"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Friday, June 25, 2010


“A lot of people, a lot of studios, wished Tombstone would just die. Kevin Costner was gearing up his film Wyatt Earp at the same time, and it would have been easier if we’d just gone away. But Tombstone had a lot of things going for it. First and foremost it had me.” – Kurt Russell

Almost every year there seems to invariably be two similarly-themed films duking it out for box office supremacy. One does better than the other because it comes out first or has a bigger movie star in it or is just better in quality. In 1989, The Abyss out performed two other underwater alien films, Leviathan and Deepstar Six. A few years later, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) outperformed Robin Hood (1991) thanks to the movie star power of Kevin Costner. In the late 1990s, you had the competing asteroid disaster films with Armageddon (1998) vs. Deep Impact (1998) and the rival erupting volcano thrillers, Dante’s Peak (1997) and Volcano (1997).

In the mid-‘90s, Hollywood was at it again with competing Wyatt Earp biopics: Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994). Despite the former having an earlier release date, the latter featured Costner in the title role of the legendary lawman and with respected screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan behind the camera. In addition, Tombstone was plagued with publicized production problems as its director was fired early during principal photography only to be replaced by another with almost no prep time. Amazingly, against the odds, Tombstone was not only made, but won the box office showdown over the much longer, slower-paced Wyatt Earp. Audiences preferred the more entertaining, action-packed Tombstone with its fantastic cast of character actors led by none other than Kurt Russell. His film delivered the goods, plain and simple. Despite the absolute critical drubbing it received upon its theatrical release, it should be regarded among the best westerns of the ‘90s alongside the likes of Unforgiven (1992) and Dead Man (1995).

Based loosely on historical events that took place in the American west during 1881-1882, Tombstone opens with a bang as a group of outlaws known as the Cowboys, by the red sashes they wear, ride into a small town and slaughter a large number of men because they killed two of their own. The Cowboys are led by a man named Curly Bill (Powers Boothe). He’s such a badass that he kills a groom on his wedding day and then laughs when his right-hand man Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) guns down the priest who performed the ceremony. These are clearly bad men not to be messed with.

Meanwhile, Wyatt Earp (Russell), his two brothers, Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton), and their wives arrive in Tombstone. They are retired lawmen looking to settle down and make some money in this boomtown. We are soon introduced to Wyatt’s friend, Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), a sickly-looking gambler suffering from tuberculosis but still possessing a deadly sense of humor and an even deadlier way with guns. The Earps quickly learn the lay of the land: there’s plenty of money to be made, just don’t cross the Cowboys. Wyatt stakes his claim early on when he takes over a hard luck gambling joint and like that the Earps are in business with Doc soon joining them.

It doesn’t take long for Curly Bill to cross paths with Wyatt, and Johnny Rico to have words with Doc – in Latin to be exact. It becomes readily apparent that these two are each other’s opposites. Rico shows off his incredibly fast and dexterous gunhandling skills to which Doc counters by mimicking Rico’s demonstration only in mocking fashion with the mug he drinks alcohol from. A local actress named Josephine Marcus (Dana Delany) catches Wyatt’s eye. He’s not only captivated by her beauty, but intrigued by her assertive nature and zest for life. Wyatt’s opium-addicted shrew of a wife Mattie Blaylock (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) doesn’t stand a chance against this free spirit.

Trouble arises when Curly Bill, high as a kite on opium, shoots and kills the town’s kindly old marshal (Harry Carey, Jr.) forcing Wyatt to knock the outlaw out. He throws him in jail but not before making enemies with the rest of his buddies. The town’s mayor (Terry O’Quinn) puts pressure on the Earps to become lawmen once again by appealing to their innate moral sense of right and wrong. Pretty soon Virgil becomes the new marshal and Morgan his deputy, much to Wyatt’s chagrin. He doesn’t want to get involved, he’s just interested in making money and keeping a low profile. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there’s going to be a showdown between the Earps and the Cowboys.

