“I’m your huckleberry.”
The Scoop: 1993 R, directed by George P. Cosmatos and starring Kurt Russell, Powers Boothe, Val Kilmer, and Michael Biehn
Tagline: Justice Is Coming
Summary Capsule: Wyatt Earp comes out of retirement to fight a ruthless gang of cowboys.
Justin’s rating: Five aces? Well, I guess you win this hand…
Justin’s review: To go along with Hollywood’s strange little quirk of releasing two movies on the same subject in the same year, 1993 gave us two presentations of the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp. One featured Mr. Waterworld–Postman himself, Kevin Costner, and was pretty painful to watch. The other, Tombstone came away as one of the best westerns that the last few decades of cinema has produced. Of course, there hasn’t been a lot of competition in that genre, but still — good movie!
Tombstone follows Wyatt Earp (Kurt “Snake” Russell, in a surprisingly non-boring role) after his retirement from being a lawman. Earp moves to Tombstone, a silver mining town, with his brothers (Sam Elliott and Bill “Game Over, man!” Paxton) to make his fortune. However, a gang of rather uncouth lowlifes named the Cowboys, led by Curly Bill (Powers Boothe) and Johnny Ringo (Michael “I got wasted by a Terminator” Biehn), are ruling the town by terror. With the aid of eccentric Doc Holliday (Val “Iceman” Kilmer), Earp takes back up the guns and tames the West as is suitable for a such a legend.
While the action is fairly good, what really shines in Tombstone are the characterizations and dialogue. Doc Holliday is nothing less than an anti-hero who holds to an honor code of loyalty and all things scoundrel. He’s got so much pinaché that it makes him a rare invincible character who becomes the center of any universe that he’s occupying.
It’s a strange movie where the leaders of the opposing gangs (Earp and Curly Bill) are upstaged by their gung-ho compadres (Holliday and Ringo). But this is what we got, and nobody’s complaining.
Any movie can pull a gun and spend ten minutes blasting; what will really hook the action sequence for me is if there’s a really cool line and some thick tension to go right before it. Tombstone has quotables and style from the start until about five minutes from the end. While I’m not a big fan of horses (they’re big and they pee in surprising amounts), movies such as this do harken a part of my boyhood fascination with cowboys, Indians, and lots of guns.
While it might be easy to dismiss this film as male-oriented cinematic candy, the many great scenes that populate Tombstone, such as the stand-offs between Ringo and Holliday or the shoot-out at the OK Corral, make this a terrific, replayable movie that will stand out as one of the best westerns that doesn’t star Clint Eastwood or John Wayne.
Andie’s rating: It does not exist. This rating, I mean.
Andie’s review: Tombstone is my all-time favorite western. I really can’t say enough good things about it. It has terrific action, good romance, funny lines, and Val Kilmer has never been finer than as Doc Holliday. Anybody who doesn’t get chills watching the four good guys walk to the O.K. Corral should not be allowed to watch movies anymore.
Since the plot has already been summed up, I’ll examine some other important things, like the cast. I thought Kurt Russell’s strong, silent, and understated portrayal of Wyatt Earp was right on the money. His two brothers, Virgil and Morgan, were also excellently cast and Dana Delany was beautiful as the fiery actress Josephine. The stand out, however, is Val Kilmer as the irrepressible Doc Holliday. His wit and intelligence combined with cockiness and impressive gun fighting skills make him a force not to be reckoned with. And even though he’s a bad guy, Johnny Ringo is fantastic character. He is quite the dramatic foil for Doc Holliday.
My favorite scenes include when Wyatt brings Johnny Tyler down a peg in the Oriental, when Wyatt and Josephine go for a ride on their horses, walking to the O.K. Corral with that awesome music, and Wyatt and Doc’s last scene together in the hospital.
Even if you’re not a fan of Westerns, this is a movie not to be missed because it has elements to satisfy every movie-watcher’s taste.
Rich’s rating: Making Cowboys Cool Since 1836.
Rich’s review: It may seem weird to admit this here, but I’ve never been a particular big fan of Westerns in general, for reasons that it’s often hard to pin down. Maybe it’s a cultural heritage thing — after all, us island-bound Europeans don’t have the whole Manifest Destiny/Taming of the Wild Frontier thing in our past. Heck, you can walk from one end of our island to the other in something like 45 minutes. Regardless of the inexplicable reasoning behind it, I just was just never interested in cowboy movies. Nowadays, a lot of that early prejudice has gone, and I’ve seen and enjoyed not only classic Westerns like the Eastwood stuff and The Alamo (not the new version – ick) but some of the more modern ones as well. Tombstone is the film that finally opened my eyes to the wonders of the Wild Wild West.
