Warner Archive has a ton of stellar Westerns in its extensive library, and part of the collection’s allure lies in picking out obscure titles that may be worth a look. Such is the case with the 1949 feature Bad Men of Tombstone, a Western starring Barry Sullivan, Marjorie Reynolds, and Oscar winning actor Broderick Crawford (All The King’s Men).
Tom Horn (Sullivan) is a gunman with a chip on his shoulder. Descended from a family of farmers, Horn is determined to make it on his own, even if a life of crime is his most profitable option. During an overnight jail stint thanks to a botched robbery, Horn chums it up with his cell mate, outlaw gang leader William Morgan (Crawford).
Horn immediately joins Morgan’s ragtag outfit, and they shoot and steal their way to grab their respective fortunes. Their paths eventually take a fork in the road when they travel to Tombstone for a potentially big payday. When Horn’s new wife Julie (Marjorie Reynolds) urges him to quit his evil ways, the gunslinger must decide if crime truly pays or if love is the answer. Since this Western has a few subtle film noir undertones, Horn’s choice is an obvious one.
Directed by William Newman, whose best known for helming the 1958 flick The Fly, “Bad Men of Tombstone” was co-written Philip Yordan, a scribe whose successful Hollywood career included such first rate credits as The Man from Laramie, Johnny Guitar, and El Cid (Arthur Strawn is Tombstone’s other scribe).
Though Bad Men of Tombstone won’t wow you with its visuals (it’s not a grand, sweeping Western), it possesses a distinct narrative. Tom Horn isn’t a garden variety protagonist, as his only decent attribute is his devotion to his bride. Having a morally challenged character at the center of a hero-less story (there are no “good guys” in the flick) is a big gamble, even by today’s standards.
Both Horn and Julie didn’t grow up on the sunny side of the street (she’s from a family of coal miners), and her acceptance of Horn’s lawless activities, along with their shared belief in doing whatever it takes to get ahead, could have made them a highly unlikable couple. Instead, Barry Sullivan and Marjorie Reynolds’ chemistry is palpable, and finding out if they’ll live happily ever after (as criminals, of course) is the main reason I dug “Bad Men at Tombstone.”
Bad Men at Tombstone is a Manufactured On Demand (MOD) title. To order the DVD, please go to this wbshop.com link.