Once Wyatt dusts off his Peacemaker revolver, you just know that the killings are gonna start soon. This culminates in the famous shoot-out at the OK Corral. There’s a fantastic shot, courtesy of the late-great cinematographer William A. Fraker, of the Earps and Doc walking down mainstreet with a burning building behind them as they confront some Cowboys. This gunfight is hardly a glorious one and afterwards Wyatt and Morgan deeply regret what happened. They never wanted things to go this far.

Naturally, retribution for what the Earps have done comes on a dark and stormy night (there’s one thing you can say about this film is that it’s not subtle). By the end of it, one Earp is dead and one seriously wounded, all at the hands of the Cowboys. As the cliché goes, “this time its personal,” and the once reserved Wyatt becomes a vessel of vengeance with those immortal words, “You called down the thunder, well now you got it!” With Doc by his side and a few ex-Cowboys backing them up, Wyatt systematically decimates the outlaws’ ranks, working his way up to the food chain to the inevitable showdown with Curly Bill and Johnny Rico.

Russell was drawn to this film because it took a look at what happened to Earp after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and showed a darker side of the man. Russell was fascinated in exploring the aftermath of this famous fight: “Wyatt Earp went on a serious binge of killing. There is no way to determine now how many people he actually did kill, but it was a lot. He was a man who tilted over the edge. He went nuts. Something inside him finally broke.”

How great is Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday? He plays the man as a genteel southern gentleman armed with dry wit and a lightning fast quick draw. He gets the lion’s share of the film’s most memorable lines and they are often little asides, like when he beats a clearly frustrated man at poker and says upon revealing his cards, “Isn’t that a daisy?” And then, when the man insults him, Doc, in a mock-hurt tone, wonders if they’re still friends and says, “You know Ed, if I thought you weren’t my friend, I just don’t think I could bear it.” It’s the way Kilmer says these words that makes the scene so much fun to watch. You can just tell that he’s having a blast with this role as evident by how deeply immersed he is in Doc on every level, like the way he carries himself in a given scene, his languid body language, his sickly pallor, and his cultured accent. The combination of all these elements results in one of the most memorable takes on Doc Holliday ever committed to film.

Faced with playing off such a flamboyant character, Kurt Russell wisely plays straight man to Kilmer. Initially, he plays Wyatt as a genial enough fellow, interested in making money and avoiding any trouble that might lead to him putting on a lawman’s badge again. However, that doesn’t mean he’s a pushover either as evident in the scene where he bitch slaps an arrogant gambler (an obnoxious Billy Bob Thornton) at a down-on-its-luck saloon and then browbeats him: “You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?” Russell has that fantastic no-nonsense stare that lets you know right away that Wyatt means business. However, as he gets dragged into a feud with the Cowboys his demeanor changes and he becomes a more stoic figure until going into full killing mode, transforming into a frightening force of nature. It is refreshing to see that Russell is not afraid to show the darker aspects of Wyatt and was able to do so thanks to the success of Clint Eastwood’s dark, complicated western, Unforgiven.

It’s something of an understatement to say that Tombstone’s cast is an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove for fans of character actors. Where else do you get to see Stephen (Manhunter) Lang threaten Sam (The Big Lebowski) Elliott? Or see Jason Priestley swoon over Billy (Titanic) Zane? Or have Michael (Aliens) Biehn sparring verbally in Latin with Val (Heat) Kilmer? Powers Boothe, one of the great, under-appreciated character actors, plays Curly Bill with gusto and bravado, which is in sharp contrast to Biehn’s quiet intensity as Johnny Rico who is no crazed, one-dimensional baddie – he quotes from the Bible and speaks Spanish and Latin fluently.

The screenplay by Kevin Jarre pushes all the right buttons as we quickly identify with the Earps and want to see the Cowboys get their much-deserved comeuppance. It is also full of colorful period lingo: “Skin that smoke wagon and see what happens,” or “I’m getting tired of your gas. Now jerk that pistol and go to work.” The dialogue absolutely crackles with energy and it has the perfect cast to bring it vividly to life so that it leaps off the page. Tombstone is one of those rare films where you can see the actors enjoying their roles because they finally have juicy parts that they can sink their teeth into.

