Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Film Appreciation - ...And Hell's Coming with Me

Guest contributor Greg R. has two guns and Film Appreciation for Tombstone (1993).

Back in the early '90s, there were two movies made about lawman Wyatt Earp. Interestingly enough, Kevin Costner was initially tapped to star in Tombstone, but creative differences forced him to leave the project and start one of his own. Costner wanted to star in a movie about the life of Earp, while screenwriter/director Kevin Jarre just wanted to focus on Earp's time in Tombstone, Arizona. After Costner started planning his movie, titled simply Wyatt Earp, he tried to squash the Tombstone project and allegedly used his Hollywood clout to get other actors to turn down the title role. Costner was a superstar at the time and people were scared to cross him politically.

However, Kurt Russell got his hands on the screenplay and wanted to make the movie, so he agreed, which set off a ton of popular actors joining the project, including Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Dana Delany, Joanna Pacula, Michael Biehn, Billy Zane, Jason Priestley, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Rooker, and Thomas Haden Church. Russell initially tried to get Willem Dafoe as Doc Holliday, but the studio preferred Val Kilmer, who eventually got the role.

There were more setbacks to come, as director Kevin Jarre was fired shortly after shooting began for unknown reasons, though there has been speculation that he was going over budget and the movie was going to be too long and he refused to trim it down. As a result of his firing, George Cosmatos was hired to replace him with the storyline centering on the Earp family and the minor characters' backstory being cut with the production being rushed as to be released ahead of Costner's film.

While I can certainly see the studio's point of view, I wish the three-hour version existed, because there was some good stuff cut from the final film, which I will address as I continue...

The film opens with a few black and white images, stating that the year is 1879 and, with the Civil War having long ended, economic troubles have caused some to immigrate west, including thieves and murderers. Among them are legendary sheriff, Wyatt Earp, and his friend, gambler and tuberculosis patient Doc Holliday. After silver was discovered in Arizona, Tombstone became a hot spot and an organized crime unit known as The Cowboys migrated there and took over.

The first actual scene of the movie depicts The Cowboys showing up at the wedding of a couple who apparently killed two Cowboys. The leader, Curly Bill Brocius (Powers Boothe), states this and his guys, which include cold-blooded killer Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), open fire on everyone there, leaving only the bride and groom, along with the priest standing...temporarily. They kill the bride and groom, but no one wants to kill the priest, so they begin to eat the wedding food. However, after the priest begins making noise, Johnny Ringo kills him in cold blood to shut him up.

This is a nice way to open up the movie and depict the bad guys, especially Ringo, who comes off as a total psychopath from the start. His dialogue is written well and Michael Biehn seems to be enjoying himself in the role. It's also nice to spot guys like Thomas Haden Church, who was best known for playing Lowell on Wings at the time, and Michael Rooker, who has since popped up in multiple movies and television shows in the following years.

On his way to Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt Earp is exiting a train and sees a guy trying to get his horse off the train by slapping it around. Wyatt gets angry and slaps the guy, asking if it hurts before running him off. He meets with his brother, Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton), and their wives, Allie, Louisa, and Mattie.

Elsewhere, Doc Holliday, played deliciously by Val Kilmer in a career performance, is gambling with a couple of guys as his girlfriend, Kate (Joanna Pacula), waits on him. Doc wins and the guys accuse him of cheating. Doc responds with cool sarcasm before the two engage in a fight in which Doc stabs the guy to death. Kate makes sure there's no interference with her gun trained on the bartender. They then depart for Tombstone.

Val Kilmer really put on an iconic performance in this movie. His dialogue is great here, as he sarcastically tells his future victim how he wouldn't be able to cope if they weren't friends. Joanna Pacula is pretty good here, but is given little to do. Still, she's a pretty sexy lady and plays her part well.

As the Earps arrive at Tombstone, they are greeted by Sheriff John Behan (Jon Tenney) and Marshal Fred White (Harry Carey, Jr.). White gives them rundown of the town, including a casino called The Oriental, which isn't making money due to a bullying dealer scaring their clientele away. Wyatt sees this as an opportunity and goes inside, confronting the man, Johnny Tyler, who is played by an unrecognizable Billy Bob Thornton. Wyatt belittles Tyler, slapping him around and bullying him before throwing him out of the casino and telling him never to return. He makes a deal with the owner to get a quarter of the profits.

The only way I even recognized Thornton here is by his voice, as it's very distinctive. Russell shows why he's a popular actor by the manly delivery of his lines, spouting off a favorite of mine: "Are you gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?"

