Tombstone (1993) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Trivia question - what is the meaning of the famous phrase from this movie - "Tom Mix wept"? Answer at the end of the essay.

Ancient Greece and Rome had their Golden Ages, and we had ours - 1993-94. The Golden Age of Wyatt Earp movies. Tombstone is the one with Kilmer and Russell, not the one with Quaid and Costner.

The Monty Python troupe and others have submitted that the hammiest role an actor can possibly play is Long John Silver. While not in disagreement with that position, I would nonetheless like to suggest, for your consideration, the role of John "Doc" Holliday. (The Colorado tombstone of the real Doc Holliday is shown to the right.)

With the elegant clothes, the educated recitations from Shakespeare and the bible, the fancy gunplay, the eye for the ladies, the gambling, the constant drunkenness, the refined Southern accent, the dogged loyalty to his friends, and of course the consumption, Holliday presents a dream role for just about any actor who has ever chewed any scenery. You just know Bill Shatner must have assayed this role at some time.

Val Kilmer played the role in Tombstone, and while he is sometimes downright silly in his flamboyant mannerisms, he really lends an unforgettable dotty charm to the character. If he was not entirely credible, he was certainly fun to watch.

Of course, Dennis Quaid created a much more credible and multi-dimensional human being when he played Holliday in Wyatt Earp, but if you prefer that you may have been paying insufficient attention to the mighty Oz and way too much attention to the man behind the curtain. There are many different things an actor may accomplish, and realism is only one of them. If you give it enough thought, you'll realize that Kilmer and Quaid were really playing two different characters. Quaid was playing a real man named John Holliday, while Kilmer was playing the legendary Doc Holliday, and building further upon a legend which had already been greatly embellished - the highly educated Georgia gentleman who was fueled by a level of courage and machismo that can only be possessed by those who are certain they will die soon. After all, what did Holliday have to lose by getting into gunfights? A few days? A few weeks? You may argue that Kilmer was truly ridiculous in the way he exaggerated Holliday's combination of bravado and learned fatalism, but he was also iconographic, and you will never forget his portrayal. The single greatest achievement an actor can attain is to create something which will live forever. Kilmer's Doc Holliday reached that level. Can you say the same about Dennis Quaid's subtle interpretation? Nah. Hell, I really admire ol' Dennis, but he would probably play Long John Silver with all sorts of introspection and nuance, and nary a single "aarrrrghhhh." If Kilmer played Long John Silver, you know he'd he'd go the whole nine yards.

All kidding aside, the first half of Tombstone is excellent, as the tension in town slowly mounts to the famous showdown at the OK Corral. After that famous gunfight, the film runs into problems and doesn't really know where to go. The second half of the film just seems to be one gun battle after another, and I didn't even know which fight was which or who the head bad guy was in each one. The designated evildoers, a gang called The Cowboys (including the infamous Clantons), had hundreds of members, and the script didn't do much to narrow down who the hell was who in each battle. It seemed like Wyatt and the boys would knock off a few dozen, and then in the next scene they'd get ambuscaded by a dozen fresh ones. Yes, I know that it really happened that way, but Kilmer's fanciful interpretation of Holliday already established that the film was not going to be a documentary, so why did the screenwriter suddenly feel obligated to elaborate on several gunfights which were essentially uninvolving? Beats me. I lost interest in the film for about twenty minutes.

My mind was briefly occupied during this lull by the fact that the various baddies had lots of colorful territorial nicknames like Texas Jack and Dakota Slim and Turkey Creek Jack and Montana Melvin. Well, actually, Montana Melvin was their accountant. Lets face it, even bad men still need good tax advice. Why is it that guys from Maryland or Albany never have colorful regional nicknames? "Slim, this here's Maryland Milt and Albany Seymour". Hey, it could happen, even though there were precious few gunslingers named Seymour or Milton. Guys named Seymour usually had to skip childhood gunplay because their mothers made them go to violin lessons, but if you can have a general named Ulysses, I guess you could also have a gunslinger named Milton. Milton the Kid. I think you can still graduate from gunslinger school as long as your first name is limited to  two syllables, except maybe if it's "Egbert". More than two syllables rules you out. Nobody's buyin' in to "Claudius the Kid", or "Amarillo Aloysius." Come to think of it, I take that back. If I ran into an outlaw gang and one of them was named Claudius, I wouldn't mess with that motherfucker. With that name in that company, you just know he's gonna be one ornery sidewinder.

On balance, Tombstone is an entertaining movie with an excellent first half and a memorable Kilmer portrayal, but when it hit the theaters, it was certainly not greeted by a chorus of critical huzzahs from the big print reviewers. It scores ZERO percent from the "cream of the crop" group at Rotten Tomatoes. They harped on the fact that the script dumped a bunch of 1990s people into the previous century, complete with PC dialogue and modernized women. (Dana Delaney's dialogue could have been written by Dr. Phil. "How do you feel about that?" "Where do you see yourself in five years?")

But then was then and now is now. Tombstone's once-tarnished critical reputation has been re-gilded over the years by a steady cult following of fanboys and internet reviewers who love its black-and-white code of honor and loyalty. Let's face it, that group considers the film's inappropriately modern sensibilities to be a positive characteristic, not a liability. The timeless Tombstone is the ultimate modern Western for 12 year olds. It's Star Wars in the Old West, and today's young 'uns like it. Un fact, so many people love this movie that the film's rehabilitated reputation has led all the way to a 2-disk special edition DVD.  If you are one of the film's fans, this DVD should please you. There are three long documentaries, one about the realism, one about the OK Corral, and one about the cast. There are the actual contemporaneous newspaper accounts of the historical events from the Tombstone Epitaph, and various other minor features. Jiminy, how much can you say about Tombstone? Apparently plenty.

Trivia answer. Bob Mitchum narrates a prologue and epilogue. He points out that Wyatt Earp lived until 1929, and two of the pallbearers at his funeral were famous movie cowboys - William S Hart and Tom Mix. Tom Mix wept.

The pussy.


DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterbox, 2.35:1

  • see main commentary



almost none - 97 minutes in, there is a very brief look at a topless prostitute

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a quarter stars. Maltin 2.5/4, Berardinelli 2/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 77% positive. It receives about 80% positive reviews from the "average Joe" reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes, but not a single good review  - zero percent  - from the cream of the crop.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5 
  • With their dollars ... it was a fairly successful film. $56 million domestic gross.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Solid Western, especially in the first half, but doesn't achieve greatness except for Val Kilmer's bizarre, flamboyant, and memorable Doc Holliday.

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