In 1989, first-time writer/director Kevin Jarre was going to make Tombstone with Kevin Costner but then the actor decided that he wanted to do a film about Wyatt Earp and not Tombstone. Producer James Jacks championed Jarre’s screenplay for the production company he formed in partnership with Sean Daniel, former production chief at Universal Pictures. Jacks originally approached Universal but they deemed the project too risky and rejected it. In January 1992, Jarre’s script about Earp was on verge of being made into a film but it was almost shelved when Costner announced his own Earp film to be written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan for Warner Brothers. At the time, Jarre claimed that Costner’s move was “an attempt to crush my picture.” Perhaps not so coincidentally, Brad Pitt, who was excited about starring in Tombstone, backed off once Costner’s project was announced.

Jarre’s script was ready to shoot, all he needed was a cast. However, Michael Ovitz’s powerful Creative Artists Agency was backing Costner and Tombstone’s producers, Jacks and Daniel, could not attract a movie star big enough to get a Hollywood studio interested in backing the film. Pitt was represented by Ovitz’s agency and at the time Jacks said, “CAA is telling people our movie won’t happen.” Fortunately, they caught a break when Kurt Russell’s old agent at William Morris slipped a copy of the script to the actor who was now at CAA. He agreed to play Earp and this attracted the likes of Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Michael Biehn, and Powers Boothe. Russell then took the project to financier Andrew Vajna’s Cinergi Productions, which had a distribution deal with Disney. Vajna agreed to make the film for $25 million. Originally, Jarre and Russell wanted Willem Dafoe to play Doc Holliday but Disney refused to release it with him in the role because of portrayal of Jesus Christ in the controversial Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and told the film’s producers to cast Kilmer instead.

Filming began in May 1992 on location in Mescal, Arizona. First-time director Jarre got into trouble early on. Reportedly, he wouldn’t think visually and refused advice from the film’s veteran cinematographer and six-time Academy Award nominee William Fraker. Sam Elliott remembers, “I knew from the third day Kevin couldn’t direct. He wasn’t getting the shots he needed.” According to Jacks, Jarre was “shooting in an unconventional old-fashioned, John Ford style, with very few close-ups.” Some cast and crew-members felt that the tight shooting schedule didn’t help, especially for an inexperienced director like Jarre. Jacks realized that Jarre wasn’t very well-prepared when the filmmaker would disappear for hours to ride his horse. This left the cast and crew feeling abandoned. In retrospect, Jacks regretted not insisting that Jarre direct a couple of smaller films before “attempting something as demanding and complicated as a big western.”

Actor Michael Rooker felt that “from the beginning they allotted too little time to do this movie.” In August 1992, after four weeks and with Russell and Fraker ready to quit, Vajna fired Jarre. Still committed to the film, the cast and crew stuck together and were determined to finish what they started. Russell called Sylvester Stallone (they had worked together on Tango and Cash) and told him he needed a director to come in on short notice. Stallone recommended George P. Cosmatos who he had worked with on Rambo: First Blood, Part 2 (1985). Cosmatos arrived on location with only three days of preparation and Russell told him, “I’m going to give you a shot list every night, and that’s what’s going to be.” Russell and Val Kilmer met with Cosmatos and came to an understanding: Cosmatos would focus on finishing the film on schedule while Russell trimmed the unwieldy script and oversee the 85 cast members.

Russell and Jacks cut down the script’s scenes on a daily basis, eliminating 30 pages so that the focus was on the relationship between Earp and Doc Holliday. From the beginning, Russell realized that these pages needed to be taken out but Jarre failed to do this and when he was fired Russell was the only one left who knew the script. In an attempt to gain the trust of the cast, Russell reduced his part in the script. Cosmatos agreed with these changes but some cast-mates weren’t too happy with having their parts reduced. Elliott said, “Initially, the screenplay was one of the best I’ve ever read. If I was given the screenplay as it is now, I’d have to pass on it.” He felt that Russell and Jacks, “eliminated the connective tissue, took the character development out.” According to Kilmer, Jarre’s original script had a subplot and a story told for every main character and none of them made it into the final film.

