Which Is The Better Movie . . . Tombstone or Wyatt Earp?

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I guess in the final analysis, neither of the Wyatt Earp films of 1993 can be considered a masterpiece. But brother, weren’t they both just  a lot of fun? It’s pretty hard to make a movie dealing with the events in Tombstone, Arizona, back in 1881, and not have it be pretty darned entertaining.

For Pete’s sake, even the arguably worst Wyatt Earp movie ever made, My Darling Clementine, is always worth a watch when it turns up on late-night television. Something about the old thumb-cockers spitting out lead at both the good and bad boys, just seems to mesmerize the heck out of us.

Guess that’s why there’s been so many made. Not even to count all the made for television movies, and series.

Since that fateful day at the corral (actually not quite in the corral) Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and all the rest of the gang of goodies and baddies (sometimes hard to tell which is which) have produced darn near a whole movie industry all by themselves.

1993 saw two more come along. Tombstone was first, and Kevin Costner was involved. He had disagreements with the writer’s focus and left the project to produce his own film, which became Wyatt Earp.

Which is better? I dunno. I like Tombstone for one reason, and Wyatt Earp for another. I think they both make a nice set of book-end movies.

Here is my reasoning, and my picks, or awards (in no particular rhyme or reason). I invite my readers to leave comments on the comments page and their own picks. Might be kind of fun.

Here we go then. First off–Tombstone is more fun. Mostly because of Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

Wyatt Earp is more historically accurate. Although you probably wouldn’t want to write a college-level history paper based on the facts in this movie either.

Costner made a visit to the actual Tombstone, Arizona way before filming ever started. He visited with the town council and made what he thought was an offer they wouldn’t be able to refuse. He would pay to completely restore the City of Tombstone to exactly what it looked like in 1881. Every dime would be on him, and he thought it would make the city even more of a tourist attraction than it already was.

The council turned him down flat, voting to keep their town of curio shops, street music and performers, tourist traps, saloons, and dance halls, with all the seedy honky-tonkness of it, just as it presently existed. They said that it was bringing in quite a lot of money just the way it was–and there was no point in meddling with success.

Costner did spend a fortune though, building sets. He even had a one-foot trench dug just outside the vacant lot where the gunfight occurred, just like it was on that fateful day in October of 1881.

The real Wyatt Earp. Circa 1881
The real Wyatt Earp. Circa 1881

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The best Wyatt Earp? . . .The clear winner here is Russell, in Tombstone. He really looked like Earp, and had the ‘killer’ eyes to go along with it.

The real Doc Holiday.
The real Doc Holiday.

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Val Kilmer as Holiday.
Val Kilmer as Holiday.

 

The Best Doc Holliday? . . . The award here goes to Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp. He could have been Doc’s twin brother, if Doc had ever had one. Kilmer is a lot more fun though. The gunfight between Doc and Johnny Ringo near the end of Tombstone is a classic–or perhaps I should say a real huckleberry.

Best Curly Bill Brocius? Powers Booth in Tombstone–hands down. Hardly anyone plays a psychopath better than Booth. And if the killing of Fred White didn’t happen exactly that way? Well, who cares? Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story!

Charlton Heston, in the twilight of his career, made a good rancher Henry Hooker, and classed-up the entire film considerably.

Bill Paxton played Morgan Earp and Sam Elliott as Virgil. Hard to find very much fault with either performance.

In Wyatt Earp, Gene Hackman played Wyatt’s father Nicholas Porter Earp. Talk about classing up a movie–Gene can always be counted on in that department.

The award for best Johnny Behan goes hands-down to Mark Harmon–a character we love to hate.

Bill Pullman as Ed Masterson has a scenery-chewing death scene. It is not only memorable, but happened just that way in real life. A hard one to watch.

Isabella Rossellini plays Big Nose Kate splendidly.

Jim Caviezel and Martin Kove have small but memorable roles.

Some facts: In every tombstone movie I have ever seen, Wyatt and company are always visiting the Birdcage Theater. Trouble was, it wasn’t build until a year after the Earps left town for good.

Morgan Earp is killed and Virgil Earp wounded on the same night in every single Earp movie ever made. Trouble was, those two events were months apart.

Guess it was better drama if it happened all at once.

Fred White was not murdered in the streets. It was an accident. White himself testified to it on his death-bed. We have to believe him, I guess. After all–he did have a front-row seat.

And last, but certainly not least–one of my personal pet peeves. Billy Breakenridge is usually portrayed as both being gay, and a not very good lawman. He was neither. There is absolutely no historical evidence what-so-ever–in any way, shape, or form pointing to Breakenridge’s “gayness”–and the fact of the matter was he was a pretty darned good enforcer of the law as well.

Several times he went against well-armed and known killers and arrested them without any harm to himself or the lawbreaker. He was what might be called “efficient.” He was both well-liked and admired by his contemporaries, and is always well spoken of in the literature of the day.

So which movie wins? I still dunno. I love them both, have watched them both often and would recommend to anyone to simply see them back to back–starting alphabetically I guess.

You can’t go wrong–and trust me–you will be entertained!

In the City of Tombstone itself, both movies play almost endlessly in the tourist shops. Which one more? About six of one and half a dozen of the other.

The real Tombstone, circa 1881.
The real Tombstone, circa 1881.

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Thanks so much for reading. Next up–a recap of the 2015 Superbowl–which, I am prepared to say, the Seahawks are going to win by seven–this being Seattle.

Until then . . . good night!

Dumb Joke of the day:  Son: Dad, how do you win a Superbowl without cheating? Father: I don’t know son–we’re Patriots fans.

(Please forgive me on the East Coast for that one)