In the race to get a Wyatt Earp movie out, Tombstone (1993) was the victor over Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp, which ended up a theatrical flop. Tombstone is the story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and their fight against "The Cowboys," a vicious gang of scarlet-sashed thugs. The opening scene sets the tone, and shows how cruel the Cowboys are, as they cold-bloodedly interrupt a Mexican wedding to kill several men, including the groom, and then sit down to enjoy the wedding feast. The next scene shows Earp (Kurt Russell) arriving in Arizona to start a new life. Immediately offered the job as sheriff, he turns it down flat, as he has left his lawman life behind.
Earp, along with his two brothers and the three wives, are riding into Tombstone, where they are starting over. As soon as Wyatt is told that one of the many saloons is avoided, due to the card-dealer (Billy Bob Thornton), who is loud and rude, he goes in and runs the oaf out. In doing so, it is clear that he is still seeking order. This gives him the chance to take over the gambling scene in this saloon, and sets the stage for the run-in with the Cowboys. It also reunites the Earps with Doc Holliday, a drunken, debauched, terberculosis-ridden gambler, who is also "the fastest gun in the west." Val Kilmer gives Doc the weirdest southern accept on film, but plays him well. You can feel the inner struggles of this dying man. (The words he says in the movie as he dies in a sanitorium with his boots off, "I'll be damned," are apparently historically true.)
As Tombstone, progresses, the sheriff of Tombstone is casually gunned down by a drunken Curly Bill (Powers Boothe), leader of the Cowboys. This murder, and the lack of interest by the cowardly US Marshall, forces Virgil Earp (Sam Elliot) to become the new sheriff. He deputizes brother Morgan (Bill Paxton), but Wyatt restrains himself as long as he can, but eventually the lawlessness gets to him and he, too, becomes a lawman again. Midway through is the infamous "gunfight at the OK Corral," pitting the three Earps and Doc Holliday against some of the Cowboys.
When the Cowboys murder Virgil, and wound Morgan, Wyatt deputizes several former Cowboys, who are shocked that the wives were targeted, and begins a hunt for all the members of the Cowboys. The movie becomes dark and violent as this hunt progresses. Earp becomes a wanted fuguitive, yet is determined to bring vengeance for his brother's death. As the movie taglines says, justice is coming. The climax pits the two fastest gunfighters against each other in a non-traditional gunfight with good winning out against evil.
As much as Wyatt Earp wanted to hang up his guns and live a quiet life, he simply couldn't turn his back on injustice and evil. He kept trying, but his conscience and those of his brothers pulled him back in the fight. James says "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (Jas 4:17), and this could be a theme for Tombstone. Wyatt knows what he must do, and though he tries to avoid it, he eventually knows he must do what is right. What do we face that we are avoiding doing? Are we working to enact justice in our lives, even if it is small justice? Are we ignoring injustice? Because if we are, we are sinning.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs