I made the mistake of thinking this The Quick and the Dead (1987) was the Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman film released under the same name 7 years later. Then again I can’t really see Sam Elliott sharing the screen with those two. Saying that, he was one of the Earp brothers in Tombstone (1993) released just before. In the past I’ve been recommended to look at Sam Elliot’s work, like many others, to me he’s the stranger at the bowling alley bar talking about the Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998), a man whose at peace with himself, radiating life long experience and one to listen to. A bar-room fly that you’d sot next to for hours as you sip on your beer. Elliot surely is a man with some stories to tell or words of wisdom to bestow to anyone who cares to listen.
Taking this as my first Sam Elliot film as a lead, The Quick and the Dead was a real surprise. I can see he takes his cues for his persona in the Wild West from a number of sources, yet very much his own man. He’s Sam Elliot in the Wild West, leaving his light touch on the genre. A combination of Randolph Scott’s stoicism and John Wayne’s delivery, but taking his own lead. Playing Con Vallian a frontiers man who soon sympathises with a family of homesteaders, not unlike the Starrett’s in Shane (1953). However this family the McKaskel’s are still very much on the move to their final destination. It’s a clever reshuffling of the elements of the original whilst very much being it’s own film.
With the McKaskels being in the move, they soon move into trouble when their horses are stolen by Doc Shabitt (Matt Clark) and his men. Not knowing that they have a guardian angel in the form of buckskin wearing Vallian who starting hovering around the family who he believes are out of their depth. When Duncan McKaskel (Tom Conti) does what the audience thinks is impossible in retrieving his horses, with a little luck behind him he invites a whole lot of trouble too. Shabbit and his men are after them, whilst aware that they are getting help from somewhere. The opening gunfight comes close to the miracle quality, not unlike the Clint Eastwood’s Preacher in Pale Rider (1985) the silent type who don’t see until the act is done. Vallian is far from holy, or a performer of miracles, he knows how to stay safe in a gunfight, the son of a mountain man and a Blackfoot squaw he has the ability to blend into the surroundings. He has something that neither the homesteaders or gunfighters have – he’s one with nature. The other that’s able to return the civilisation from time to time.
Now I’m careful not to apply the term gunfighter to Vallian who may possess the skill to take out his enemy just as well, however he doesn’t have the same temperament that they generally come with. Maybe it’s his laid back nature, his ability to give advice without a second thought that it won’t be taken. He doesn’t carry with him the reputation of Shane who wears it like a badge that he hides just out of view. Even when he takes a shine to the McKaskels he doesn’t show off his skills, train the boy (whose not annoying). Instead he’s a more humanised figure, his lack of interaction with civilisation is about right. He can defend, kill and hunt without producing an aura of fear in others. Is he the ideal man of the West, or just a civilised mountain man?
Staying with the Shane connection, the relationship between Shane (Alan Ladd) and Marian (Jean Arthur) that is merely touched upon. Shane won’t allow himself to get to close, there’s a spark between them which he won’t ignite as he knows it will only bring trouble for him and those around him. Vallian is more overt with his feelings towards Susanna (Kate Capshaw) which naturally annoys Duncan, the compliments soon wear thin. A woman of such beauty doesn’t belong in West. She’s like a rare jewel that has yet to be discovered. The old phrase of “you can look but you can’t touch” is broken here, they allow themselves a moment or two of romantic danger. Think how more dangerous Shane could have been if both Marian and Shane were caught just kissing by Joe (Van Heflin) would that have been enough to make this cowardly man pick up a gun and shoot his rival, the wrong one for him, loosing his and our concentration as the film reaches it’s final act. Censorship of the 1950’s would ultimately have played a role in film preventing things getting too heated.
