As pioneers moved West in the North America of the nineteenth century, villains moved with them leaving a trail of bodies behind. There were certain lawmen, however, even tougher than the criminals, and one of those was Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) who after a career cleaning up evildoers decided to move to the town of Tombstone, which was booming thanks to its silver prospectors. Not that this prevented the bad guys from settling there too, and there was a large gang of red sash-wearing outlaws who terrorised the area known as The Cowboys, led by Curly Bill (Powers Boothe). Earp simply wanted to settle peacefully, but fate would bring him into conflict with the gang...
Tombstone was nearly a film that didn't happen at all. It was based on a much-respected script by Kevin Jarre which he started out directing, but was forced to leave after shooting a few scenes and George Pan Cosmatos was drafted into his place to fashion a more streamlined version of Jarre's original, epic plans. But after Cosmatos died, Kurt Russell claimed that he had directed most of the film, with the other filmmaker brought in only to oversee the production and ensure that no more hiccups interrupted the flow. Whether Jarre's initial visions for his project would have been better or not - and there are those who argue that we lost something that would have been a masterpiece - what we ended up with still garnered a strong following.
It was one of two Wyatt Earp movies released within months of each other, the other being the Kevin Costner-starring effort which really was an epic, and did not do anything like as well as the Russell film did, being perceived as boring and stuffy. That may or may not have been fair, but Tombstone remains the more entertaining of the two thanks to it not trying to become anything revisionist, and sticking to the traditional values of the Westerns of yesteryear. This sense of sticking to the customs of the genre instead of getting all pretentious or at the other end of the scale, all crass, means that many viewers have responded well to its yarn of characters doing what a man's gotta do.
Not to mention the truly impressive moustaches that the actors sport, which almost become characters in themselves, so do they draw the eye. Russell is an ideal hero, even if we're left waiting a little too long for Earp to pick up his pistols and go after The Cowboys when we're well aware that he's going to do precisely that sooner or later. Before that happens, the gang make a nuisance of themselves and one of Wyatt's associates, tubercular gambler Doc Holliday, doesn't help the atmosphere by pitting himself against Curly Bill's right hand man, Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), a sharpshooter like himself. Holliday was played by Val Kilmer, yet again proving that the role was a gem for actors wishing to prove themselves, and he shines in it, as well as provoking an endless debate about what he means by "huckleberry".
The rest of the ensemble cast are as solid as the story, which stuck fairly close to the facts, thereby pleasing the true Western aficionados with its adherence to history and the spirit of the classic style; if you think of fans of Tombstone as being the same fans of the television series Deadwood (that featured a couple of the cast members here), which took a similar, if earthier approach, then you can see the appeal that it had and why that has not waned since its release. There are those who grumble that it was lacking in a distinctive personality of its own, with too many of the characters interchangeable - all the goodies, the baddies, the women - but there was an integrity to this that saw the world, if not in black and white, then in a more clear cut division of good and evil than quite a few Westerns since about 1969 had done. Featuring a selection of memorable setpieces to stir the blood, and a nice line in humour courtesy of Holliday, Tombstone was somewhat staid, but made that a virtue. Music by Bruce Broughton.