Saturday, 19 July 2008

Tombstone - Fact or Fiction?

There are many great western movies, but the greatest is Tombstone. Oh I know John Wayne movies beautifully illustrate the idea of the old west values against modernism, that Leones pulp flicks are better montages of violence and glorified conflict and there are numerous classics you might think are better... but you'd be wrong, because nobody in that movie is wearing a fake moustache, beating on a guy for hitting a horse or have Doc Holliday played by Val Kilmer quipping wittily before shooting guys.

So, there you go.

There is only one problem with this movie. No, wait two problems. Firstly the movie sort of implies its vaguely historical, starting with a "setting the scene historically" with black and white footage and everything and ending on "and heres what happened after the events of the movie" text. When the movie is absurdly, absurdly fictional.

The second thing is that romance with the actress, talk about gay. Live on room service, blegh. BLEGHHHH. Why must you gay up my mass-murder-with-quips movies, hollywood?

Anyway, I know you are desperate to know how the movie differs from reality, so i'm going to tell you.

Earp as a noble hero and man's man

Wyatt in the movie is a man of honour, he was a respected lawman (everyone is trying to get him to be sherrif) and though he is now out of the game, he eventually cant ignore the ill deeds of "the cowboys" and has to back his brothers, bringing justice back to Tombstone. By shooting loads and loads of people, incidentally I believe he brings hell with him.

He also gets by purely on his intimidating presence and general character as a fearless, son of a bitch.

In reality, Wyatt was a bit wet at times. After his first drink of whiskey, he abstained for 20 years, because it made him ill. Not exactly manly stuff. Though he was a fan of gambling and boxing. Its unclear if he ever travelled with Hell, but it cant be ruled out.

He did serve as a lawman, but he was repeatedly accused of theft, racketeering and horse theft among other things. His guilt in these matters isnt clear, but the repeated charges are a bit suspect.

Earp's biography made a lot of claims about arrests he made, famous people he met and places he was. A lot of which just cant be true according to things like facts. It also paves over the petty crimes he was accused of, doesnt mention his fine for running and being present in a whore house (with his brother Virgil, also in the movie.)

There was also a fine for slapping a prostitute noted for being especially masculine in Dodge. Which just sounds hilarious to me. Anyway, he also made repeated claims to kill people in gun fights he probably didnt, along with lots of other suspect stuff.

The movie seems to just take Wyatt's bio as its source of information, which would be fine only it seems to be a whole bunch of lies. He probably had a chapter on where he invented the rifle, shot a guy with it and then improved it all in one duel. And he no doubt can jump buildings in a single bound and once shot a guy just using his mind. Or maybe just his MOUSTACHE.

The fall out with the cowboys

In the movie, the cowboys are a bunch of evil evil people. They go around shooting up people on their wedding days, then the priests, then presumably the children and small puppies. They are bad. The Earps fall against them due to them being honourable men who cant stand for this sort of evil, damn it man, this town needs some law and order!

From now on I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run you cur. And tell the other curs the law is coming. You tell 'em I'm coming! And Hell's coming with me you hear! Hell's coming with me!
- Wyatt Earp, in Tombstone

Then Curly Bill, the leader of the cowboys shoots dead the sherrif of the town all hopped up on drugs, which the Earps sort out and are later disgusted to see him get off with the crime. Eventually Virgil institutes a minor offence of carrying weapons, which some of the cowboys disobey, leading to the showdown at the O.K Coral.

Well, actually the Earps initially fell out over some stolen mules. Yeah, they left that out of the movie because a bunch of mule thiefs probably doesnt have the same emotional impact. Then the cowboys committed a bunch of robberies and stuff, which Virgil as lawman had to sort out, there was a long drawn out dispute which ended with the O.K Corral showdown.

Now the movie got the O.K Corral part pretty much right, Doc and Wyatt were deputised, the fight happened in pretty much that fashion (including Ike being allowed to pass as he was unarmed.) Of course the movie glosses over the accusations they shot an unarmed man and their two trials for that, but there you go.

Love Conquers All!

Wyatt in the movie falls in love with the "free spirit" Josie Marcus, which was ok because his wife was a filthy, filthy junkie who was unwilling to live on room service. Yeah, thats pretty much the justification given in the movie for leaving her.

