Tombstone (1993)—Half a Great Movie, But Oh What a Half

order the DVD or Blu-Ray from Amazon

order the DVD or Blu-Ray from Amazon

My middle child is “high-functioning” autistic. One of the (many) interesting things about him is that he gets little “obsessions”—fierce interests in certain, often obscure, subjects that can last for months, even years.

Around the time of his eighteenth birthday, my son’s obsession-du-jour was 1990s Westerns, a subgenre of a classic genre (Westerns) which has never held much attraction for me, to be truthful. At least not until the last decade or so, when I fell in love with two of them: Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, a masterpiece of the Revenge genre, and the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, a classic one-man-stands-(not quite)-alone I’m-a-Pisces Bromance starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, nice coats both.

Nice Coat, Doc

But I digress. Tombstone.

Anyhow, it is a Clan Murphy’s custom to let a birthday child choose the family movie the night of his/her party. In honor of my son’s eighteenth, we all sat down, rather dutifully, I might add, to view his pick: the 1993 Tombstone, directed by George Cosmatos, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

And oh my,did Kilmer (and Doc Holliday’s every-line-a-punchline dialogue by screenwriter Kevin Jarre) make it worth our familial while.

In fact, between Kilmer’s brilliant and tubercular Doc, Michael Biehn’s über-creepy Johnny Ringo—theirs is a sort of upside-down Bromance—and some really cool action, especially in the Big Shootout at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone is, by our way of thinking, half a masterpiece.

The other half of the movie, alas, involves a really dreary/dreadful “romantic” (oh that word) subplot between Wyatt Earp and some actress played way too 1990s by Dana Delanay. Every time the focus turned on that shtick the music went saccharine and the screenwriting hokey, in the “I gotta be me” vein. In fact the difference in quality between the two storylines, Romance and Bromance, that I, for once, began to suspect that the producers had, in true Hollywood fashion, hired one writer for the action/guy stuff and another supposedly adept at love stories. IMDb says not, but…

Johnny Ringo, a Scripture-quoting Fallen Angel

We will not, however, hold this unevenness against the movie; not when there’s Kilmer selling such delivery-dependent lines as “I’m your huckleberry,” or “You’re a daisy if you do.”

Our favorite scene comes when Kilmer’s Doc, like some naughty ex-altar boy, one-ups Biehn’s stash-twirling, love-to-hate and hate-to-love Johnny Ringo. Theirs is one of the great nose-to-nose scenes in movie history, a contest of wits, wills, gun play, and boozy Latin that is so much fun you may find yourself dusting off our ancient copy of Wheelock’s Latin Grammar just to keep up:

[youtube width=”650″ height=”450″][/youtube]

If your Latin’s a little rusty…google it. Whether or no, put Tombstone on your list—one of those rare Good Guys/Bad Guys movies where at least one Good Guy is more interesting than all the dishy villains put together.