The key line is when one of Earp's posse asks Holliday, who is dying of tuberculosis, why he's helping Earp. "He's my friend," is the answer. "I've got lots of friends," says the other man, and Holliday replies, "I don't."

The friendship between Kilmer and Russell is the spine of the movie, and it's poignant, as when Russell visits Kilmer in a sanatorium near the end of the picture. Each man had a woman (Earp has two in the film--his relationship with Mattie Blaylock, who becomes an opium addict, is true and doesn't even scratch the surface) but the bond between the two men is what's important.

Also in the film are some old cowboy actors. Harry Carey Jr. is Marshall Pat White, who was killed by Curly Bill Brocius (Powers Boothe) just like as happened in real life. Charlton Heston is in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role as a rancher, and the film is narrated by Robert Mitchum, who closes with this great line: "Wyatt Earp died in Los Angeles in 1929. Among the pallbearers at his funeral, were early western stars William S. Hart and Tom Mix. Tom Mix wept."

Of all the Tombstone movies, Tombstone may not be the best, but it is the most entertaining.

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