Kurt Russell has made a number of classic films over his career and one of his most popular films finding life once again on Amazon, climbing the charts to #5.
Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, tells the story of the Earp brothers who came to the town of Tombstone and ended up involved in the gunfight that pretty much defined the Old West. The vendetta ride that followed also helped build that gunfights legend.
When telling stories concerning history, Hollywood typically changes facts for dramatic purposes. While the same can be said for Tombstone, the story itself is actually pretty accurate.
Tombstone sees the Earps, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan, arriving in the growing town with their wives. Wanting to distance himself from being a lawman, Wyatt has a desire of starting a business with his brothers.
Upon entering the town, Wyatt is immediately off and running, looking for something he can call his own. He finds it at the Oriental Saloon, where one rowdy customer (Billy Bob Thornton) has run off all the money. Wyatt makes short use of him and in the process obtains a stake in the Oriental.
Meanwhile, Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) has also come to Tombstone with his common-law wife Kate and a much-worsening case of tuberculosis.
It doesn’t take long before the Earp’s and the Cowboys have their first scuffle. The Cowboys are led by “Curly Bill” Brocius and include Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn), Ike Clanton (Stephen Lang), Billy Clanton (Thomas Haden Church), Tom McLaury (John Philbin), and Frank McLaury (Robert John Burke).
In one classic scene (of the many), Ringo and Holliday square off inside the Oriental, both first with a little tête-à-tête in Latin, then Ringo showing off his gun handling abilities before Holliday mocks him with his drinking tin.
The real trouble begins, though, when Curly Bill, in the deep throes of an opium high, is approached by the Tombstone Marshall Fred White. While trying to disarm Curly Bill, the cowboy shoots the Marshall dead. Wyatt is on the scene quickly to take Curly Bill into custody.
Eventually, Curly Bill is released because of a lack of witnesses. The lawlessness in the town causes Virgil to take the star and impose some sense of law. This does not go over well with the Cowboys, who flat-out inform the Earps that law doesn’t go around there.
Another late-night run-in with a drunk Ike Clanton forces Virgil to knock him unconscious and lock him up. As he is being released on bail, the Cowboys meet up with the Earp’s outside the jail, where one of the Cowboys runs (physically) into Wyatt. When Wyatt tries to apologize, the Cowboy cuts him off, prompting Wyatt to use the butt of his gun on the Cowboys head.
Battle lines have been drawn as the Cowboys call out the Earps. While deciding how to handle the situation, Doc Holliday arrives to put himself right in the middle of the mess. The four then head toward the O.K. Corral to confront the Cowboys.
It is a scene that is classic, that has been spoken of and even filmed, hundreds of times. It’s no less thrilling than it always has been, and Tombstone delivers. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. From the wink from Doc Holliday to Ike Clanton running scared to the Earp’s and Holliday handling their business, the two and half minute gunfight (30-seconds in real life) makes Tombstone. For what it’s worth, the gunfight comes a little over halfway through the film, giving much more story and depth to the film.
On top of the legendary gunfight, the film also follows Wyatt Earp on his Earp Vendetta Ride, the famous one where Earp and his posse rode out to hunt down the Cowboys responsible for maiming one of his brothers and killing another.
Tombstone is now considered a classic in every sense of the word. But bringing the film to the big screen was no easy feat. The stories behind making the movie are almost as legendary as the O.K. Corral fight itself.
The script was written by the late Kevin Jarre and it was set up to be his very first directing assignment. But right from the start, it was obvious Jarre was in way over his head. Thankfully, Kurt Russell was there.
Val Kilmer would eventually open up about his time on the set. “I have such admiration for Kurt as he basically sacrificed lots of energy that would have gone into his role, to save the film,” he said via The Hollywood Reporter. “Everyone cared, don’t get me wrong, but Kurt put his money where his mouth was, and not a lot of stars extend themselves for the cast and crew. Not like he did.”
This comes in reference to reports that it was Kurt Russell who actually directed the film. When it was obvious Jarre was in over his head (the film was a month behind), he was replaced by director George Cosmatos. This replacement almost cost the film a star as Biehn was a close friend of Jarre’s and was considering leaving the picture.
Biehn stayed and Cosmatos’ presence was immediately felt. His style was much more rigid, something that got under the skin of many on the set. But it was Kurt Russell who kept the set and its actors together working toward one goal – making the best movie they could.
Sam Elliott would actually echo Kilmer’s recollection of how the filming went. “Kevin Jarre wrote a brilliant script for it. He directed the film for a month before he was taken off the picture, because he just clearly wasn’t a director. I knew that first day I watched him work on the set when I got over there,” Elliott said to Entertainment Weekly. “…then they replaced him with George Cosmatos. Kurt was right there on top of it. He was orchestrating a lot of it. He held it together after Kevin got taken off of it.”
The difference between Hollywood’s Tombstone and real-life is vast in some areas but dead on in others. Much of the popular dialogue in the film comes from real-life witness accounts. The gunfight was one of the most accurate depictions of the many filmed in the past.
If you truly wish to find out about the real-life history of Tombstone and the events surrounding the gunfight, there is a tremendously well-researched book titled Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell by Tom Clavin that is well worth the read.
Chalk up Wyatt Earp as another of Kurt Russell’s wonderful performances whose career rivals on legendary, much like Earp’s. From his early days starring in Disney movies to stepping out of the Disney shadow with films like Used Cars, Escape from New York, The Thing, The Best of Times, Big Trouble in Little China, Captain Ron, and Stargate, Kurt Russell continues to entertain.
Lately, Kurt Russell was seen on Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as Star-Lord’s father, Ego, a role he’d reprise in the animated series, What If…? He also played Santa Claus, not once but twice, in The Christmas Chronicles and its sequel. He had a small part in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and Kurt Russell also reprised his role as Mr. Nobody in F9: The Fast Saga.
You can catch Kurt Russell in the classic western, Tombstone, on Amazon.