Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Tin Star

Cropped screenshot from the Trailer The Tin St...Image via Wikipedia
I recently realized that of all the major film genres out there, "Western" is just about the only one that has not been featured on Reel Revival yet.  My husband and I decided to correct that by watching The Tin Star, a Western that I remembered as being very good (and the one closest to the top of the heap in the video bins).  We were not disappointed. 

Let's get right down to basics...
Filmed in 1957 and directed by Anthony Mann (Spartacus, The Naked Spur, The Man From Laramie, among many others), The Tin Star stars (haha) a 52 year old Henry Fonda and a 25 year old Anthony Perkins in only his fourth significant film role.  Lee Van Cleef is also featured as one of the bad guys.   The Tin Star was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar and was filmed out of Paramount Studios at a running time of 93 minutes.  

The Plot
Morgan Hickman (Fonda), a bounty hunter, rides into town to turn in the body of a wanted outlaw and collect his reward.  He is not welcome in town, but he won't leave until he gets what is coming to him.  The man in charge of reimbursing him is Ben Owens (Perkins), the young sheriff who has a good heart but is woefully unprepared for his dangerous job.  Case in point below.

Hickman has to spend a day or so in this town, which is troubled by bullies who push the young sheriff around and self-righteous town leaders who have him under their thumb. In the time that Hickman spends there his life undergoes remarkable changes as he forges relationships with the most unlikely people: a "half breed" boy and his mother, town outcasts, and the young sheriff himself, who is tired of being walked on.  

The result of those relationships also changes that dusty town for good.  

The Highs
  • This film, like many of the great Westerns, was filmed in black and white. There is a beautiful, dusty quality to the film here that can't be found in those done in Technicolor.  
  • We get some very good performances out of the actors here, particularly Henry Fonda, who teases the depth of character and emotion out of the Hickman character.  At this point in his career, Fonda was not interested in doing more Westerns - he was 52 and felt that  his Western days were over - but he ended up accepting the role because he saw the potential for expression in the character. 
  • Suspense.  This film is not cliche.  Even if you feel yourself able to predict what will happen next most of the time, the staging and acting will make you a little nervous.  There are some perilous twists and turns that had me wincing.  
  • Relationships.  This film isn't about gunfights and stand-downs, though there are plenty of them; it is about people.  The human interest of the film comes through those black and whites colorfully (haha).  
The Lows
  • Physically, Fonda does not fit his character to a T.  His characteristic droopiness about the shoulders and back amplified as he aged, and at times he doesn't look straight and strong enough to be a world-wise'nd bounty hunter.  And he doesn't really swing his arms when he walks, which makes his gait a bit amusing.  But these are merely technicalities. 
  • I can't think of anything else to say to this effect. 
The Tin Star is not among the most frequently mentioned or well known Westerns, and I think that is because it has been overlooked.  It is a quiet film but it packs a punch, and it is well worth the 93 minutes it runs.  

Find the Film
Check your local library.  Netflix carries it and Amazon has it for only $6.55.
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