Outside, Johnny Tyler returns with a shotgun, but Doc Holliday arrives, scaring Tyler and reuniting with the Earps. Holliday comically even forgets he's there and dismisses him. A gunfight erupts nearby, with Creek Johnson and Jack Vermillion coming out on top and having to turn over their guns to Marshal White.

Kilmer's comedic timing is perfect, with him casually making Tyler look like a buffoon and dismissing him with, "You may go now."

Nearby, actress Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany) and actor Mr. Fabian (Billy Zane) arrive, with Josephine and Wyatt exchanging googly eyes at each other.

I'll be honest here. I think Delany is a very pretty and likeable woman…but I think she was sorely miscast here. I felt like they were going for a rascally vixen type of sexy woman and Delany still comes off to me as a girl next door. Pacula, for example, might have been a better Josephine. Still, Delany was the only questionable casting decision I have in this movie.

Everyone in town attends a play performed by Mr. Fabian, who is admired greatly by Billy Breckinridge (Jason Priestley). Meanwhile, Josephine is admired by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday makes no bones about noticing, even in front of a jealous Mattie, Wyatt's wife. Mattie later tries to get Wyatt to come home with her, but he has to work.

I felt like the Wyatt-Josephine attraction was a little forced since they hadn't even met, but I guess they didn't have a ton of time to develop their relationship with production being rushed and the screenplay being trimmed. Still, it might have worked with someone else in the Josephine role.

The Oriental has a really good night and is filled with customers. Later, The Cowboys come in and hassle Wyatt, who states he is retired. They are about to leave him alone, but Doc and Ringo get into a battle of words, resulting in a tense standoff. Ringo performs a gun twirling display, which Doc mocks with a cup afterwards, much to the delight of the customers.

This is my favorite scene in the entire movie. Holliday and Ringo up the intensity here as the entire town watches on. You can feel them hating each other and could sense everyone involved in this scene sitting on the edges of their seats as they wait to see what was going to happen.

On another day, Wyatt runs into Josephine on a horse ride. The two begin a flirtation, despite Wyatt being "an oak", as stated by Doc earlier in the film. They then share some time talking under a tree about their dreams for the future. Josephine is a free spirit, wanting to travel and live on room service while Wyatt dreams of settling with a family, but Josephine sees through him and says it doesn't suit him.

I've seen a trailer with some extra footage that never made it into the movie, one of which includes Wyatt and Josephine kissing against a tree. I can only assume there was an extended sequence here that was cut for time. Probably a good idea.

Late at night, Curly Bill gets drunk and starts shooting up the town, sending everyone running. In the chaos, he shoots and kills Marshal White after the cowardly Sheriff Behan orders Fred to go take his gun. Wyatt is then forced into action, putting a gun to Ike Clanton's head and arresting Curly Bill. Billy Clanton (Thomas Haden Church) is targeted by Doc Holliday.

I love this scene. Kurt Russell brings a real intensity to Earp, but Kilmer is a great balance to him as the cool, calm Holliday and utters another favorite line after Billy Clanton utters to him that he's drunk and is probably seeing double: "I've got two guns... one for each of ya."

Mayor John Clum (Terry O'Quinn) shows up at their casino and tries to recruit them to help sheriff the town. Wyatt coldly turns him down, but Virgil is apparently unable to shake his guilt and takes the offer. Morgan follows Virgil’s stance, but Wyatt wants no part of it.

I had no idea John Locke from Lost was in this movie until I rewatched it.

On another night at the casino, Doc and Ike have a confrontation in which Ike accuses Doc of cheating. Virgil intervenes and then throws Ike out of the casino. With The Cowboys making threats and the town getting nervous, Virgil decides it's time to strictly enforce the law, wanting to arrest the Clantons for misdemeanor gun charges. Wyatt senses trouble and gets sworn in along with Doc and they set off for the O.K. Corral, where the Cowboys wait.

Then, chaos ensues at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. All of the Cowboys except for the retreating Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne get gunned down after refusing to turn over their weapons. Doc gets the most kills, easily disposing of Billy Clanton with Wyatt's help. After the dust settles, Sheriff Behan shows up and says he's placing everyone under arrest, but Wyatt says he's not going to let him arrest them, which he doesn't.

Doc Holliday is cool as ever, posing and winking during the gunfight as everyone else is flailing around trying not to get shot. He is a real loyal friend to Wyatt and it is obvious at this point he would sacrifice his own life for him. In an interesting bit of trivia, Billy Claiborne is played by Wyatt Earp, a distant relative and namesake of the actual Wyatt Earp.

