This isn't just a film about the gunfight at the OK Corral, it is a film about the Earps and what became known as the Earp Vendetta Ride. It simply had the misfortunte of being up against another film about Wyatt Earp that starred Kevin Costner in his prime.
Wyatt Earp (19 March 1848 - 19 January 1929) was at various times in his life a gambler, saloon keeper, farmer, gold miner and lawman.
Virgil Earp (18 July 1843 - 19 October 1905) mainly a gambler but also a well known lawman
Morgan Earp (24 April 1851 - 18 March 1882)
John Henry "Doc" Holliday (14 August 1851 - 8 November 1887) dentist, gambler and gunfighter
The film Tombstone follows the move of the Earp brothers Wyatt (Kurt Russell) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) at the silver mining town of Tombstone, in Arizona, after leaving Dodge City, where older brother Virgil Earp (Sam Elliott) had just Tombstone been appointed deputy US Marshal.
The film doesn't quite stick to the facts - leaving out some of the Earp brothers and the trial of Wyatt and the others for murder after the gunfight at the OK Corral.
Wyatt and Morgan didn't arrive together. Missing are older brother James (who arrived with Wyatt) and worked as a barkeep, and younger brother Warren arrived later with Morgan. Then finally Doc Holliday arrived. Holliday is portrayed by Val Kilmer, who succeeds in stealing every scene that he is in.
The trouble between the Earps and the cowboys after Virgil accused Frank McLaury of stealing army horses and mules and altering the brands - usually known as cattle rustling. The Cowboys were well known for cattle rustling, if you had any animals and they were missing then they were usually in the possession of the Cowboys.
After several stagecoach hold-ups and shootings tensions between the Cowboys and the Earps were at breaking point and this was the build up to the famous (or infamous) Gunfight at the OK Corral. A few minutes that have since gone down as legend.
Interestingly (and missing from the film) after the gunfight, the corrupt sheriff Johnny Behan arrested the Earp brothers and Holliday, and they faced trial for murder. Ike Clanton's testimony was said to have been extremely unbelievable - the towns people knew him as a bully and a thug, yet he said that he was terrified and feared the Earp's as they had repeatedly bullied, frightened and intimidated him.
It was Ike Clanton's own contradictory and confused testimony that cleared the Earps and Holliday. Claiming that the Cowboys had merely been trying to enjoy the evening air and that they were not in the habit of carrying guns went against every witness that had given evidence at the trial, including his own men. He also claimed that Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil and Doc had confessed separately to him that they were responsible for the stage coach robberies and murders.
Wyatt took advantage of a law that allowed him to read a prepared statement without being cross-examined by the prosecution. He read his statement, in a calm and controlled manner, which detailed the troubles between the two groups, how they only wanted to disarm the men and that they had to fire in self-defence. That, along with the respected witnesses, cast enough doubt on the case that the jury decided to free them.
It was after this that the Cowboys decided to assassinate the Earps, and so Wyatt (with the help of an ailing Doc Holliday and a posse) embarked on the vendetta ride, for the blood of those who had harmed his family.
Wyatt Earp had been friends with notable Wild West figures such as Wild Bill Hickcock and Bat Masterson. As well as western movie stars such as Tom Mix, William S Hart and even a young John Wayne.
Kurt Russell is an established authority on Wyatt Earp and it shows in the fact that the story is about Wyatt's Vendetta Ride and what caused it, rather than the usual Gunfight at the OK Corral.
It is a shame that the time constraints meant that so much of the story of the Earps, the Clantons and the Cowboys had to be missed out.
Personally, if Mr Russell ever decided to make the story of the Earps into mini series I'd watch it and I'd buy it too, if it was done to the same standard as this movie.
As I have previously said Val Kilmer steals the show as Doc Holliday with a performance that should have earned him awards. But to mention Mr Kilmer with out mentioning his `huckleberry' Michael Biehn would be a crime. Biehn portrays Johnny Ringo, an educated man who Holliday calls the "deadliest pistoleer since Wild Bill", and a wonderful foil for Kilmer to play off.
Yet by picking out those I don't want you to think that the others aren't as good, the entire cast is amazing, without exception this film should have been award winning - the only reason it wasn't is down to Hollywood politics and the movie industry snobbery. Shame on them.
This is a well made, well acted, and exceptionally underrated film - it is what a true western should be. Outstanding.
--- Side Note ---
The US region 1 double disc set is well worth a look. If you have a universal player then they are worth the money. You get a disc of extras, as well as a director's cut of the movie. I rate both versions of the film, but the director's cut is a more fulfilling film.