The circumstances in which I came to see Tombstone at all now seems a little like fate — after all, given my prejudices the chances of me voluntarily going to see a western at the cinema at that time were pretty slim. However, during a week-long crusade to try and eventually see The Crow (of which I will elaborate when I get round to reviewing it), one of my many failed attempts came when a traffic hold up made me and my friend 20 minutes late for the opening. Given that we had driven already for 45 minutes to reach the cinema in the first place, we resolved to at least watch something instead of returning home immediately. The only film that was starting within the next 30 minutes was the “Managers Choice” film, where the Cinema manager chooses a film from the last 6 months or so to get another big screen showing. Tombstone was the film du jour, and given a choice between that or nothing, Tombstone won out.
Looking back, the co-incidences are scary — without the traffic, the resolution to see something regardless, the film scheduling at the theatre and the managers choice of Tombstone to get a repeat showing, I might have gone through life completely ignorant of the entire western genre. Fortunately, the silver spur of Destiny was there to get me to giddyup into the theatre with my popcorn and my preconceived notions and I left the theatre 90 minutes later with neither intact.
Tombstone is fantastic.
Whether it’s nostalgia, or just a childish attachment to the first film I saw that really made me appreciate how a good western didn’t have to be a 4-colour black/hat white hat, men-falling-off-buildings, staged-gunfight yawnfest, but Tombstone has been, is, and probably always will be my favourite Western film of all time. Let me count the ways.
For sheer characterisation, Tombstone is a revelation. Gone are the 2-D, weasly, good outlaws, and the upstanding white-hat sheriffs, replaced by an entirely more believably motivated cast of ne’er-do-wells and profiteers with real human reasons for doing what they do. Ironically, one of the reasons I love Tombstone so much is exactly the same reason I love The Crow — that nearly as much time on screen is spent characterising the villains of the piece as well as the heroes, so by the time the scum-of-the-earth types are getting some righteous cowboy vengeance visited on them, you’re right there along side them gratuitously enjoying watching them get their just deserts.
Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday is without a doubt his finest film role, (just edging out Tom “Iceman” Kazansky from Top Gun), who is by turns funny, sympathetic, roguish, heartbreaking, and desperate. There’s a scene later in the film when one of Wyatt Earp’s deputies asks Doc why he stays with Wyatt during his crusade across the west, to which he replies “Wyatt Earp is my friend”. “Hell,” says the deputy, “I don’t know if that’s worth dying for. I got a lot of friends.”. Doc’s quiet “Well, I don’t” has enough pathos and angst to drown an entire generation of Hot Topic customers, and is purely awesome.
That’s not to say that everyone is the film isn’t doing a fine job either. Michael Beihn as Johnny Ringo is broody and menacing, Kurt Russell does a fine fire and thunder, really-very-angry-cowboy impression as Wyatt, and there’s a whole posse of other good performances throughout the film.
To my mind, everything about this film just seems to click – the pacing is perfect, and doesn’t just fixate on the famous “Gunfight at the OK Corral” but deals with the before and after in ways that make it a part of the plot, rather than the centre of it. The dialogue is nice and gritty without resorting to the Deadwood school of “One swearword for every two other words” philosophy, and a couple of lines have made it into my own personal repertoire of “Movie quotes to use in conversation to make yourself feel superior and geeky at the same time, especially because only three other people in the world would recognise it was actually a quote in the first place”. Yes, I am a spectacular failure as a human being.
Ultimately, what convinced me to love Tombstone was that it didn’t feel like all the Westerns that had so turned me off as a kid. It looked and felt like a real Hollywood film, with no clichéd shootout at high noon, southern belle damsel in distress, gritty and softly spoken cowboy-with-a-heart-of-gold. If you like Westerns, you’ll probably like Tombstone a lot. If you don’t like Westerns, you will still probably like Tombstone a lot. And if you don’t, I’ll meet you outside the saloon at High Noon, you varmints.
- One of the tombstones: Here lies Lester Noor, four slugs from a 44, no Les no more. There is an actual tombstone in Tombstone, Arizona that has that epitaph.
- The nocturne that Doc Holliday plays is Chopin’s Noctune #19 in E minor, Opus 72 No. 1
- Val Kilmer uses his coin-flipping-over-knuckles trick in most of his movies
- The woman with the cut face – a reference to Unforgiven?
- Director George P. Cosmatos is quoted as saying that all lightning and mustaches are real.
- The real Wyatt Earp’s fifth cousin, Wyatt Earp, plays Billy Claiborne.
- Obviously, Tombstone takes a lot of liberties with the facts of history, but such is entertainment. Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) was a law officer, gambler, and gunfighter of the American West. After serving as police officer in Wichita (1874) and Dodge City (1876-77), he became an armed guard for Wells, Fargo & Company in Tombstone, Ariz. There, with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and a friend, Doc Holliday, he was involved in the controversial gunfight at (actually just outside) the O.K. Corral (Oct. 26, 1881), in which several men were killed. Leaving Tombstone in 1882, Earp traveled widely, operating saloons in San Diego, Calif.; Nome, Alaska; and Tonopah, Nev., before settling in Los Angeles. Before his death, Earp was a major Hollywood consultant for many Western flicks.