Cosmatos ended up reshooting almost the entire film with only 15 bits and pieces shot by Jarre making it into the final cut. The veteran journeyman director brightened the film’s color palette and added an opening Mexican wedding/massacre sequence as well as two action montages in the last half hour. His working methods resulted in two script supervisors and half the art department leaving for other jobs, quitting or being fired. According to production designer Catherine Hardwicke, “He was demanding. Some people freaked out.” In frustration, Fraker quit three times. At one point, he got into a screaming match with Cosmatos and Jacks intervened, persuading the cinematographer to stay.

Principal photography finished on August 29, 1992 after 88 days. After the dust settled, the film had gone $2-3 million over budget. The filmmakers had to rush through post-production in order to make the Christmas Day opening mandated by Disney. Russell said, “I don’t know if Kevin would have been able to realize the film he had in his mind. We might still be shooting his movie. I helped him by making sure we got the movie made.”

Tombstone received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics. The New York Times’ Stephen Holden wrote, “Tombstone is, finally, a movie that wants to have it both ways. It wants to be at once traditional and morally ambiguous. The two visions don't quite harmonize.” In his review for the Washington Post, Richard Harrington wrote, “A major problem throughout the film is the opting for style over substance, whether in terms of dark visuals or stark dialogue ... But too much of Tombstone rings hollow. In retrospect, not much happens and little that does seems warranted.” Entertainment Weekly gave the film a “C-“ rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, “A preposterously inflated 135 minutes long, Tombstone plays like a three-hour rough cut that's been trimmed down to a slightly shorter rough cut.” USA Today gave the film one and a half stars and wrote, “Director George Cosmatos brings nothing new to this Wyatt Earp saga except leftover bullets from previous films Cobra and Rambo: First Blood Part II.” In his review for the Globe and Mail, Geoff Pevere wrote, “Forget shifting zeitgeists or the decline of American idealism. What's really killing westerns are bloated, free-range turkeys like Tombstone.”

Critics need to lighten up and enjoy Tombstone for what it is: a fun, popcorn movie that is all about mustaches: the Earps all sport big bushy ones that threaten to consume their faces, while the bad guys all sport thinner ones with goatees or beards. The wild card in all of this is Doc who sports a thin mustache suggesting that he’s a bad guy as he does cheat at cards, but he’s also Wyatt’s friend and is very loyal to him and his brothers, even willing to back them up at the OK Corral gunfight. Ultimately, Tombstone is about male friendship, in particular the intense and unusual bond between Doc and Wyatt. Early on, it takes on a playful tone as Doc has some fun with Wyatt’s obvious attraction to Josephine. Even though they aren’t related by blood they might as well be brothers as they’re willing to die for each other. They don’t verbalize it but it’s all in the eyes and this is nicely realized by Kilmer and Russell. It’s hard not to be moved by the final scene between their two characters.

When all was said and done, Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp cost $60 million and was unable to recoup it as Tombstone came out first and stole its thunder, grossing a respectable $55 million. To add insult to injury, Disney released Tombstone on home video right before Wyatt Earp’s theatrical release and it did strong rental business. Tombstone is an epic western that has all the right ingredients: stoic lawmen, dastardly outlaws, rousing montages, beautiful women, angry proclamations, emotional death bed speeches, and, of course, exciting shoot-outs. George P. Cosmatos’ direction is no frills – strictly meat and potatoes, which is just right for this straightforward tale. While the gun battles are noisy and chaotic, you always know where everyone is and what’s going on. It may not be a brooding meditation on violence like Unforgiven or push the boundaries of the genre like Dead Man, but Tombstone is an unabashed crowd pleaser in the classic western tradition.


Arnold, Gary. “Tombstone Point-Blank.” Washington Times. December 19, 1993.

Beck, Henry Cabot. “The ‘Western’ Godfather.” True West. October 1, 2006.

EW Staff. “Shoot First (Ask Questions Later).” Entertainment Weekly. December 24, 1993.

Grimes, William. “How to Fix a Film at the Very Last Minute (Or Even Later).” The New York Times. May 15, 1994.

Gristwood, Sarah. “To Hire and to Fire.” The Guardian. January 18, 1994.

Portman, Jamie. “Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Gets Revisionist Engraving.” Toronto Star. December 20, 1993.

