Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Great Moments In... Wild West Duels

It's amazing that I have seen probably two dozen Westerns, but have missed out on some of the bigger ones. I don't think I've seen one with John Wayne, or Gary Cooper. I've seen Silverado, but not Heaven's Gate. There are big gaps in my knowledge of this genre, but I can abso-fing-lutely guarantee that Tombstone isn't one of those gaps.

It's a fun film, full of good performances. The cast is exceptional, and I have a lot of love for the lead, Kurt Russell, along with some of the smaller actors like Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton. But if anyone aside from Russell made a massive impression, then it is, hands down, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

In a movie full of strengths, Kilmer's work here stands out. His Doc has charm and grace and wit and, above all, a wisdom that matches his loyalty. The Earps are painted as a bunch of natural-born do-gooders, and so Holliday here serves as the guy with a real understanding of how the world works.

He's a screwup - because he's addicted to gambling and his smoking/drinking must play hell with his tuberculosis - but he's the kind of screwup that the audience loves to love.

In case you were cursed by the gods and haven't seen this picture before, Doc is depicted as this ultimate gunslinger. He's a badass shot who can twirl a gun like a virtuoso. Throughout, Wyatt Earp is presented as his personal equal, but the only person who has the same skill with a six shooter is Michael Biehn's character, Johnny Ringo.

Ringo exists as this evil alternative to Doc Holliday. Whereas Doc has a healthy friendship with some lawmen, Ringo is second fiddle to a gang that only murders people and steals from them. Holliday is a happy drunk, full of wit and intelligence. Johnny has a great education, but a heart full of hatred. Long before Michael Caine's Alfred described the Joker as a guy who wanted to "burn the world," Doc did the same for Johnny Ringo.

Throughout Tombstone, Doc and Johnny never actually get into a fight - it almost occurs, but something always keeps one out of the way. And, thus, - SPOILER ALERT - it is so beautifully-fitting that right near the end of the movie we finally have a confrontation wherein Earp knows that he must face the superior aim and speed of Ringo; he hugs his ailing tuberculotic friend and rides out, fully expecting to die. What follows next, then, is not just a fine moment in Mr. Kilmer's career, it's one of the finest moments I have ever seen in a Western. Enjoy:


  1. I love this film. What's so amazing about that moment is that it's unlike any other pistol duel scene in movies. Holliday and Ringo are standing so close together--compared to the 10-20 yards distance they seem to have in the faceoffs from classic westerns, Kilmer and Biehn look like they could just reach out and slap each other. Also, they're not standing still, and the movement is unfamiliar to this kind of scene and disorienting.

    What I didn't get when I first saw the movie is that when Doc shouts "Come on, Johnny!" at the end, he's not taunting Ringo. He's hoping that Ringo--mortally wounded with a bullet through his frontal lobe--will still have the presence of mind to shoot and kill the terminally ill Doc, giving him a death "with his boots on."

    1. And I join you in your love of this movie! Yes, everything about this is the opposite of the typical gun fight:
      Confusion as to identity of the combatants;
      Shooting at a close range;
      No witnesses, no town, no "high noon" bs;
      moving around during the duel; and above all
      The bad guy wants to call it off!

      You're also right, as you are so often, that when you're younger, Doc seems to be taunting Johnny. Then you see the end and rewatch this fun movie, and realize DH hoped for a murder-constructive suicide.

      I could watch this picture again and again...

  2. When Doc Holiday refers to Huckleberry.He is mocking Johnny Ringo,he is calling Johnny, Huckelberry. So the phrase is IM hear for ya, Huckelberry. It is like calling some one Alfalfa,or hay seed.So when you do the quote it is " IM HERE FOR YA ,HUCKELBERRY "

  3. In the end scene where Johnny and doc have the gunfight,Doc say's it again but shorter "IM HERE HUCKELBERRY" I love this movie I could watch it a thousand times,and The Outlaw Josey Wales,Classics the day they came out .I hope my comments about the quotes will inspire you to change them, because the movie deserves to be honored correctly! I know there are people out there that have there own beliefs what he says,but trust me...He is calling Johnny Ringo "Huckelberry " with a Southern accent so here comes out as Im heya for ya,and Im heya .I know it seems trivial but it is one of my favs Thanks

    1. Well, IMDb doesn't agree with you, but I like how you lay out the scene! I'll try to update it soon after I watch the movie with subtitles on.

      Hell, maybe I'll change it to your version no matter how the subtitles read...


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