The Gunfight at the OK Corral has been portrayed more than any other event in frontier history on the big screen. There are six - at least - films directly about the subject (Frontier Marshall, My Darling Clementine, Doc, Hour of the Gun, Wyatt Earp, Gunfight at the OK Corrall and this one) and many more Westerns take elements of the historical dynamic, notably Warlock.
Tombstone manages to be both the most historically accurate AND the most exciting, which is no mean trick in a film made for a fraction of the Lawrence Kasdan/Kevin Costner epic released shortly afterwards and a production plagued with directorial changes and mass cast sackings as - on-set- the underwhelmed actors and production crew struggled with a 'difficult' script.
Kurt Russell portrays Wyatt Earp as a very tough man who is tired of being a 'legendary' law officer and just wants to make some money. However - at the prompting of his brothers - Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton), he is sucked into taking on the 'Cowboys' - who are described in Robert Mitchum's narration as 'the first organised crime gang in America.'
They weren't, but they were pretty nasty and - when suitably prodded - capable of collective, violent and vengeance driven, action. Wyatt Earp wanted to be sheriff of Tombstone so was really not running away from his peacemaker past. It's the only glaring historical mis-step and, in my opinion, foregiveable.
For what Tombstone delivers is an utter credible portrayal of 1880s frontier life, personified by the former dentist and current gunfighter/gambler Doc Holliday.
Holliday has been portrayed by some heavy-hitting actors - Kirk Douglas, Jason Robards, Dennis Quaid - but no-one gets as close to capturing the drunk, consumptive, Southern gentleman psychopath as Val Kilmer in this work. Kilmer is, frankly, astonishing and as someone who endured his work in turkeys like The Saint and Alexander, I do not bandy praise about this actor lightly. Doc Holliday's most recent biographer - who knows the real man rather than the Hollywood legend - praises Kilmer effusively and there is no higher accolade, in my opinion.
In this new DVD special edition, the biggest irony is that George Pan Cosmatos - who died a couple of years back - is able to make such a joyous director's commentary considering - in some ways - star Kurt Russell was 'meant' to be directing. Cosmatos was a bit of a hack - notable for Stallone vehicles Cobra (urgh) and Rambo Two (double urgh), but this was the work of his life and in its energy, design and look, Tombstone - bathed in South west sunshine - is just superb.
You don't believe me? Check out the clip on You Tube of the actual gunfight - Thomas Haden Church acting his little socks off. Then trust me, the rest of the film is that good.
The extras are cute, but don't add a whole heap. There are better documentaries on the real incidents in Tombstone. It doesn't matter. This is a great film. If you love westerns - even if you don't - this should be on the shelf.
My only regret is that Kevin Costner - who is the best Wyatt Earp ever on screen - is not in this instead of the Lawrence Kasdan film. His morally upright, unsettling intensity would make this film perfect and I'm talking Godfather Two perfect.
on 3 November 2006
This is an absolutely fantastic film. I've watched this baby so often I almost know it off by heart. The cast is so well put together. Kurt Russell looks so much like Wyatt Earp really looked it is remarkable. This is also Val Kilmer's best ever role. You kinda forget you're watching a film, the acting is that good. Dana Delaney plays the stunning Josephine Markinson, who beyond the film becomes Wyatt's wife. This is trully a magnificant film. The one liners are fantastic and memorial, just like the one above or when Wyatt bumps into a red slash cowboy leaving jail and says "easy kid, I'm sorry", the kid replies "I ain't easy and I ain't your kid, you take sorry and shove it up your..!"
However if you are thinking of buying this particular DVD and own a region 1 DVD player, think again. Amazon's sister in US does Tombstone Vista Series. This is a 2 disc edition in a special collectors box. It is in DTS 5.1, the visual has been digitally restored, it is THX certified and the main feature film has over 30 minutes of extra scenes that were not in the UK release. These extra scenes are not your usual deleted scenes on a separate disc but are proper scenes that were in the US release but deleted for the UK release. Don't ask me why! They add even more detail to this film. They especially add another dimension to the relationship Wyatt Earp had with his opium addicted girlfriend and many more stories.
on 21 June 2004
This is one of the best Westerns ever made and is actually historically pretty accurate. Kurt Russell is very good as Wyatt Earp but Val Kilmer steals the show as the ice cool Doc Holliday. I can watch this film time and again and never get bored with it. Packed with action and superb gunfights it is entertaining from start to finish.Well worth the money, its a classic.
on 13 January 2003
This is one of the best westerns ever made and ranks right up there with "The Searchers" and "The Unforgiven." It is a story of changing times that haven't quite changed enough. Kurt Russell gives his best performance as Wyatt Earp, coming to Tombstone with his brothers to settle down and put his Marshaling days behind him. Tombstone is wild though and a group known as 'The Cowboys' along with young Johnny Ringo begin to make this impossible.
