At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

BAD MEN OF TOMBSTONE (WB Archives)

By • Apr 10th, 2015 •

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IMDB describes the film thusly: ‘A marshal goes up against a collection of vicious outlaws terrorizing his (t)own.’

Untrue. There’s no marshal to speak of in the expanse of this lean, fast-moving Western, and certainly not in Tombstone, where the second half unfolds. What the film is about is a motley band of outlaws in the early West led by a relatively thoughtful thug played by Broderick Crawford. Barry Sullivan, also on the wrong side of the law, is drafted by co-incidence into the gang and plays along with them while slowly planning and executing his separation from them for a more stable life. Ripe and irresistible Marjorie Reynolds helps him make up his mind. Not that things necessarily end well, but I leave that for you to discover.

There’s a wealth of interesting talent behind the camera. Philip (JOHNNY GUITAR, THE HARDER THEY FALL) Yordan co-authored the script. Kurt (THE FLY, three TARZAN films) Neumann directed and co-penned the film’s only song. Roy (MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, NOTORIOUS) Webb composed the music – the opening title score is lush, and thereafter the music is serviceable, with a corny flub now and then. Cinematography is provided by Russell (RED RIVER, A WALK IN THE SUN, THE THING) Harlan, and that’s a shame because the DVD looks like a Monogram product. Clearly no restoration or cleanup has been done.

Broderick Crawford lends grim tension to the story, and Barry Sullivan is less than a compelling protagonist but absolutely appropriate because of it. This isn’t a western-noir, yet a thin cloud of dread does hang over the exploits of these robber/killers as they hatch their minimalist plans of lawless pillage and self-aggrandizement. Their hide-out, a desolate ghost town, casts a foreboding metaphor over their present machinations and their inevitably bleak future.

Sullivan’s moniker in the film is Tom Horn. It is possible that his character was initially modeled after the real-life Tom Horn, since the infamous gunman was drawn into the Range wars of the 1890s, as Sullivan’s Horn marginally is, hired by cattle businessmen in Wyoming to ‘reduce’ what they perceived as interloping ‘homesteaders.’ But whether this was Yordan’s contribution or Strawn’s, the other seems to have whittled away at it so that by the time the film was finished, it became just a borrowed name with no real historic punch.

As an unpretentious oater, it has flashes of originality and honest emotion. A periodic, pontificating Voice Over promises a bit more than we get from the ensuing narrative, but the screenwriters seem to have done their homework before spinning the tale. A scene with the scruffy warren of outlaws declaring what they’ll do with their booty is reminiscent of a near identical situation in Jules Dassin’s RIFIFI in ’54. Dassin was still in the US in ’49 – barely – and might have seen it and been impressed with the dreams of those on the run, which he was soon to be himself, from the long arm of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

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