Having the family move through open country in The Quick and the Dead allows Vallian to try and dissuade the family from the fate which awaits them. If it’s not the riders in pursuit it could be Native American’s still roaming free. They don’t truly know how Wild the West is. It doesn’t put them off, even the news of Little Bighorn, which brings the death of Susanna’s soldier brother who served in the 7th cavalry. Nothing will stop them making their way to live their American dream. Eventually they have to and want to defend themselves against the riders who finally (diminished in numbers) arrive to threaten their way of life. Their who journey’s fueled by greed and lust, one that takes them through various terrain, how could they remain so focused and driven to get their hands on what potentially is not their.
With all the violence in The Quick and the Dead it’s a pretty chilled out journey as we travel West for a new life, one that see’s a family forced to defend themselves and take up arms. We are in pretty safe company with Elliot who casually saves the day. He has a strong and relaxed screen presence that’s perfect for a film of this length. I can’t imagine him playing the role any darker or light, it’s just right, a chilled out Western that aims to get you from A to B with a few nice jolts along the way that stir things up for everyone. I’ll certainly be looking out for his work in the future.
I thought I understood The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) on my first encounter a few years back. I didn’t give my best review so obviously my understanding wasn’t that informed. You could say John Ford has given us an early revisionist western before we knew what we were getting. Shaking up the genre whilst still very much in the classic form of a stranger coming into town. The first time we see two of the screen most popular actors sharing the screen, James Stewart and John Wayne who equally have made an impact on the genre.
The tale of the shooting of bandit Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) begins in retrospect with the death of Tom Doniphon who ready to be buried. A poorly aged Stewart (Ransom Stoddard) arrives back to the town of Shinbone a senator. Why could he possibly want to be in this town, to pay his last respects to an old man? This is all before the tale is told before the local paper newspaper, eager to know why he and his wife Hallie Stoddard (Vera Miles). The connection becomes clearers as we leave the turn of the century town for a territorial frontier town on the cusp of great things or collapse.
Beginning with the classic hold up on a dark night, masked gun men bring a stagecoach to a stop to rob all of their money. Not counting on the young(er) and eager lawyer (Stewart) packing only the law in the form of books. Using on words as his weapon of choice in a land ruled by the draw of a gun. Laughed at, beaten he is left for dead by Valances men. This is however just he beginning of the legend.
Eventually brought into town by Tom Doniphon the man we have all been waiting for, the anticipation after seeing Wayne’s name in the opening titles has been held back until nearly the first half hour, building up his part after his demise. The legend that is the Duke is larger than life in now iconic dress even in black and white the colour transfer image of his role takes nothing away from the black and white masterpiece of the western genre, instead lifting him to a higher status. His first beaming smile, his presence is known, we are at ease when he is on-screen. The image is engrained on the genre and the legend. Not forgetting the numerous times he says “pilgrim” aimed at the gunless Stoddard meant he was a newcomer to the western, whilst also on a pilgrim of religious reasons, his religion being the law which he wanted to bring out with him. Which develops into both a term of affection towards the stranger and minor insult which only seems to make little difference to the stubborn lawyer.
It’s not just about bringing the dangerously wild cowboy Valance to justice, something that that town Marshall Link Appleyard (Andy Devine) is not too interested in doing, instead happier to stuff his face, having the easy life which comes with his position. The political landscape of their region is in a state of change. The unnamed territory could easily fall into the hands of the cattlemen who built it up, or into a state which would allow them to be looked after as a community. The beginning of a proper infrastructure, paid for by taxes that go to the government. Stoddard is a force for change and he doesn’t even know it. With the growing support of Shinbone through education which opens their minds to the possibilities beyond simple gun-play.
With the help of local newspaper-man Dutton Peabody (Edmond O’Brien) he builds a position of power and influence that eventually brings him back to Valance and the influence of fear and guns in the town. The showdown must take place in order for a few things to happen. For progress to move forward, for Stoddard to have some self respect and defend himself and make the town safe. This is the moment we have been waiting for, all the build-up and practice is what we sat down for. Its a long drawn out beginning which become a triumph of good over bad as Valance is finally slain down. The legend is born in those few minutes that s last longer than the length of the film. Itself is a construction of all involved, the actors, lighting, special effects and the director, it happened countess times before too and even after.
