In 1879, members of the outlaw gang known as the Cowboys, led by "Curly Bill" Brocius, ride into a Mexican town and interrupt a local police officer's wedding. They then proceed to massacre the assembled policemen in retribution for killing two of their fellow gang members. Shortly before being shot, a local priest warns them that their acts of murder and savagery will be avenged, referencing the biblical fourth horseman.
Wyatt Earp, a retired peace officer with a notable reputation, reunites with his brothers Virgil and Morgan in Tucson, Arizona, where they venture on toward Tombstone to settle down. There they encounter Wyatt's long-time friend Doc Holliday, who is seeking relief from his worsening tuberculosis. Josephine Marcus and Mr. Fabian are also newly arrived with a traveling theater troupe. Meanwhile, Wyatt's common-law wife, Mattie Blaylock, is becoming dependent on laudanum. Wyatt and his brothers begin to profit from a stake in a gambling emporium and saloon when they have their first encounter with the Cowboys. The Cowboys are identifiable by the red sashes worn around their waists.
As tensions rise, Wyatt is pressured to help rid the town of the Cowboys, though he is no longer a lawman. Curly Bill begins shooting at the sky after a visit to an opium den and is told by Marshal Fred White to relinquish his firearms. Curly Bill instead shoots the marshal dead, and is forcibly taken into custody by Wyatt. The arrest infuriates Ike Clanton and the other Cowboys. Curly Bill stands trial, but is found not guilty due to a lack of witnesses. Virgil, unable to tolerate lawlessness, becomes the new marshal and imposes a weapons ban within the city limits. This leads to a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in which Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury are killed. Virgil and Morgan are wounded, and the allegiance of county sheriff Johnny Behan with the Cowboys is made clear. As retribution for the Cowboy deaths, Wyatt's brothers are ambushed; Morgan is killed, while Virgil is left handicapped. A despondent Wyatt and his family leave Tombstone and board a train, with Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell close behind, preparing to ambush them. Wyatt sees that his family leaves safely, and then surprises the assassins. He kills Stilwell, but lets Clanton live to send a message: Wyatt announces that he is a U.S. marshal, and that he intends to kill any man he sees wearing a red sash. Wyatt, Doc, a reformed Cowboy named Sherman McMasters, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, form a posse to seek revenge.
Wyatt and his posse are ambushed in a riverside forest by the Cowboys. Wyatt walks into the creek, miraculously surviving the enemy fire, and kills Curly Bill along with many of his men. Curly Bill's second-in-command, Johnny Ringo, becomes the new head of the Cowboys. When Doc's health worsens, the group is accommodated by Henry Hooker at his ranch. Ringo sends a messenger (dragging McMasters' corpse) to tell Wyatt that he wants a showdown to end the hostilities; Wyatt agrees. Wyatt sets off for the showdown, not knowing that Doc had already arrived at the scene. Doc confronts a surprised Ringo and kills him in a duel. Wyatt runs when he hears the gunshot, only to encounter Doc. They then press on to complete their task of eliminating the Cowboys, although Clanton escapes their vengeance by renouncing his red sash. Doc is sent to a sanatorium in Colorado, where he later dies of his illness. At Doc's urging, Wyatt pursues Josephine to begin a new life.
The film was shot primarily on location in Arizona. Shooting began in May 1993. The film was supposed to be screenwriter Kevin Jarre's first job as director, but he was quickly overwhelmed by the job–failing to get needed shots and falling behind the shooting schedule. A month into filming, he was fired by producer Andrew Vajna and replaced with George P. Cosmatos. The new director brought a demanding, hard-nosed sensibility to the set, which led to conflicts with some of the crew members (most famously with cinematographer William Fraker). Meanwhile, Kurt Russell worked quickly with producer James Jacks to pare down Jarre's sprawling script, deleting subplots and emphasizing the relationship between Wyatt and Doc.
Director Cosmatos recalled details of filming on a Tombstone DVD commentary track: Cosmatos was highly focused on accurate historical detail, including the costumes, props, customs, and scenery, to give them authenticity. All the mustaches in the movie were real. Val Kilmer practiced for a long time on his quick-draw speed, and gave his character a Southern Aristocrat accent. Two locations were used to make the town of Tombstone look bigger. The scene in which Wyatt throws an abusive card dealer (Billy Bob Thornton) out of a saloon was to show that Wyatt was a man who used psychology to intimidate. Thornton’s lines in the scene were ad-libbed, as he was only told to “be a bully”. The center of the film to Cosmatos was the loyalty and friendship between Wyatt and Doc. The scene where Morgan Earp (Paxton) talks about God and death was originally much longer. Morgan is later killed by the Cowboys. Actor Stephen Lang told the director he was drunk for most of filming, as Cosmatos recalled with a laugh. Cosmatos said, “The emotion is the most important thing in a movie. If you care about your people, you have a movie.” Cosmatos thought film was a visual medium, with some scenes not requiring dialogue. A love scene between Wyatt and Josephine was cut because the director did not want to consummate the love story so fast. The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was over in seconds, he said, and he choreographed the scene exactly as it happened. It was Val Kilmer’s idea to whistle on the way to the O.K. Corral. Cosmatos liked that, in the script, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was not the end of something, but rather the beginning of something - the beginning of the true conflict of the film. Cosmatos listed some Western film influences: Red River, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, and Rio Bravo. He knew Sergio Leone personally, a friend of his in Italy whom he called “a lovely man”. He admired European directors of American films like himself, half-Italian and half-Greek, such as Michael Curtiz, and other outsiders such as Alfred Hitchcock, because they had a different and unique point of view. Having passion for a movie, loving the characters in it, and trying to make it as beautiful as he could were Cosmatos' goals. The heat and the number of scorpions were a surprise to the director. He liked to treat actors as friends who were all in the same boat, and listened to ideas the actors brought to the film. The struggle as a director is to compromise the least. Cosmatos loved to shoot in real locations more than sets, which made filming fun. “Friendship and brotherhood and love is everything. And hope. Hope is very important in life. That’s why I think these movies bond people together. That’s why a movie like The Godfather works. It’s a story about brotherhood. Family is very important. The friendship of two men, of a man and a woman, or two women – it’s important. Because what would we do without friendship? There’s nothing left, except the birds singing." He preferred the forest setting for the final shoot-out between Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo, as it was not the usual dusty street of many Westerns. He liked how he had never seen two men shaking hands on horseback before now. In the past, most people died young, he explained. An old man was 50, 60. In the scene where Doc says, “That’s funny” while looking at his feet and then dying, Cosmatos explained that it was because he thought he would get killed in a gunfight, not die in bed. It was quite an achievement in those days, to die without your boots on. Of the ending, he said the snow was a contrast to all the desert we’ve seen, and found it touching that his childhood hero, Tom Mix, wept at Wyatt Earp’s death. “When you have heart in a movie, that’s what counts,” Cosmatos said. “And all the machine guns and helicopters don’t mean anything.” It takes research, hard work, and watching old movies. The film was dedicated to his wife, who died after it was shot.
The original motion picture soundtrack for Tombstone was originally released by Intrada Records on December 25, 1993. On March 16, 2006, an expanded two-disc version of the film score was also released by Intrada Records. The score was composed and produced by Bruce Broughton, and performed by the Sinfonia of London. David Snell conducted most of the score (although Broughton normally conducts his own scores, union problems mandated another conductor here), while Patricia Carlin edited the film's music.