Thompson, Anne. “Dueling Deals.” Entertainment Weekly. January 8, 1993.

Thompson, Anne. “Quiet Earp.” Entertainment Weekly. July 15, 1994.


  1. J.D.

    Great to read this in-depth retrospective and appreciation of Tombstone, an underrated film from the 1990s. Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday is a classic, and Kurt Russell is a strong anchor.

    I always liked Tombstone better than the sleepy Wyatt Earp from Costner, however, I do recall when I was doing research for a book back in 2003 - 2004, I spoke with someone who worked on Tombstone with dir. George P. Cosmotos, and said that he was a...very difficult director. Some of the stories from the set were pretty amazing...

    ...but often from great strife comes great art. That seems to be the case here.

    Another great post!

    John Kenneth Muir

  2. A fantastic review and thorough examination of its production, J.D. You know this is one of my all-time favorite westerns, and you've given it justice. The cast and their work, along with its entertaining as hell story make multiple viewings a pleasure. JKM, too, is spot-on with his comment:

    "... an underrated film from the 1990s. Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday is a classic, and Kurt Russell is a strong anchor."

    Well said, by both of you. I love the detail of the production you noted here. I'm glad you linked the director's cut, too. Even though it was just released to Blu-ray Disc, it's the theatrical cut. I'll be re-watching my SD DVD Director's Cut this summer till that version comes out in BD. Something to look forward to.

    Thanks very much for this, J.D. One fine early start to the weekend. Hope you have a good one.

  3. J.D.-
    I loved the opening quote. Hysterical. But then I love Kurt Russell. I just love most everything he does. I loved Breakdown. Escape From New York. The Thing. I never did see Big Trouble In Little China [let me know]. He even appeared in Lost in Space [1966]. Unfortunately, I never saw Tombstone and it sounds like I'm completely missing out.

    Re: your point about multiple, similar-themed films in circulation. I recall my film professor indicating scripts moving around in Hollywood and often getting ripped off, hence the resulting films of like concept. I imagine that happens from time to time. Your review offers some wonderful history on this particular case. Loved it.

    As far as Tombstone, I have to admit, that cast has always impressed me and it's one I've always wanted to see. Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell not to mention Bill Paxton and Sam Elliot. Terry O'Quinn and Dana Delaney too! Holy mackerel! What the hell have I been waiting for? You are pushing me over the edge with your wonderful analysis. I have placed my order.

    I always felt like Wyatt Earp was going for sweeping Dances With Wolves styled epic. I never saw that one either. Anyway, I'm quite stoked to see this film.

    Regarding all of the creative tension surrounding the film, I was reminded of the band New Order, who have often disputed over the years, but often pull together to create some musical gems.

    As far as the Blu-Ray goes, maybe you or Leopard13 could note the contrast for me. The Director's Cut appears to be 134 minutes and the theatrical 130 minutes. I've decided on the Blu-Ray and I hope that will do the trick.

    By the way JD, I wanted to thank you for adding me to your Blog Roll. I noticed it when I was reading your reviews and wanted to say thank you.

  4. I LOVE this movie. Yes, it most certainly is a popcorn entertainment western, as you note, but the two key performances of Kilmer and Russell really are incredible. Kilmer as Doc Holliday is one of the most memorable characters of all time for me. Even though many cineastes won't take it as a great western in the Hawks, Ford, Mann tradition, if I was to make favorite westerns list Tombstone would factor in the Top 10, without question.

    And I agree with you on that final scene between Doc and Wyatt... definitely moving stuff.

  5. Here is a good breakdown of the two versions of Tombstone. The BD will likely be anamorphic widescreen as opposed to the original DVD, looks like it includes the extras from the DC.

    I find better explanatory in the story with the DC, hence I will wait for that version to make it to BD [we all know the studio's love to double-dip the customers ;-)]. Great to hear you're Kurt Russell fan as a few of us here are. That said... you must, must get yourself a disc/screening of BIG TROUBLE IN CHINA!!! I can't emphasize that enough for someone who appreciates KR. HTH

  6. Wow, J.D., this is some summation here. I'm really impressed that you were able to write so much about the production of this film. I always knew it had a troubled shoot, but I didn't know it was to that extent.

