Bad Men of Tombstone (1949)
“Deadlier Than the James Boys! Wilder Than the Daltons!”
Director: Kurt Neumann
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Marjorie Reynolds, Broderick Crawford
Synopsis: A marshal goes up against a collection of vicious outlaws terrorising his own.
Bad Men of Tombstone is the kind of title that doesn’t exactly raise one’s hopes of having stumbled across a classic, but to be fair the script easily exceeds its B-movie origins and Russell Harlan’s stark black-and-white cinematography is worth noting. It’s just a shame that Barry Sullivan makes such an insipid leading man, possessing zero charisma and a stubbornly stolid acting technique. Thankfully, Broderick Crawford is on hand to divert some attention away from Sullivan’s shortcomings.
The story follows the exploits of one Tom Horn (Sullivan) as he arrives at Gold City during the height of the gold rush. Almost immediately upon arriving in town, Horn is fleeced of $200 in a crooked card game and gets himself arrested when he tries holding up the claims office in order to get enough money to buy back his horse and gun. Lacking any firearms, he uses the tried and trusted pointed-finger-in-the-jacket-pocket technique of robbery but barely makes it through the door before he’s apprehended and thrown into jail. While there he meets William Morgan (Crawford), a hardened criminal whose gang are just about to bust him out. Morgan takes a shine to Horn and his youthful arrogance (his dislike of Horn’s future wife and brusque dismissal of a barroom ‘showgirl’ hint at him possibly being a closet gay) and invites him to join the gang, much to the disapproval of most of them.
Bad Men of Tombstone harks back to the era of Warner Brothers’ gangster movies in which bad guys like Cagney and Raft were the heroes. There are no good guys in this movie, and Horn enthusiastically participates in a series of robberies with Morgan and his gang while also taking time out to woo Julie (Marjorie Reynolds) and get murderous revenge on that guy who swindled him out of $200. The trouble is that Sullivan’s b-status acting skills never really wins us over in the way that Cagney could, so that he just comes across as a bland bad guy, even though he has a neat underhand trick of shooting through his holsters when engaged in a gunfight..
The script is well written by Philip Yordan, who would go on to write some notable movies of the 1950s and 60s (and some clunkers, to be fair), and his pedigree shines through in the way that he fleshes out characters that could easily have become one-dimensional stereotypes at the hands of a less talented writer. Director Kurt Neumann also does an accomplished job and ensures the pace never lets up for the movie’s brief 75-minute running time.
(Reviewed 29th june 2013)