Dana Delany is radiant as the actress Wyatt falls for even though he is married. His wife has become a drug addict and his marriage is not the stuff dreams are made of, but Dana Delaney is. Wyatt and his brothers are slowly drawn towards the history we have come to know, and the aftermath we may not. This is a multilayered story more faithful to the truth than most versions.
What makes this film different from other westerns is the depth of the story and the realistic performances of the cast, the finest of which is Val Kilmer's terrific turn as Doc Holliday. This film more realistically portrays the relationship of Holliday and Wyatt than any other film. Kilmer is dangerous and intelligent, and above all, loyal to perhaps his only real friend in life, Wyatt Earp. Kilmer so becomes the real Doc Holliday that it was said he remained in character on the set at all times. His performance is something that will always be remembered by anyone who watches this film.
Wyatt is a real man in this film with raw courage but no self delusions. He is no gunman and realizes he can not beat Johnny Ringo in a gun battle. Doc Holliday, in spite of his illness, arrives there first and in one of the greatest (and most accurately portrayed) gunfights in film history kills the legendary Johnny Ringo, thus saving Wyatt's life.
Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp remained friends until Holliday finally was overtaken by the tuberculosis which had plauged him for years. As in real life Wyatt Earp acually does find happiness and settles down with Dana Delaney after his wife dies. He became quite wealthy in the latter part of his life. The rich tapestry of events that formed the legend of the dangerous Doc Holliday and Marshall Wyatt Earp are given the best and most accurate screen treatment ever filmed. This is a must see western. You will never forget it and you will never see a better and more colorful true to life performance than Val Kilmer's turn as Doc Holliday......
If not as good as John Sturges' under-rated and rarely revived masterpiece Hour of the Gun, the first film to follow the aftermath of the O.K. Corral, Tombstone is far from the spoiler for Kevin Costner's ill-fated Wyatt Earp that it was first made out to be (Costner was originally going to make Kevin Jarre's script until he decided to make an epic biopic instead). Rather than follow most of the lawman's life, this concentrates on his days in Tombstone and is much more of an old-fashioned western, with Russell's Earp no embittered misogynist but a man forced against his domestic and financial instincts into a reckoning with the forces of evil.
Where the build-up to the gunfight is a bit rushed and confused in Costner's film, here it carries more weight thanks to a literate and relatively accurate script that convincingly develops the characterisation, despite the large cast, and doesn't get in the way of the extremely well-handled action. There are some great atmospheric moments, such as Wyatt's effectively staged warning to Clanton at the railway station ("Tell them I'm coming, and hell's coming with me!") or Doc's first meeting with his malicious mirror image, Johnny Ringo. There's pulp poetry a-plenty here, and of the highest grade; when Earp asks why men like Ringo do what they do, Doc explains they are motivated by revenge. "For What?" "For being born."
Aided by a striking resemblance to the real Wyatt Earp, Kurt Russell is surprisingly at home in the western genre and if Kilmer may not be as stunning as Quaid in the role of Doc Holliday, his larger than life performance never crosses the line into parody and compliments him well.
Powers Boothe makes a good villain in the Gregory Peck Duel in the Sun mode, Stephen Lang is a much more convincing Ike Clanton than Jeff Fahey's wild-eyed central casting looney tune but Michael Biehn tops them both with his chillingly educated Johnny Ringo, trading Latin quotations with Doc and his soul with the Devil. By comparison, Dana Delaney seems so clumsily grafted in on the narrative, disrupting and diluting every key scene she's in, that it's a genuine surprise to find out that her character is not an invented one. The rest of the cast is terrific, although Charlton Heston's part is so small (some extras have more lines) that you do wonder why he took it and Michael Rooker is completely wasted.
Director Cosmatos (whgo replaced writer and original director Kevin Jarre early in the shoot)has a great eye for the Scope format, with a beautiful use of the frame that makes no concessions to panning and scanning and conveys a sense of community going about its business without stopping the film to do so (note the tracking shot through the walls of a telegraph office as the brothers are reunited at the beginning of the film).
The costumes, sets and facial hair seem much more authentic than Costner's picture, for which original director Kevin Jarre must take most of the credit: this time when they take their walk to the O.K. Corral they don't look like a quartet of pissed-off Amish farmers. The visual design is also impressive, as with Russell and Delaney's meeting while out riding where one wears white on a black horse, the other black on a white one, with Bruce Broughton's much criticised score complimenting the film perfectly.