    A few observations:

    I'm glad you mentioned the cast. It's the best part of the movie, and really the primary reason i always return to it. All of the great character actors like Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Michael Rooker, et al really shine here, and you have stalwarts like Sam Elliot, Val Kilmer, and of course, Kurt Russell. I don't think Russell gets enough credit as a leading man, but I've always found him to be a magnetic actor. I'm always drawn to his performances, even when he's at the mercy of sub par directors in films like Backdraft or Breakdown. I especially liked his performance in Dark Blue, which is the perfect role to showcase his crazy side.
    Tombstone was the same, and it was hard to watch Costner fumble through the role (as much as I like Costner as an actor) after seeing how perfectly Russell played the darker Earp.

    I like that you call this a popcorn movie, because that's precisely why I love it so much. I really think the film's cult following has overrated it a bit in terms of how great a western it is (it's so poorly made, but more on that later), but regardless the film is a helluva an entertainment. I agree with you that it doesn't quite rank up there with Eastwood or Jarmusch's westerns of the 90's in terms of quality, but it does rank with those two great films in terms of repeatability and entertainment value. I would say almost all of that credit goes to the cast, though.

    And that brings me to my last observation: the director. The reason the cast is so memorable for me is because I seriously can't think of more than a handful of scenes that jump out at me when I think back on the film; however, if I think back on it all I can clearly remember the performances and why they were so good. This film succeeds in spite of its director. Cosmotos is such a hack and it shows through almost every frame of the film. The action is just so clumsy in this movie, and I was never quite sure what was happening during that final shootout with Curly Bill. I remember thinking the editing was kind of goofy (although I do remember the montages being a nice touch) and basic film techniques like a sense of setting or placement within the frame seemed confusing.

    The actors saved this movie, and by the sound of your review here I think we have Kilmer and Russell to thank for taking over the reins and guiding this film into respectability. It's always been amazing to me that the film has such a massive cult following (don't get me wrong I like the movie, I've just always been shocked at how great a lot of people think it is), and Russell and co. should get all of the credit for its success.

    This was one great retrospective, J.D., and I loved the quote from Russell you started the essay with. This was filled with some great insight into the production of the film, and your love for it clearly shines through every paragraph.

    Oh, and yes, those mustaches were awesome...I think Sam Elliot's may have been the only Earp brother with a legit one, though, hehe.

  7. Thanks L13 and I have added Big Trouble to my order.

    While we are on the subject of Westerns, J.D., and since I value the opinions of RH and those here on the commentary list, do you or anyone else have an opinion on THE QUICK AND THE DEAD?

    Cheers- have a great weekend all.

  8. SFF: if we're talking about the '95 Sam Raimi western (with a great cast), it is an underrated and entertaining as hell homage to the spaghetti westerns of old. I love it. It's not a classic in the strict (Red River, Rio Bravo mold) or modern (Little Big Man, Unforgiven) sense. But, if you appreciate early Raimi films, I think you'll have an enjoyable time with it.

    If you're talking about the made for cable adaptation of the L'Amour novel, starring the always-good-in-a-western Sam Elliott, it's a good one, too. More traditional than the one above, but still a good oater for those of us who appreciate the genre. Just my opinion. HTH

  9. I was referring to the Raimi picture, and had forgotten he did that film until you mentioned it. Yes, sounds great. Looks like my Western queue will be full for some time. Thanks for recommendation.

  10. I am on Western mode after seeing WINCHESTER 73 and THE NAKED SPUR last night at the Anthony Mann Film Festival in Manhattan, where there was even another feigned Wyatt Earp pronouncement! Ha! As for TOMBSTONE, I enjoyed this towering essay quite a bit, and do count myself as a fan. Some great comments here too by big fans of the genre, like Kevin J. Olson. I do agree that critics do need to lighten up on this one, as it's as pure and unadulterated example of fun in the movies as any western we've ever had.

  11. Of course Dave and the Science Fiction fanatic entered great responses as well.

  12. Cool man! You made me need to see this again, I think I got it confused with the Costner version, and as such judged it a might negatively... may the spirit of thin Val Kilmer forgive me!

