Why am I drawn to the movie Tombstone?
Tombstone is the story of larger than life people. The two main characters, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, are heroes, full of courage, strong of soul. Yet, they are fully human, not classic movie heroes at all. They have faults, fears, misgivings, and their actions aren’t always heroic.
For instance, in his first scene in the movie, Doc Holliday gets in a fight over a card game (in which he may or may not have been cheating), stabs a man, and robs the casino on his way out, skipping town and leaving his belongings in the room lest his enemies ambush him there.
The movie’s greatest hero, Wyatt Earp, has his light side and dark side. When Curly Bill Brocius shoots Marshall Fred White in a drunken stupor, Earp makes it a point to capture Brocius alive and protect him from a lynch mob. Yet, later after the Cowboys ambush Wyatt’s brothers, he shoots Frank Stillwell in the back with a shotgun.
And, as in real life, allegiances can change. Sherman McMasters, Texas Jack Vermillion, and “Turkey Creek” Jack Johnson are all Cowboys in the beginning of the movie, but they side with Earp and Holliday in the end. And Sheriff Behan deputizes Curly Bill and other Cowboys later, as they go after Earp’s bunch.
Probably the thing that draws me most to Tombstone, is the well written dialog. The movie is full of memorable lines, made better by strong performances by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday and Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp.
One excellent example is Wyatt Earp’s first encounter with Billy Bob Thornton as Johnny Tyler, the Faro dealer.
TYLER: For a man that don’t go heeled, you run your mouth kinda reckless.
WYATT: Don’t need to go heeled to get the bulge on a dub like you.
TYLER: That a fact?
WYATT: Yeah. It’s a fact.
TYLER: Well I’m real scared.
WYATT: Damn right you’re scared. I can see it in your eyes. . . . Go ahead. Skin it. Skin that smoke wagon and see what happens.
TYLER: Listen Mister, I’m getting’ tired –
WYATT: I’m getting tired of your gas. Jerk that pistol and go to work. . . . I said throw down, boy. You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed? No, I didn’t think so.
Yes, there is the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, and it is given a fair accounting, from what I’ve read. But rather than focus on this one fight, the movie is mostly the story of the aftermath – the Clantons’ retaliation against Virgil and Morgan Earp, and Wyatt’s vendetta against the Cowboys.
Then there is the feel of the movie, the visual. I love the scenes in the wild west, the open spaces. I lived in the panhandle of Texas for a while, and it reminds me of the land there, the land of the Lonesome Dove cattle drive, the land of Red River. It reminds me of rugged individualism, of men who are their own masters.
Are there things wrong with the movie? Yes, of course. But, I will leave that discussion for another time.
And, perhaps thankfully for my Twitter followers, that discussion will stay off line.