Year Released: 1993
Directed by; George Cosmatos
Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Dana Delany, Powers Boothe
(R, 143 min.)
Genre: Western, Action and Adventure
“You tell him I'm comin'....and Hell's comin' with me! – Wyatt Earp
Slap on your chaps and pack your pistols. This dark-coated, black-hatted, mustachioed crew will take your breath away, and Val Kilmer kills it playing Doc Holiday as a hard drinking Southern gentleman who steals the show.
Of course, I have been in love with Wyatt Earp since his early days on the small screen.
He (Hugh O’Brian) played Earp in the all-American style of a western lawman, first seen by Gary Cooper in “High Noon.”
As the 1957 New York Times piece stated, “it portrays a man of thought and conscience, a nonpareil triggerman who hates to kill.” –Travis M. Andrews
To this day I could probably sing several bars of …
Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp,
Brave, courageous and bold.
Long live his name,
And long live his glory,
And Long may his legend be told.
Not to mention that Hugh O’Brian was startlingly handsome and it turns out, a great person as well. At the height of his fame in the series (1955 -1961) he went to visit Albert Schweitzer because he wanted to do some good with his fame and money, and thus was born the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program centered right here in Texas. I know that because both my children were nominated to attend, and my daughter even met O’Brian in 1987. Be still, my beating heart.
This 1993 film is less a hagiography of the lawman than the television show – it shows a few of his flaws – but it is far from the nihilistic cynicism that earned all that praise for Clint Eastwood’s triple Oscar winning The Unforgiven a year earlier.
And yes, notice the title of the film is not Wyatt Earp; it is Tombstone, the town famous for the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Which is probably good, since the Wyatt Earp film that came one year later was a real letdown, as Jody Smith tells us barring no words:
Twenty-five years later and people still quote, re-watch, and generally enjoy 1993 western Tombstone. No one says dick about the 1994 Kevin Costner pile of boredom that was Wyatt Earp though. I just wanted to remind everyone that it was a thing that was bad and that ol’ “no emoting” Costner isn’t fit to trim the butt hairs of American treasures Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. –Jody Smith
You can read more at her great piece titled, “I’m Your Huckleberry; 13 Facts about the 1993 Classic Tombstone” here. A few of the highlights for me are the fact that every mustache in the film was real, that the cast donned woolen costumes in the Arizona heat, and that during a scene inside the infamous Birdcage Theater the temperature reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
And oh, Val Kilmer lay on a bed of ice during his death scene so he could shake and convulse during filming, while Stephen Lang portrayed the drunken character Ike Clanton by being under the influence himself, perhaps, during the entire shoot.
I’ll let you check out the whole thing to find a few other nuggets, such as disputes over who really directed the thing, and an oath taken to the death.
I won’t recount the details of the film, but instead focus on a few of its highlights and intriguing background notes.
The best scene for me is when Val Kilmer takes down the bragging Ringo Kid, who has just demonstrated quite impressive twirling pistol, in a barroom challenge. A half-drunk Holiday responds by twirling his drinking tin in mock tribute.
But then later on, when goaded that he is too drunk to shoot someone, he pulls out another pistol and says that now he has two guns to shoot the source of his double vision.
Then there’s the fun of the exchange between Ringo and Holiday in Latin, showing how thoroughly both men were educated. Here it is with a translation into the vernacular, the starting speaker being Holiday:
§ In Vino Veritas. [In wine (is) the truth]
§ Age quod agis. [Do what you're going to do] (Bring it on.)
§ Credat Judaeus apella, non ego. [May the Jew Apella, not I, believe it] (Tell it to someonewho cares.)
§ Iuventus stultorum magister. [Youth (is) the teacher of fools] (Allow me to teach you a lesson.)
§ In pace requiescat. [May he rest in peace] (It's your funeral.)
And maybe I shouldn’t even get into the most famous phrase of all, the one Doc says to Ringo when he tries to instigate a barroom brawl and also when Doc unexpectedly shows up in Earp’s stead for a final gunfight.
“Im your Hickleberry,” Doc tells him. “I’m in the game.”
Skip this next part if you want. It gets a little mired down in various interpretations of the phrase, but being an English teacher, I love the etymological dueling as much as the real gunfight itself.
“I’m your Huckleberry.” Here is one theory:
19th century slang which was popularized more recently by the movie Tombstone. Means "I'm the man you're looking for". Nowdays it's usually used as a response to a threat or challenge, as in the movie.
And yet another:
All these responses are silly assumptions!
In the moveie he didn't say "I'm your huckleberry", he said "I'm your HUCKLEBEARER". His accent in the movie makes it hard to hear. In the 1800's little handles on a coffin were called "huckles", an English term. Instead of pallbearers the people who carried the coffin were called "hucklebearers" at the funeral.
This is why the other guy got so bent outta shape when Doc said "I'm your hucklebearer". He was telling the other guy "I'm your pallbearer" or literally I'm causing your funeral. This is why it was so offensive and the shooting started.
Bob Boze Bell, writing for True West Magazine in 2016 – see the staying power of the film and its iconic phrase – suggests another shade of meaning as well.
We do know that the saying is Southern and basically means, “If you want a fight, I’m your man.” Some believe it has a more devious insult implied, as in, “If you want to dance, I’ll dance with you.”
Who knows which is right, but coming from Val Kilmer’s sweat-beaded lips, tuberculosis eating out his lungs, the specifics don’t much matter. It is just perfect as it is, without any explanation whatsoever.
Just as is the entire film, as well. See it again and remember when Hollywood knew how to make films instead of sermonizing tales of competing victimhood.
4 1/2 Drums
This is a film about hard drinking men and a ruthless gang known as The Cowboys, so what better drink that this Cowboy Killer Cocktail? I’ll let its creator make his pitch.
This is the time of year when darker spirits are in vogue and can make some really good cocktails. Of course, for those who like clear spirits, there are options as well. In lieu of me doing a country western-themed cocktail party in March, I offer you a taste of the Old West with some modern twists and spins on classic cocktails. Have one of these the next time you go line dancing. –Michael Nagy
Cowboy Killer Cocktai
· 2 oz Maker's Mark Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
· 1 oz Grand Marnier
2 dashes of Peychaud's bitter
Muddled cherries (remove the pits
Garnish - 1 cherry
Glass - Cocktail or coupe
Prep - Muddle a few cherries. Add ice. Build all ingredients in a mixing glass with half ice. Shake lightly. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish a cherry.