It’s a short gun battle just a few shots, nothing like as many as those fired in Tombstone, Arizona which actually took place at the OK Corral in 1881. Because it was caught on camera, its adds another dimension, built up by the characters who believe they know what happened, a new man is born after that day. Ready for office even on the foundations of a killing, lawful or not. Not politician today would be brought to office with a criminal record as colourful as his.
Going into full political mode its time to get Shinbone’s territory represented democratically and full Fordian style. Making full use of his stock company of actors he has built up over the years we have a raucous time inside that meeting, characters showing their true colours. It’s rich in people, sound and events. All before the truth of that gunfight is revealed to Stoddard, built on the foundation of a lie, a sacrifice of one mans feelings for another’s. To settle a score that could have gone on for years to come between to equal skilled gunmen. A great man who could have had more gives it all up for the pilgrim who has taken all he’ll ever have.
The legend is sealed between the two of them. only to be revealed to a journalist who in the end doesn’t want to publish that story, which is what it will remain to all of, yet in the west it is a prime example of an event becoming screwed and taking on a life on it’s on. A grand delusion part of a countries image that fought to contain itself and prove to the world that the young nation could set an example, making hard decisions. It’s another myth of conquest, not over a native nation, but good over evil to progress and not regress to never moving forward. Why spoil something that a country has taken into their hearts, becoming part of the fabric. If the truth should be known, don’t share too loudly. Ford is rewriting the western genre as we knew it a creator of myths that could so easily be built up and smashed back down, are they lies, points of view and conjecture, its all of them and the passage of time growing into being part of history, something which Stoddard never escapes from.
I remember seeing My Darling Clementine (1946) very early on when I started to watch all these classic films which now inform my work. I wasn’t aware at all of what this film was really about. Seeing a man come into town taking the marshals job to ensure that he could seek out revenge for his brothers murder. It’s only with the passing of time, and seeing more film adaptations of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral that I can see a lineage going on here, as new information is found new films are made. Different directors give their spin to the events, John Sturges gave us two interpretations Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Hour of the Gun (1957) which expanded vasty on the events that we all know of. Here however in the events are told from the true perspective of Wyatt Earp who once met John Ford who’s version stands heads above the others I have seen, telling him how the shoot-out actually happened, making the audience wait until the end.
The build up is really non-existent as we drift from scene to scene, even over the short running time of the film, a lot actually takes places, from the very start we are introduced to the Earp brothers who are not as we expect them, out in the open country with cattle it feels out of place, yet strangely not, they just are. We are introduced to the Clanton’s lead by Walter Brennan who fitted easily from role good to bad guy with ease. Whilst Henry Fonda personifies the up standing Marshall Wyatt Earp who reluctantly takes on his old job in Tombstone to give him licence to avenge his brother James’s death. His remaining brothers follow.
Tombstone is not the classic boom-town that we know from later films, located once more in Monument Valley a location that becomes John Ford country in years to come. Photographed as a mythical land where these events take place, creating instead a small town in the middle of nowhere, far away from civilisation which is creeping up on the people of the town. Lit as a classic film and heavy lighting you could easily mistake it for a film-noir or one of Ford’s earlier films such as The Informer (1935) in the streets of Ireland. The lack of music is eerie at times, whilst other times you hardly notice it, swept away by the people who inhabit this small town.
The main characters of course are all there, from Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) taking on a more adversarial role, competing to enforce the law, whilst still suffering from tuberculosis. All of the Earp and Clanton brothers are present, with the addition of two women who create tension for the two lead men as they try and see eye to eye. Is this the truth or just a Fordian touch to the legend?
It’s classic Ford at his best, writing his own passages of American legend that easily tips into fiction into facts with a sense of grandeur with the lightest of touches. We can see a love for the open country and the people who helped shape it. Defined here by the stars of the day who were seen as god like figures who graced the screens. With breathtaking scenery and by chance shots of the sky that encapsulate everything that Ford is known for. This is what I missed the first time around with this film, all the little touches from the first shot of Earp/Fonda from below, a historical figure and hero of a not so distant past. Complete with the homely touches of the Ford Stock Company who becoming like a travelling band of actors who bring to life the ideas and visions of Ford. I love the director more now than I did a day ago.
