Although once a staple of Hollywood, westerns no longer attract large audiences. Nonetheless, from time to time, some movie makers explore the fascinating and challenging years when the American West was settled. This weekend, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” opens in theatres. As all of the hype indicates, it is a comedy, but most filmmakers opt to craft more serious studies of the late 19th century in the western states of America. In the early 1990s, two westerns were released about the same subject: “Tombstone” and “Wyatt Earp.” Of these, “Tombstone” is widely considered to be the better film.
“Tombstone” is, of course, based on a true story and is set in the 1880s. In it, lawman Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russell) moves to the town of Tombstone where he hopes to live a peaceful life with his family and put his old life of law enforcement behind him. But Wyatt cannot do this as a gang called the “Cowboys” is inflicting lawlessness upon the town. Eventually, Wyatt, his brothers, and their friend, Doc Holliday (played by Val Kilmer), get into a violent gunfight with the gang – the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. After this, Wyatt is determined to hunt and kill the Cowboys.
Kurt Russell is excellent as Wyatt Earp, who tries hard to avoid trouble in the first half of the film. But he becomes a hardened gunfighter in the second half. The film also offers a rare glimpse into one aspect of late 19th century life as we see Wyatt’s wife struggle with substance abuse. The best performance in the movie is by Val Kilmer. Doc is a heavy drinker and gambler, but he is also a superb gunfighter.
The shootout scenes are very well done, especially the scene at the OK Corral. It is brief, just like the actual gunfight.
“Tombstone” is a great choice for fans of westerns or fans of Kurt Russell or Val Kilmer. It is one of the best movies in this genre to come out in the 1990s.