Of the versions available, the best is the 2-disc US NTSC director's cut, which boasts a slightly extended version of the film and a good selection of extras - audio commentary by George Pan Cosmatos, three featurettes, storyboards for the gunfight, trailers and TV spots and even the Tombstone Epitah newspaper coverage. By contrast the UK PAL DVD is the shorter theatrical cut in a decent widescreen transfer (although the first and last chapters are 'locked' so you can't fast-forward or reverse) with only a trailer and a brief featurette. The Blu-ray release is the shorter theatrical version in a rather disappointing transfer.
on 21 June 2015
What an absolutely excellent film! I think it's one of those happy coincidences where everything comes together. This is often compared to the Kevin Costner effort, telling a similar story that came out just before this one. Now, unlike some, I think the Costner movie is a good one. But it doesn't hold a candle to this one.
We see a number of actors (arguably) putting in career best performances, notably Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp. Powers Boothe and Sam Elliott, both more used to being cast in "b" movie roles (although both have had their moments), step up to the mark well. But the show is well and truly taken by an outstanding performance by Val Kilmer for his portrayal as the ill, loyal, witty but often menacing Doc Holliday. His tin cup slinging scene is movie gold. The film is worth seeing for that alone. How he didn't even get an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor I'll never know. It was won the following year by Martin Landau playing Bela Lugosi!
Obviously, the director, George P. Cosmatos, also plays a blinder. Mostly known for his Rambo work, here he handles a film with many more layers sublimely.
The making of this film, although it had it's thunder taken somewhat by the Costner release, obviously was thought of as a worthy venture in Hollywood circles. It attracted the likes of Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton in supporting roles, has a cameo from Charlton Heston and the narrator is the excellent voice of Robert Mitchum.
I think perhaps the film suffers a bit from being a western, the genre not being as popular as in previous times, but if you like a story well told, well acted and well shot, this is for you. It transcends genre fashions!
on 21 May 2004
I just watched this film recently for the millionth time and I can honestly say that I will never get bored of it. It's a cool film and everyone in it looks cool too. Wyatt Earp is a legend. If your like me and not really in to Westerns you'll still like this film.
on 14 April 2010
Kevin Costner and screenwriter Kevin Jarre both wanted to tell the true story of the legendary lawman, Wyatt Earp, so worked together on a script, but they both went their own ways and made two completely different movies. Costner's movie should have been the best of the two movies, but frankly, it was a bit of a dud. Kevin Jarre's version of the story (the writer was the original director but was replaced by Rambo 2 director George P. Cosmatos a few week into filming - although some sources say Kurt Russell was the real director!) delivers everything you could want from a western and more: great action, incredible performances (Val Kilmer is simply awesome as Doc Holiday). I could go on and on as I love this film, however the Blu Ray is slightly disappointing. This is not the the Directors Cut (my preference) but the Theatrical, and the extras are slight to say the least. Still the PQ is top notch so the old west never looked so good in HD.
on 7 June 2011
Tombstone is a great film with fantastic performances, Val Kilmer has never been better than he is here. The story is simple enough. Wyatt Earp, a retired lawman arrives in Tombstone, Arizona, along with two brothers planning to settle down and make a little money. Here he meets his old friend Doc Holliday and between the four of them, they start running the gambling in a local saloon.
It's not too long before they run into The Cowboys, notorious outlaws that do as they like. After several war of words between the groups, and the current sheriff "accidently" getting killed. Wyatt relunctantly joins his brothers in becoming the law in town, all building up to the famous gunfight at the O.K Corral and the after effects of that fateful encounter.
Kurt Russell is brilliant as Wyatt Earp, maybe even as good as he was in The Thing and Escape from New York. Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton play Virgil and Morgan Earp, both give excellent performances. Powers Booth, Michael Biehn and Stephen Lang play the main antagonists, all three are superb and really seem to revel in playing the "bad guys". Dana Delaney plays the love interest, she looks fantastic in this and has good chemistry with Russell. If that's not enough, Charlton Heston, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Priestly, Billy Zane and Thomas Haden Church all impress in small roles. It's Val Kilmer that really shines in this, he plays Doc Holliday and steals every single scene he's in. Not only is it one of the best performances in any Western, but one of the best I've seen in any film. Some of the confrontations between Kilmer's Doc Holliday and Biehn's Johnny Ringo are phenomenal.
Tombstone is George P Cosmatos' masterpiece, he sadly died in 2005. I love everything about this film, the acting, directing, dialogue, cinematography, the very realistic looking town and clothes. The new DVD has an improved transfer and is the better director's cut. There's an informative commentary from director George P Cosmatos and a very good three part making of. I'm a pretty big fan of Westerns, and Tombstone is one of my absolute all time favourites.