I must say I wouldn’t have watched this film if it wasn’t for my manager at work who recommended I watch City Slickers (1991). And he’s someone who’s hard to impress when it comes to films. And luckily I had the chance to catch the film for myself, to see what all the fuss was about. I knew it was a comedy as soon as Billy Crystal was mentioned, I wasn’t put off by that, usually seeing comedy and westerns as very hit and miss. My mind is slowly changing when it comes to these two genres coming together. Even after seeing Blazing Saddles (1974) agin which made me re-think my position on the sub-genre.
At the time of City Slickers release there was a number of westerns around from Dances with Wolves (1990), Unforgiven (1992) before summing up with Tombstone (1993). There just the ones of the top of my head. There was a rebirth of sorts which I was too young to really enjoy, there is a slowly building wave now lead by Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained (2012) who is already working on his take of Magnificent Seven (1960) with The Hateful Eight (2015 at the moment) going into production at the end of the year. Of course back in the day when all I was bothered about more child related things comedies came out in response to this new wave of westerns such as City Slickers which took three men of the city and placed them on a working ranch. Each with their own problems, as they hit middle age. Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) who feels lost in life, unhappy in his job, needing to be reminded what is important in his life. Whilst his two friends are hitting different dilemma’s in their life. For Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern) he is stuck in a loveless marriage to a woman who undermines him, yet is trapped by her and his father in law in a job that keeps them going. Ending up committing adultery with a checkout girl. And Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby) who has just married a 20-year-old model doesn’t want to ruin what he has with children, wanting the couples life for as long as he can handle it.
What they need is to escape their everyday lives (conveniently arranged by Phil) to join a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado. Not any old holiday, having to learn the ropes (no pun intended) before starting on the drive. The film is very aware of what it is, both a homage and a modern take on one of the oldest American genre’s. Setting up three men who are lost in life, having to come leave there lives to find themselves. Moving the action to a contemporary setting, the cowboy way of life lasted in reality for around 20 years, starting after the civil war before the rail road was completed and fences went up everywhere. The land was their full of the dangers open landscape, having to live by their wits alone. This drive is no different, except with a whole history that explores the myth that they helped to create.
Joined on the drive by a father and son dentists, two brothers who make ice-cream and a lone woman, all strangers to the outdoors they are put through their paces, having to adapt quickly to the cowboy life, from riding a horse to lassooing stray cattle. It’s all there. Before they begin the drive there is a reminder of the start of the drive in Red River (1948) its both fun and loving how they all howl, hee-haw before setting off that what they saw in the movies they are finally engaging with themselves, John Wayne and Montgomery Clift aren’t there to assist them, they are instead there in spirit to spur them on.
Leading the drive is an ageing cowboy Curly (Jack Palance) one of the remaining actors from the golden era of the genre, as both a nod to that era and a link to a way of life that is dying if we let it just pass us by. A tough character who is old and set in his way. You could say he’s a stereotype of the cowboy, or a link to a bygone era both on and off-screen. Passing on his knowledge to Mitch who after starting out on the wrong path they soon reach and understanding before his extended cameo comes to an end.
The streetwise cowboys are soon thrown in at the deep end, discovering what it’s like to live on a drive, not startling the cattle, the drunkenness at night (and day). It’s not what they expected. Causing them to take a hold of the drive and see it through, along with getting a new perspective on their lives. Some are stronger than others as we find out, leaving those behind to see the drive through, a real test of what it is to be a cowboy and ultimately a man when things get tough in the modern-day. Reality is what makes this film work, with a self-awareness of a genre, which is again seen in the guise of a film that pays homage to. Set against a landscape that I’ve seen countless times before filled with men on horseback. Going back again to retrace those footsteps once more. There is something magical about that which would be more so if I was there on a drive. The comedy is quick and still fresh today, we still have the same problems in our own lives, made more so by the reality of the cowboy who knew what happens to the cattle at the end of the journey. We are never far away from reality, kept back only by nostalgia.