The town is shocked and the Cowboys are out for vengeance. Billy Breckinridge chews out the Earps for killing "his friends", despite, as Wyatt comments, the fact that they never did anything but make fun of him. Johnny Ringo walks out and swears vengeance on them. Wyatt says he doesn't want to fight, but Doc states "I'm your Huckleberry" and provokes Ringo. The Cowboys restrain a drunken Ringo from escalating anything, but later that night, vengeance comes.

Biehn is great here, as is Kilmer and the tension is getting heavy. Doc has so many quotable lines in this movie; it's hard to choose a favorite.

During a lightning storm, The Cowboys descend upon Tombstone and declare war on the Earp family, including shooting at the wives, who are in the midst of being warned by Josephine. Virgil is shot and injured and Morgan mentions that Mayor Clum and his wife were shot as well. Morgan is killed during another strike while playing pool. Sherman McMaster (Michael Rooker), who was until this night a Cowboy, tells Wyatt he wants no part of what they did and, along with Creek Johnson and Jack Vermillion, throws down his red Cowboy sash in protest.

I actually liked the downfall of the Earp family more than the shootout. I loved the chaos and darkness here, as The Cowboys' vengeance is carried out with brutal precision, knocking out two of the four involved in killing their comrades. But, also, I liked McMasters and his boys leaving the gang afterwards, not just because it was true to life, but because it showed that these characters have dimensions.

Wyatt decides to quietly leave town, but Johnny Ringo mocks him as they pull away to go to the train. Curly Bill sends Ike and Stillwell to the train station to finish them, but Wyatt tricks them and shoots Stillwell and delivers a message to Ike to tell the Cowboys that he's coming after them and hell will follow with him.

Thus, begins the Earp Vendetta Ride, as Wyatt, Doc, McMasters, Creek, Vermillion, and more begin shooting and killing Cowboys all over the state. It hits its zenith in a gun battle at a creek where Wyatt goes crazy and shoots down Curly Bill in the middle of the water. Also, during the vendetta, Mr. Fabian is killed by Cowboys after they steal Josephine's watch. After Josephine informs Sheriff Behan and Billy Breckinridge about it, Billy takes off, stating that there has to be some law and order.

In this movie, Billy is largely a pointless character, but it is my understanding that his part was gutted. On the old Laserdisc, there is a apparently a scene of him arriving at Henry Hooker's (Charlton Heston) estate carrying the two dead Cowboys, one of which was Billy Claiborne, who killed Mr. Fabian. There is also a scene in some trailers of him aiming his weapon at them, so I have to assume the kill scene is out there, too. For some reason, this was never included in the director's cut, which is a shame, because it would have made Breckinridge a more meaningful character.

Wyatt and his clan settle down for the night at Henry Hooker's estate, but a Cowboy delivers the dead body of McMasters and throws out a challenge to Wyatt to face Johnny Ringo in a gun battle. Wyatt accepts the challenge, but Doc goes in his place. The gunfight is short, as Doc puts a bullet in Ringo's head, killing him. Wyatt shows up and is thankful because he knew he couldn't beat him. They then set out with their crew and finish off The Cowboys.

Years later, as Doc lays dying in Colorado, Wyatt goes to visit him, at which point Doc tells him goodbye and insists that he go find Josephine and live a happy life. Wyatt thanks him for his friendship and leaves. Doc ends up dying alone in the hospital.

Wyatt tracks down Josephine and decides to run away with her and live on room service. The narrator gives an account on the fates of everyone else, with Virgil becoming a town sheriff despite having the use of only one arm and Mattie committing suicide by overdose. Wyatt and Josephine lived happily together for 47 years until their deaths.

So, to sum it up, in a desert island scenario where I was only allowed to choose one Western to take with me, Tombstone would be the one I would choose. Despite its production issues, it turned out to be a very fun and energetic movie with dialogue that pops off the screen and action that keeps your eyes glued to it. Val Kilmer steals the film with his comedic, yet collected performance, but is supported by a great, ecclectic cast. Plus, it outperformed Costner's film by a pretty wide margin, making over double its budget while Costner's film lost approximately forty million dollars.

My only regret is that there was so much cut from the movie and never restored, with rumors stating that the film would be about three hours long with it included. I'd still watch the full version and maybe someday, we'll get an ultimate version. Until then, I'll just enjoy this one.

1 comment:

  1. Tombstone is one of my favorite movies. Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday is bad ass.