  13. John Kenneth Muir:

    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind comments. In doing all the research for this article, I certainly got the impression that Cosmatos rubbed a lot of the crew the wrong way and I'm sure there are some wild stories that we'll probably never hear.


    Good to hear that you're also a big fan of this film. I'm glad you enjoyed the production details. I always love reading about that stuff, esp. when there are colorful stories like there are for this film. It's amazing that a coherent film came out of such chaos.

    The Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    Yeah, I figured people would get a kick out of that priceless quote from Russell which sums up nicely the wild ride making that film must've been for those involved and Russell's willpower to see it through to completion no matter what.

    As a fan of Russell's you really NEED to see this film and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, which is still my fave Russell performance. He is THAT good in Carpenter's films. You will not be disappointed.

    And the cast for TOMBSTONE is something else - it really is worth watching for that alone.

    Also, you are more than welcome for being added to my Blog Roll. In all honesty, I should have added it sooner!

    As for THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, I heartily second le0pard13's recommendation. It is a fun, wild film with Raimi applying his Gonzo EVIL DEAD camerawork to a western! It is the epitome of style over substance and, for me, works because the style is so vibrant and entertaining to watch.


    Good to hear that you're also a fan of this film. I totally agree with you Kilmer as Doc. He makes the film as far as I'm concerned. He is just so good and I would say it's his best performance to date. How he utterly disappears into that role and gets all the best lines just blows my mind.

    I'm not a huge western fan but it is easily one of my faves of the genre.

  14. Kevin J. Olson:

    Some great comments! Thank you for the kind words and for your fantastic observations.

    I am certainly with you about the cast making the film what it is. Like you, the primary reason I keep coming back to this film is for the cast and how deliver the dialogue and get into character. It's just so fun to watch them breath life into their respective roles.

    I dig Russell, too. He is so good and underrated. He's never quite cracked the A-list but I think that's ok as he's done so many interesting films and played so many intriguing characters. His films with Carpenter alone are incredible. Good call on DARK BLUE. I love that film, too. I really believe that it's his BAD LT. where he get to plum the depths and really go for it. That scene where navigates the L.A. Riots is absolutely harrowing and tense!

    Glad you also agree that TOMBSTONE is a popcorn film. I don't think that's an insult to the film but rather a compliment that it's so damn entertaining. It is just a fun film to watch.

    As for the direction. I think that Cosmatos did the best he could with little prep time and entering into a pretty chaotic situation. That being said, he's not the best director and I think that he basically did his job and stayed out of the way of Russell and the other actors. It's interesting to note that Russell has come out in recent years and said that he basically ghost directed the film. For all clumsiness of his direction there are some nice moments, like the scene where Doc utters the immortal, "I'm your Huckleberry" line and he comes out of the smoke/fog/mist smoking a cigarette. That was a pretty cool moment, I thought.

    It's interesting that this film was a commercial hit but it seemed to really take off once it hit home video. A lot of people like this film. It's pretty wild.

    Sam Juliano:

    Thanks for stopping by and it's good to hear that you are also a fan of this film. The critics really went after this film back in the day but people are still digging it as all of these wonderful comments demonstrate.

    Erich Kuersten

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving some comments! You really should watch this film again. I think that skinny Kilmer would approve!

  15. J.D.- You've stirred quite the conversation. I'll have to check out Dark Blue. Russell is just so underrated by critics. Love the guy.

    Those films, Tomb and BIG have been ordered on Blu-Ray. I can't wait to see them thanks to you and L13, not to mention SJ.

  16. Great writeup on this film. I learned a lot of things I didn't know. I love this movie. It's one of my favorite westerns of the last couple of decades. I've watched this movie so many times with different guys in my family and among my friends. Val Kilmer was great as Doc.

  17. The Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    You are more than welcome! I hope you enjoy DARK BLUE and the other Russell films. I envy you getting to watch them fresh for the first time!


    Thanks for the compliments. Good to hear that you are a fan of this film also. I've seen TOMBSTONE countless time and never get tired of it.

