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Book Review: Tombstone

“I’m your Huckleberry.”

That’s it, you don’t need to know anything else. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in the 1993 classic, “Tombstone,” is one of the greatest roles of all time. Kilmer is perfect is every scene, and while everyone in the movie does from good to great, Kilmer is spectacular. I know I’m not the only one who finds himself watching “Tombstone” highlight clips on YouTube.

“Tombstone” is one of those movies that become more popular with time. Based on the life and legend of Wyatt Earp, “Tombstone” tells the story of Wyatt and his family (brothers Virgil and Morgan), who, along with their wives, move to Tombstone, Arizona. They are joined by Doc Holliday, who is dying quickly from tuberculosis. Wyatt hopes to put his lawman days behind him and focus on making a fortune for his family. He doesn’t even wear a gun at the beginning of the movie.

He and his brothers set up a faro table at a casino that has fallen on hard times. The brothers are making money and enemies quickly. Wyatt tries to steer clear of the growing tension between the town, his family and the Cowboys, an outlaw gang that is identified by the red sashes they all wear and has been controlling the town with little resistance, at least until the Earp brothers show up.

Wyatt, pressured by the town and his brothers, eventually can’t avoid the inevitable and takes up his guns against the Cowboys. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a gun battle where the Earps and Holliday face six of the Cowboys, is the beginning of quite a few killings and some excellent gunfight scenes.

Kurt Russell and Kilmer were the headline stars and received the most screen time, an honor well-deserved by both. But “Tombstone” was jam-packed with stars and well-known actors. Sam Elliot, the quintessential Western actor, played a prominent role as one of Wyatt Earp’s brothers, and Bill Paxton played the other. Charlton Heston had a small role toward the end of the movie, having had to withdraw from a larger role because of a horseback riding accident.

Billy Bob Thornton was on screen for about 10 minutes, but each one of them was memorable. Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Jason Priestley, Thomas Haden Church and Dana Delany all had roles as well. Robert Mitchum was the narrator (voice only), tying the film together, and his son, Christopher, had a small role as well.

As I said above, Val Kilmer does an amazing job as Doc Holliday, creating a character that one hopes to see in every scene. While the movie received lukewarm reviews when it was released, many critics did note Kilmer’s performance, and over the years it has grown to be iconic in the eyes of many Western movie fans. All one has to do is say to a fellow fan, “I’m your Huckleberry,” and they know exactly what you’re talking about.

I was recently at a small screening for a new movie about Mark Twain, “Cinema Twain,” that Kilmer wrote, produced, starred in and directed. He managed to work the line “I’m your Huckleberry” into the movie as a way of introducing Huck Finn. It drew the largest applause of the night, excepting when Val came out on stage after the film to answer a few questions.

Director George Cosmatos wanted the movie to be as authentic as possible, including having all of the mustaches in the movie be real — a topic I admit I wondered about as I watched. The movie was also shot at two locations in Arizona, which is where “Tombstone” is located. It’s possible one of the final scenes, two men shaking hands while riding horses, has never been seen in a Western before.

Enjoy!

Four horseshoes

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