Friday, September 19, 2014

Film Friday: The Last Gunfight and Tombstone

Last month, I wanted to read some books that took place in the Grand Canyon State. Most of my extended family is there, I was born there and it still holds a special place in my heart. From the red canyons of Sedona to the Mogollon Rim to serene Oak Creek Canyon and the magnificent Grand Canyon itself, Arizona has such beautiful scenery despite being a desert state.

Since so much of the state's history and lore involves the Old West and the romanticized images of gunslinging cowboys, I read Jeff Guinn's The Last Gunfight (Simon & Schuster) and thoroughly enjoyed his history of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Guinn explains how the town of Tombstone came to be, what drew people to it, and the political infighting between the town's residents that led to the gunfight. According to Guinn, Wyatt Earp was very similar to his father in that he wanted to be known for something, he craved recognition and fame. Guinn explained the political battle of wills that occurred between Johnny Behan, the slimy sheriff who often sided with the cowboys' illegal activity, and the Earps, most notably Wyatt. There was also a battle between the town's two newspapers and the residents were quickly drawing sides between the Earps and the cowboys.

In the last chapter, after explaining the Vendetta Ride after the gunfight, Guinn explained how the gunfight at Tombstone became the legendary gunfight it became known as, mostly through 1930's-era books and the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Guinn's The Last Gunfight was an entertaining and surprisingly fast read that was also enlightening. Rating: 4/5 stars

A couple of years ago, a roommate of mine said one of his favorite movies was Tombstone, the 1993 film depicting the gunfight and its aftermath. I watched it on a whim and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film stars Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Bill Paxton and Sam Elliott as the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. There are a ton of other actors in this movie that have become more famous over time. A young Jason Priestley and Thomas Haden Church are both in this movie, as well as more established stars and character actors like Dana Delaney, Powers Boothe and Stephen Lang (the latter two are especially known for villainous roles - Boothe was most recently in the Sin City sequel as a bad guy and Lang is better known as the malicious military colonel in Avatar.)

Tombstone has its moments of camp, but it has some of the best one-liners of any film, especially from Kilmer's Doc Holliday, arguably the star of the movie. Lines like "looks like somebody just walked over your grave," "I've got two guns, one for each of you," and "I'm your huckleberry" are instantly quotable. Russell also delivers his fair share of great lines as well. The cast gives solid performances and the cinematography is good, but there are some moments that are obvious 20th century thinking out of 19th century characters. Were it not for the fact that the filmmakers stressed accuracy in their story, I would be more willing to overlook it. There are some moments that left me thinking "Would someone really say that in the 1880's?" A slight nitpick here, but the music can be a bit overkill at times. Overall, I'd grade Tombstone a very solid B. It's a fun movie to watch and I own it on Blu-ray if that's any indication.

As for differences between history, the book and the film, I'll simply say the film gets the essence of the gunfight, but does leave out a lot of details and tweaks Earp's real life a bit. There is no indication in the film of the political or social undertones between the Earps and the cowboys. The film sets up the gunfight a bit differently than what actually happened. The essence of the characters is mostly true to history, especially Behan.

Have you seen Tombstone or read The Last Gunfight? What did you think?

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