- This is a translation of what Doc and Johnny Ringo are saying to one another. They are various lines from assorted classic Greek plays: Doc Holliday: In vino veritas. (In wine there is truth.) Johnny Ringo: Age quod agis. (Do what you do.) Doc Holliday: Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego. (Let Apella the Jew believe, not I.) Johnny Ringo: Iuventus stultorum magister. (Youth is the teacher of fools.) Doc Holliday: In pace requiescat. (May he rest in peace.)
- The opening sequence is not, as they would have you believe, footage from actual documentaries of the old west (cinema didn’t really come into being until the 1890’s). Instead, they used a couple scenes from Tombstone and made them old-looking. The other scenes are from ancient west films, mainly The Great Train Robbery (1903). The last part, where the cowboy shoots directly at the screen, was originally intended to clear the theater for the next crowd to see Train Robbery.
- Laudanum is basically an opium/alcohol mixture. It was a cure all pain killer. Back in Wyatt’s day it was taken with as much ease as we’d pop an Advil or Tylenol today. It faded out at the turn of the century when the Dangerous Drugs Act was introduced and Opium became illegal.
Holliday: That’s Latin, darlin’! It appears Mr. Ringo is an educated man. Now I really hate him!
Ike: What is that Holliday? Twelve hands in a row? Ain’t nobody that lucky. Holliday: Why Ike, whatever do you mean? Maybe poker’s just not your game. I know! Let’s have a spelling contest!
Ringo: Isn’t anyone here man enough to play for blood?
Holliday: I’m your huckleberry.
Earp: Are you gonna do something, or just stand there and bleed?
Holliday: It’s true, you are a good woman. Then again, you may be the Antichrist.
Wyatt: Well I’ll be damned.
Doc: You may indeed, if you’re lucky.
Cowboy: You’re so drunk, you’re probably seein’ double.
Doc: I got two guns, one for each of ya.
Josephine: I’m a woman, I like men. If that’s not ladylike, then I guess I’m not a lady.
Wyatt: It’s true, you are different. But you’re a lady alright. I’d take my oath on it.
Ike Clanton: Listen, Mr. Kansas Law Dog. Law don’t go around here. Savvy?
Wyatt: I’m retired.
Curly Bill: Good. That’s real good.
Ike Clanton: Yeah, that’s good, Mr. Law Dog, ’cause law don’t go around here.
Wyatt: I heard you the first time.
Wyatt Earp: You die first, get it? Your friends might get me in a rush, but not before I make your head into a canoe, you understand me?
Doc Holliday: Why Kate, You’re not wearing a bustle. How lewd.
Doc Holliday: What do you want Wyatt?
Wyatt Earp: Just to live a normal life.
Doc Holliday: There is no normal life, there’s just life, ya live it.
Wyatt Earp: I don’t know how.
Doc Holliday: Sure ya do, say goodbye to me, go grab that spirited actress and make her your own. Take that and don’t look back. Live every second, live right on through the end. Live Wyatt, live for me. Wyatt, if you were ever truly my friend, or if ya ever had just the slightest of feelin’ for me, leave now, leave now, please.
Doc Holliday: It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Johnny Ringo: It’s quoted in the Bible, Revelations: Behold the pale horse. The man who sat on him was death, and Hell followed with him.
Sherman McMasters: Where is he?
Doc Holliday: Down by the creek, walking on water.
Wyatt Earp: From now on I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run you cur. And tell the other curs the law is coming. You tell ’em I’m coming! And Hell’s coming with me you hear! Hell’s coming with me!
Johnny Ringo: I want your blood. And I want your soul. And I want them both right now!
Doc Holliday: I have not yet begun to defile myself.
Doc Holliday: A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.
Wyatt Earp: What does he want?
Doc Holliday: Revenge.
Wyatt Earp: For what?
Doc Holliday: Bein’ born.
Doc Holliday: Look, darlin’, it’s Johnny Ringo. Deadliest pistolier since Wild Bill, they say. What do you think, darlin’, should I hate him?
Doc Holliday: You know, if I didn’t think you were my friend, Ed, I don’t think I could bear it.
Jack Johnson: Why do you do it?
Doc Holliday: Wyatt Earp is my friend.
Jack Johnson: Friend? Hell, I got lots of friends.
Doc Holliday: I don’t.
Doc Holliday: You’re no daisy!
Johnny Ringo: You must be Doc Holliday.
Doc Holliday: That’s the rumor.
Johnny Ringo: Are you retired too?
Doc Holliday: Not me. I’m in my prime.
Wyatt Earp: Skin that smoke wagon and see what happens!
Doc Holliday: Oh. Johnny, I apologize; I forgot you were there. You may go now.
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