Tuesday 23 April 2013

A to Z - Tombstone

Given the fact my first published book was a Western, you may be wondering exactly why there haven't been any Westerns in my A to Z so far. Well, wonder no more, because I've saved the very best for T - Tombstone. Granted, the 1993 film plays fast and loose with history, and it's not exactly accurate, but it's damn fun!

Kurt Russell plays Wyatt Earp, legendary old West lawman, who heads to Tombstone, Arizona, to make his fortune with his two brothers, Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton). The boomtown is plagued by a local gang known as the Cowboys, led by Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) and it seems that only Wyatt will stand up to them. Of course, he's not alone - he's aided and abetted by old friend, Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer). After the Earps attempt to arrest members of the gang, and the confrontation becomes the gunfight at the O. K. corral, things escalate on both sides. Can Wyatt run them out of town?

I love Tombstone. It's one of those films that teeters on the edge of being crap, but it so glorious in its hamming up of history that it becomes brilliant instead. Kilmer in particular is a revelation, and his performance as the tuberculosis ridden, drunken Holliday steals the film from the more serious Earp brothers.  He's so eminently quotable, as well - and his rolling gait and manipulative streak made this sort of character cool well before Captain Jack Sparrow. Yes, the film has inaccuracies - for one thing, the gang was led by Ike Clanton, portrayed here as the bumbling fool who follows Johnny Ringo around, and for another, the other Earp brothers are missing entirely.

Thing is, we're used to Hollywood changing the facts to suit the demands of a narrative. History is not fiction, and sometimes things need to be bent in order for them to suit the form of popular entertainment. I wouldn't call this a dramatisation, but more of a story inspired by the events in Tombstone. Indeed, Earp was subject to many rumours and tales about his life and exploits even while he was alive. As far as Tombstone goes, it's a pretty good epitaph.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite scenes, where Earp is dealing faro in the saloon and Johnny Ringo meets Doc Holliday for the first time...


Tony Noland said...

I didn't recall this film until I heard Val Kilmer's affected southern accent.

The best Western I've seen in a long time was "3:10 to Yuma". Good stuff.

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