Tombstone (George P. Cosmatos, 1993)

“My Darling Clementine” is already my all-time favorite movie, and in my eyes flawless – but just imagine what it would be like if Val Kilmer’s attention-grabbing (to say the least) performance as Doc Holliday in “Tombstone” were transposed into “Clementine” to replace the more nondescript Victor Mature!  It would be an utter disaster, as Kilmer’s semi-manic performance and John Ford’s meditative masterpiece would go together like a slug and a salt shaker, but boy would it be a sight to see regardless, like one of those horrific car wrecks you can’t help but stare at 😛 .  “Clementine” and “Tombstone” both concern the shootout between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday and the Clanton gang, but are vastly different, both in quality and in tone.  “Clementine” is slow and mournful, and while Victor Mature doesn’t exactly give a great performance, it’s brooding and fits the mood of the film perfectly, and that’s why I identified with the self-loathing, Consumption-ridden gambler/gunslinger so strongly.  “Tombstone” is much more of a straight-up genre picture, with the more predictable plot paths and archetypal performances, highlighted by the conflict between the prototypically virtuous lawman Wyatt Earp, with just a hint of revenge-mindedness and the vicious wild animals that are the cowboys.  But Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday really is something else.  He’s dying of Consumption, looks like shit from the moment we meet him, has that slightly effeminate accent, the remarkable skill with a handgun, and a foolish knack for inciting the ire of cowboys and nearly getting himself killed again and again that can almost be mistaken for bravery.  Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday might be more cartoonish and attention-grabbing than Victor Mature’s, but boy does he nail the persona of charismatic Western antihero.  His performance is far and away the best thing about “Tombstone”…it’s just too bad he’s woefully underused in favor of Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp.  Russell does a good enough job as the morally upright lawman, but without more of Kilmer’s enigmatic Doc Holliday and the two men’s unlikely friendship, it’s just one more lackluster element of a solid if not lackluster Western.  The gunfights themselves are spectacular and some of the best I’ve seen in any Western: quick, brutal, chaotic, and in extremely close quarters – probably how the real gunfight at the O.K. Corral went down – but otherwise the story is a collection of predictability and clichés, right down to Wyatt’s muse-like love interest, overwrought death speeches, full emotional breakdowns in the middle of the pouring rain, cowboy-hunting montages, and basic character archetypes.  It’s your basic genre picture, with some excitement but light on depth, with one great yet underutilized performance to save it from clichéd Western oblivion – which is fine, and I enjoyed it enough, but tossed it aside afterwards.  “Tombstone” summarizes the events surrounding the shootout at the O.K. Corral, but a film like “Clementine” turns that 30 second free-for-all into the stuff of good-versus-evil, chaos-versus-order, lawlessness-versus-civilization myth and legend.

7/10

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