Another long awaited film, and probably the definitive film of the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday legend in Tombstone (1993) which shows how far the historical research has brought us since the last telling of the legend almost 30 years previously in Hour of the Gun (1967) which itself was a opened up the tale beyond the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that was seen as the ending of the legend.
Opening with the Earp family on the move from Dodge City to Tombstone to make their fortune in the gold-mining town. Wyatt (Kurt Russell) tries his best to avoid any offers of work as a peace officer, wanting nothing more than peace in his own life for his wife and family. So we found them at the apparent end of their career as law enforcers.
Much to their misjudgement on arriving in Tombstone, Arizona they are faced with trouble and the real law, the cowboy, complete with red sash on their belt, whilst the official law can do very little to bring any law to those who suffer with the carnage that ensues. It’s not long after they have a stake in a casino that the call to public office by one of the Earp brother Virgil (Sam Elliott) who has never worn the badge but has always stood by his other brothers in their fights. This is the beginning of a bloody struggle to bring law to the town and surrounding area that is plagued by cowboys. Seeing what we already knew would happen but in a very different order, a new take on the legend that is surrounded by an authentic town that doesn’t shy away from the cliché’s of the western genre, instead embracing them and a few nods to the past generation of cinema. As we see both Charlton Heston (Henry Hooker) make an on screen appearance, whilst an older Robert Mitchum narrates this legendary tale. The genre has changed, but not forgetting it’s roots. Complete with a scene-stealing Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday as ever on death’s door, now more than ever thanks to the great make-up that ensures that we see his suffering, so much as it is inflicted upon himself. Kilmer really eats up the script and spits it out again with his delivery of lines and the gun play making him Earp’s right-hand man out of the duty of friendship and nothing more.
A violent film that does blows all the others Earp films out of the water and throws them aside to give us a brutal take on what it was like. Using guns and brute strength to bring law. Faced once again by the Clanton Brother Ike (Stephen Lang) and Billy (Thomas Haden Church) yet there is no threat from their father/family, that is replaced by the threat of the cowboys who own the town. We found the classic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is placed whap-bang in the middle, before a trial that never happens.
And so begins a violent second half that sees the Earp family thrown into a world of trouble, with Virgil shot in the arm and Morgan (Bill Paxton) sent to his death. Whilst Wyatt’s home life is far from desirable, with an Opium addicted wife and a secret lover, the performer Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany) who had her eyes on him the minute she stepped off the stagecoach. The cowboys are fighting back with all they have. And so with Earp, Holiday and his reformed posse of cowboys who go on a mission to bring down all they found with a red sash hanging from their belts. Something new to the filmed take on the American legend.
Not the most recent, but far more entertaining take on the legend that the biographical Wyatt Earp which had different intentions as a film, about the man, not the legend as such. Whilst other films have built into them their own take to make the legend more real to a new audience, from John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) that moves the famous gunfight to the end of the film, and depicted it as Earp once described it to him. Each take brings something new to the legend, be it the performances, the direction and the information available.
- Tombstone (1993) (100filmsinayear.wordpress.com)
- America’s Most Famous Vigilante Wasn’t (thedailybeast.com)
- Film Review: TOMBSTONE (1993, “George Cosmatos”) (juntajuleil.blogspot.co.uk)
- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (shoaibgarana.wordpress.com)
- Tombstone (1993) (revieweveryday.blogspot.co.uk)
- Tombstone (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
- Tombstone (1993) (voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.co.uk)
- Doc Holliday items bring high bids at Harrisburg Wild West auction (pennlive.com)
- Wyatt Earp was a prostitute-loving con man and not the hero vigilante as he is portrayed in movies, new book claims (dailymail.co.uk)
- Wyatt Earp (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)