The score contains strong echoes of Max Steiner's music for John Ford's The Searchers (1956) with variations on the 'Indian Traders' theme used midway through the Ford movie. The album begins with the Cinergi logo, composed by Jerry Goldsmith and conducted by Broughton.
|2.||"Prologue; Main Title; And Hell Followed"||3:50|
|4.||"Arrival in Tombstone"||2:14|
|5.||"The Town Marshall; A Quarter Interest"||0:48|
|7.||"Gotta Go to Work"||1:10|
|9.||"Fortuitous Encounter; Wyatt and Josephine"||5:16|
|10.||"Thinking Out Loud"||0:28|
|11.||"Opium Den; Law Dogs; You Got a Fight Comin'"||7:08|
|13.||"The Antichrist; Gathering for a Fight; Walking to the Corral; OK Corral Gunfight"||7:36|
|15.||"The Dead Don't Dance; Dehan Warns Josephine; Upping the Ante; Morgan's Murder"||5:15|
|18.||"Hell's Comin'; Wyatt's Revenge"||3:53|
|19.||"No More Curly Bill"||0:36|
|20.||"The Former Fabian"||1:34|
|21.||"Brief Encounters; Ringo's Challenge; Doc and Wyatt"||5:38|
|22.||"You're No Daisy; Finishing It"||3:55|
|24.||"Looking at Heaven; End Credits"||8:45|
|1.||"Arrival in Tombstone" (w/alternate intro)||2:14|
|2.||"Josephine" (short version)||1:00|
|3.||"Fortuitous Encounter" (w/alternate mid-section)||2:26|
|4.||"Morgan's Death" (short version)||1:47|
|5.||"Tombstone" (main theme only)||2:23|
|6.||"Pit Orchestra Warm-Up"||0:39|
|7.||"Thespian Overture" (long)||0:45|
A paperback novel adapted from Kevin Jarre's screenplay, written by Giles Tippette and published by Berkley Publishers titled Tombstone, was released on January 1, 1994. The book dramatizes the real-life events of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Earp Vendetta, as depicted in the film. It expands on Western genre ideas in Jarre's screenplay.
Tombstone premiered in movie theaters six months before Costner and Kasdan's version, Wyatt Earp, on December 24, 1993, in wide release throughout the United States. During its opening weekend, the film opened in third place, grossing $6,454,752 in business showing at 1,504 locations. The film's revenue increased by 35% in its second week of release, earning $8,720,255. For that particular weekend, the film stayed in third place, screening in 1,955 theaters. The film went on to earn $56,505,065 in total ticket sales in the North American market. It ranks 20th out of all films released in 1993.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 73% of 44 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 6.2 out of 10. Following its cinematic release in 1993, Tombstone was named "one of the 5 greatest Westerns ever made" by True West Magazine. The film was also called "One of the year's 10 best!" by KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, California.
Siskel & Ebert originally thought they would have to miss reviewing the film, as they could not get a screening, but as Ebert explained, "... a strange thing started to happen. People started telling me they really liked Val Kilmer's performance in Tombstone, and I heard this every where I went. When you hear this once or twice, it's interesting, when you hear it a couple of dozen times, it's a trend. And when you read that Bill Clinton loved the performance, you figured you better catch up with the movie." Ultimately, Ebert recommended the movie while Siskel did not.
Ebert was later to refer to Tombstone in future reviews, comparing it favorably to Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp ("It forced the comparison upon me.") and, in his review of Wild Bill, singling out Val Kilmer's portrayal as "the definitive saloon cowboy of our time." In his review of Kurt Russell's Dark Blue, he stated, "Every time I see Russell or Val Kilmer in a role, I'm reminded of their Tombstone, which got lost in the year-end holiday shuffle and never got the recognition it deserved."
