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what a great western should be
on 10 October 2009
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.