In reality, its unclear wether his wife (who was a former prostitute) was ever a laudanum addict, just that after Wyatt left her to fend her herself she did end up killing herself with the stuff.

Not stellar hero stuff, really, the old "wife killed yourself after you left her" aspect, so sort of ignored in the movie.

The duel between Ringo and Doc

The movie ends with the two perfect shots, dead inside, monsters... Doc and Johnny Ringo, ending it in a duel.

This isnt actually how Johnny Ringo died. A wife of Wyatt Earp claim long, long after the event that Wyatt and Doc did kill Ringo, but in a much less dramatic way, with the fatal shot coming from a distance from Wyatt with a rifle. But that isnt really accepted, no one really knows how he died.

Johnny may be the monster of the movie...

Doc - "A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never steal enough, or kill enough, or cause enough pain to fill it up. And so he walks the earth, forever seeking retribution..."
Wyatt - "For what?"
Doc - "...Being born"

- Tombstone

..But in actuality he was just your run of the mill mean tempered gunslinger type. He is remembered now as a monster because he ran into the self styled heroes The Earps, and is often cast as the villain. Though he apparently did once shoot a guy for getting him a beer instead of a whiskey, but thats just cool.


So the movie portrays the Earps as heroes, the cowboys as moustache twirling villains and makes general events a bit more dramatic. Not really a major sin, they add a murder here and take away a gross act of indecency here, who really minds?

They got the most important thing right, Doc Holliday was one hardcore, pasty killing machine.

That cousin story might be true as well, you know, which is just hot.

Thats right, my analysis is "ahhh it doesnt really matter, Doc Holliday was awesome though, eh" but YOU'VE READ IT NOW, YOU CANT ESCAPE MY NON COMMITAL CONCLUSION! RUE MY INDECISIVE SUMMARIES!

Real quotes and stuff

"There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man and yet, outside of us boys, I don't think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet, when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit it was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced to Doc's account. He was a slender, sickly fellow, but whenever a stage was robbed or a row started, and help was needed, Doc was one of the first to saddle his horse and report for duty." - Virgil Earp, Arizona Daily Star 30/5/1882

"I coughed that out with my lungs, years ago."
- Holliday's purported answer to a question on if his crimes ever affected his conscience.

"Doc was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long lean ash-blond fellow nearly dead with consumption, and at the same time the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a gun that I ever knew."
- Wyatt on Doc Holliday, article in 1896


Sloth said...

I rued it hard.

Seriously, though, I didn't know you had an interest in American 'western' history. Did ou study much of it, or just follow up after watching the movies?

Also; this post has inspired me to watch tombstone.

Mr. Gale said...

I have never really studied any of the good stuff at a high level, from college to uni all my history is ALWAYS ww2 (in various guises, mostly rise of the nazis stuff) and lots of english social stuff. Which is seriously dull.

I used to love the whole western thing (and vikings for some reason) when I was small and still try to keep track of decent books on the subject. So this article is half remembered stuff from my reading, so I had to crib a lot of it (facts and dates) from online sources, meaning at some spots it might have the historical accuracy of a cracked article (ie, straight copied from wikipedia.)

Sorry Wong. But you know its true.

Sidenote, which I probably meant to put in the article but fuck it, Deadwood has a beautifully accurate portrayal of the Earps as scam artists playing themselves up as heroes, which is probably the only realistically accurate version of them seen in the media.

Melancholic Goat said...

I hope you aren't suggesting that the movie should be more accurate, as for once I agree with you: Tombstone is the best western ever made (any featuring the Man With No Name are a close second). And again I agree that the romance part was totally stupid because what the fuck is romance doing in a western.

An interesting read, and the quotes about Holliday are pretty damn cool. High five!

Mr. Gale said...

Oh fuck no, i'd just edit out the love bit and put in an extra 4 hours of val kilmer. I just think its funny the way it implies its sort of accurate, when its flagrantly not.

Still not as bad as the Kevin Costner one, which totally claims to be accurate and is even more total fantasy.

Mr. Gale said...

And also I just watched Tombstone and thought "I should totally write a post on that" and needed some excuse.