  18. Shit yes- TOMBSTONE! A fine read, and truly one of the more fascinating, rockier productions. And what an ensemble! You know you've got a fantastic cast when guys like Terry O'Quinn, Stephen Lang, and Thomas Haden Church are kind of lingering off the the side, letting sheer forces of nature like Kurt Russell, Powers Boothe, and that exquisite Val Kilmer performance take center stage. Certainly on the short list for best Westerns in the last 30 years, and UNFORGIVEN can't even hold a candle to it in terms of sheer 'stachery. I don't mean to say that it trumps Hawks or Boetticher or even Leone or Eastwood, but I think time will eventually afford TOMBSTONE its rightful status in the pantheon.

  19. Sean Gill:

    Yes, I would rank TOMBSTONE with any other great western in the last 25 years or so. The film only seems to improve over time. It certainly has one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled!

    As always, thanks for stopping by.

  20. As someone who worked in a video store during the '90s, I remember what a hot item Tombstone was. It was a huge renter for us and the customer comments were always that it was so much better than Wyatt Earp or even Unforgiven. I don't agree on Unforgiven but Tombstone did deliver on what a lot of people were looking for - a old time, popcorn Western. Thinking about it makes me miss my video store days and also the days when Kurt Russell was a regular, reliable presence in films. The '90s were a great time for him.

  21. Jeff Allard:

    Thanks for sharing you personal reflections. I can only imagine what a big-time rental TOMBSTONE must've been. As you say, I don't know if it's as good as UNFORGIVEN but it certainly is a keeper. And you are right about Russell. Actually, the 1980s were very kind to him as well with all the Carpenter films he did, SILKWOOD, THE MEAN SEASON...

  22. Yeah, the '80s were a Golden Time for Russell for sure. But in the '90s he became a more bankable movie star and that was gratifying to see after he'd been in so many cool movies in the '80s that had unfairly tanked. Suddenly in the '90s, he was in real hits like Backdraft, Tombstone, Unlawful Entry and Stargate. And of course, who doesn't love Captain Ron?

  23. Jeff said: "And of course, who doesn't love Captain Ron?"

    [doffs cap] All true Kurt Russell aficionados have CAPTAIN RON in video library collections. Good one, Jeff!

  24. Jeff Allard:

    Ah, CAPTAIN RON. Well played, sir!

    But you're right about Russell in the 1980s and how he really didn't become consistently bankable until the 1990s. It's a shame that he couldn't (or wouldn't) keep that momentum going into the 2000s.

  25. I love this movie, BUT there is one bit that is just terrible, and that is the close up slow motion shot of Russel going batshit in the river going "NOOOOOOOOO!"

    My brother doesn't like that whole scene, I like it but that single slow mo bit? GHAH, makes me laugh and cringe every damn time. Hasn't been topped in badness until Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode 3...

  26. Noah:

    Yeah, that is a pretty cringe-inducing moment for sure. Hah, I had forgotten about that bit but you're right, it's pretty funny/awful.

  27. Swinging over from lp13's roundup. I love this movie and have ever since my very first viewing back in the early 90s. I remember my computer alerts were all Doc lines. ha!

    I love all the details you included re production. It's amazing the movie was as good as it was after so many issues. I actually didn't realize how many issues. I do remember though that Val Kilmer complained about the director (I'm assuming the fired one?) insisting that they wear real wool in AZ in the summer and he was like, you can't tell the difference! I guess they had a few things more serious than clothes to worry about.

    I think it's time to go queue this one up again...

  28. Rachel:

    I'm glad you dug the production details. It really is amazing that such a good product came out of so much conflict. Kurt Russell was so instrumental in keeping things on track and his passion for the film saw it through to the end. But the end product speaks for itself.

  29. I loved this movie so much I bought it right after seeing it the first time. The acting is incredible in this film. I'm not a huge Kurt Russell fan, but he played his role very well.

  30. I loved this movie so much i brought it right after seeing it the first time at the theater and it was so good i had to watch it over and over and i ask myself and i am a huge fan of kurt Russell but i am a fan of Val Kilmer and the acting was good except for Kurt Russell.