Today! Because you are a good woman, then again, you may be the antichrist –
Directed by George P. Cosmatos
Starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer (x2), Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Dana Delany, Paula Malcomson, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Billy Zane (x2), Jason Priestley, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Jon Tenney, Michael Rooker (x2), Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Ben-Victor, John Corbett, Terry O’Quinn, Frank Stallone, Harry Carey Jr. (x2), Robert Mitchum (x2)
In the hectic western revival of the early ’90s – following Clint Eastwood’s masterful return to form with the Best Picture winning Unforgiven in ’92 – we as a people had a serious choice to make. Would we adopt a Kurt Russell Wyatt Earp movie, directed by the man who brought us Rambo: First Blood Part II, as our one-and-only, or would we opt for the Kevin Costner version, an hour longer and directed by Empire Strikes Back screenwriter and Big Chill director Lawrence Kasdan? This was some kind of dilemma.
Thankfully, the first one to make it to theaters (by six whole months) was perfectly enjoyable, and we could all save ourselves three-plus hours of our lives, at the beginning of Costner’s rapid descent from stardom in the mid-’90s. Tombstone may be the glossier, goofier take on the old legend, but it is infinitely more fun, and features an arguably superior cast (Costner’s does have Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rosselini, Michael Madsen, and Three-Timer JoBeth Williams, though). Plus, it doesn’t try to out-western Clint – while Wyatt Earp really thought it could bring the gravity by adding running time and a brooding Costner. But hey, Earp did earn that one Oscar nomination – more than Tombstone by one! Congrats, Best Cinematography nod!
Tombstone‘s all-star roster includes a bunch of great turns, from perennial cowboy Sam Elliott to a decidedly un-jacked Stephen Lang (check out this dude’s arms in Avatar though!) to future Deadwood residents Powers Boothe and Paula Malcomson to the Extreme himself, Bill Paxton. But as solid as Kurt Russell is, with that glorious mustache, as Earp, the movie belongs to Val Kilmer. His mannered, loopy Doc Holliday is so bizarre and so peculiar that it could’ve undone the film – instead, he steals the show, disintegrating before your eyes while tossing out amazing one-liners. His “I’m your huckleberry” madness manages to make his unrepentant killer a pretty likable, sympathetic figure. You can make a definite case that Quaid’s take is undoubtedly more accurate, and far more impressive physically, but it’s not fun in the least watching someone die of consumption across three goddamn hours. Kilmer looks a little pale and pasty, but still blows villains away with relative ease. It might not be realistic, but it is fun as hell.
Sure, it got some MTV Movie Award nominations, but was never going to be an end-of-the-year darling. How about we finally honor this movie correctly, with Best Argument For Billy Zane’s Acting, something long derided, as he portrays a traveling Old West thespian, very basically delivering Henry V‘s St. Crispin’s Day speech to a cheering crowd. See? They all think he can act! Also, Best Show of Gun Handling Using a Tin Cup, obviously, as Kilmer’s Doc schools Johnny Ringo.
A bunch of new Two-Timers from this lot – Kilmer’s Holliday follows his very different role in #355’s Top Secret, master thespian William Zane got a bunch of lines here, after his minor minor role in #344’s Back to the Future Part II, Robert Mitchum is completely off-screen as the narrator, after his glorified cameo in #360’s Cape Fear, future Yondu Michael Rooker pops up again in the early ’90s after his role in #357’s JFK, and Harry Carey Jr. puts together one of the larger gaps in Two-Timer history, showing up here 44 years after his role in the John Wayne western #364’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.