|"Grafted onto this traditional framework, the film's meditative aspects are generally too self-conscious to fit comfortably. Especially when the movie tries to imagine a more enlightened role for women in the Old West, the screenplay begins to strain."|
|—Stephen Holden, writing in The New York Times|
In a mixed review, Chris Hicks writing in the Deseret News said, "aside from Russell and Val Kilmer's scene-stealing, sickly, alcoholic Doc Holliday, there are so many characters coming and going, with none of them receiving adequate screen time, that it becomes difficult to keep track of them all." But he did comment, "some very entertaining moments here, with Russell spouting memorable tough-guy lines". Overall, he felt, "Taken on its own terms, with some lowered expectations, Western fans will have fun."Emanuel Levy of the Variety staff believed the film was a "tough-talking but soft-hearted tale" which was "entertaining in a sprawling, old-fashioned manner." Regarding screenwriter Jarre's dialogue, he noted, "Despite the lack of emotional center and narrative focus, his script contains enough subplots and colorful characters to enliven the film and ultimately make it a fun, if not totally engaging, experience." He also singled out Val Kilmer as the standout performance. The film, however, was not without its detractors. James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews offered an almost entirely negative review, recalling how he thought, "Not only is the last hour anticlimactic, but it's dull. Too many scenes feature lengthy segments of poorly scripted dialogue, and, in some cases, character motivation becomes unclear. The gunplay is more repetitious than exciting. The result — a cobbled-together morass of silly lines and shoot-outs — doesn't work well."
Stephen Holden writing in The New York Times saw the film as being a "capacious Western with many modern touches, the Arizona boom town and site of the legendary O.K. Corral has a seedy, vaudevillian grandeur that makes it a direct forerunner of Las Vegas." He expressed his satisfaction with the supporting acting, saying, "[the] most modern psychological touch is its depiction of Josephine (Dana Delany), the itinerant actress with whom Wyatt falls in love at first sight, as the most casually and comfortably liberated woman ever to set foot in 1880's Arizona." Critic Louis Black, writing for The Austin Chronicle, viewed Tombstone as a "mess" and that there were "two or three pre-climaxes but no climax. Its values are capitalist rather than renegade, which is okay if it's metaphoric rather than literal. Worse, as much as these actors heroically struggle to focus the film, the director more successfully hacks it apart."Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C– rating, calling it "preposterously inflated" at "135 minutes long". He observed the film as being a "three-hour rough cut that's been trimmed down to a slightly shorter rough cut" with "all that holds the film together is Kurt Russell's droll machismo." Author Geoff Andrew of Time Out commented, "Kilmer makes a surprisingly effective and effete Holliday". He negatively acknowledged that there was "a misguided romantic subplot and the ending rather sprawls" but ultimately exclaimed the film was "'rootin', tootin' entertainment with lots of authentic facial hair."
Richard Harrington of The Washington Post highlighted the film's shortcomings by declaring, "too much of Tombstone rings hollow. In retrospect, not much happens and little that does seems warranted. There are so many unrealized relationships you almost hope for redemption in a longer video version. This one is unsatisfying and unfulfilling." Alternately though, columnist Bob Bloom of the Journal & Courier openly remarked that the film "May not be historically accurate, but offers a lot of punch for the buck." He concluded by saying it was "A tough, guilty-pleasure Western."
Following its cinematic release in theaters, the film was released on VHS video format on November 11, 1994. The Region 1 Codewidescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on December 2, 1997. Special features for the DVD include French and Spanish subtitles, Dolby Digital Surround Sound, original theatrical trailers, and chapter search options. A director's cut of Tombstone was also officially released on DVD on January 15, 2002. The DVD version includes a two-disc set and features "The Making of Tombstone" featurette in three parts; "An Ensemble Cast"; "Making an Authentic Western"; and "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". Other features include an audio commentary by director George P. Cosmatos, an interactive Tombstone timeline, the director's original storyboards for the O.K. Corral sequence, the Tombstone "Epitaph" – an actual newspaper account, the DVD-ROM feature "Faro at the Oriental: Game of Chance", and a collectible Tombstone map.
The widescreen high-definition Blu-ray Disc edition of the theatrical cut was released on April 27, 2010, featuring the making of Tombstone, director's original storyboards, trailers, and TV spots. A supplemental viewing option for the film in the media format of video-on-demand is available, as well.
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- ^Hicks, Chris (December 28, 1993). Tombstone. Deseret News. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
- ^Levy, Emanuel (December 22, 1993). Tombstone. Variety. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
- ^Berardinelli, James (December 25, 1993). Tombstone. ReelViews. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
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