We’ll start with Tombstone. It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie but with a major flaw. Namely, Kurt Russell does not have the gravitas to portray Wyatt Earp. So, while I enjoy watching Tombstone more than Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp” I think he made a much better Wyatt than Russell did. So much so that whenever Russell is speaking I’m annoyed. Whenever someone else is in the spotlight I’m happy again. It’s very distracting. So, there it is. I’m conflicted about this movie. Let’s look at the other portrayals. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday is the true star of the movie. Almost every scene, almost every spoken line he has is memorable and immensely entertaining. Almost all of my favorite scenes in the movie are his. His interaction with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo is pure gold. His mockeries of Ike and Billy Clanton are extremely funny, each in its own way. And all of it together with this portrayal of a deadly gunfighter who is also a highly complicated dying man is a fascinating character to watch. I keep wishing the movie was called Doc Holliday and that it would flashback to Doc’s earlier life and extend the movie far beyond the Tombstone chapter.
After Kilmer’s Holliday, I think Powers Boothe’s Curly Bill Brocius is my next favorite character. The first time I saw this movie I did not recognize Boothe at all. He seems much thinner than I ever remember him in even earlier movies. And he is a jolly villain. Always laughing and joking even as he is committing murder and mayhem. When he is finally dispatched by Wyatt during the famous creek battle I was sorry to see him go. I think I was secretly hoping that he’d get Russell somehow. After these two I’ll lump all the rest of the cast together and call out just some of the fine performances.
Stephen Lang Played Ike Clanton as a vicious killer who would cower and run if the fight turned against him. My favorite scene with Ike is his card game with Doc Holliday. Holliday’s long winning streak makes Ike question his honesty. Holliday suggests maybe the better game for Ike was a spelling bee. This didn’t make Ike very happy.
Thomas Haden Church plays Billy Clanton to great comedic effect. In one scene Doc Holliday pulls a gun on Billy and tells him to put his hands up. When Billy says that Doc is so drunk that he’s probably seeing double Doc pulls out another gun and tells Billy he’ll shoot both of them.
Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton play Virgil and Morgan Earp and provide workmanlike portrayals. The rest of the large cast provide varying levels of interest to the story. Charlton Heston has a small part as the rancher Henry Hooker who comes to Wyatt’s aid. It’s a good moment and ties the movie to the old western tradition. For me the weakest part of the story is Wyatt Earp’s romantic life. His common law wife with the laudanum addiction and his girlfriend the actress don’t seem to really add much to the story. The feud with the Cowboy gang doesn’t really seem to mesh with the other parts of Wyatt Earp’s life and the ending just seems tacked on.
For me the reason to watch Tombstone is the sequence from the “Gunfight at the OK Corral” through the “Last Charge of Wyatt Earp’s Immortals.” And the high point of the whole movie is the duel between Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo. The two deadliest pistoleros square off and settle the outcome of the war. And of course, Kilmer’s dialog here is very amusing.
So, I’ll have to remain conflicted by this movie. It is full of scenes and lines that I greatly enjoy. My greatest criticism is that it should have been titled for and based on Doc Holliday. He is the star and he provides all the thunder. Poor Wyatt is completely eclipsed and left limping along once Holliday leaves the frame.
Next, I’ll look at the true story of Wyatt Earp. That’ll be Kevin Costner’s film.