Bad Men of Tombstone DVD Review: The First of the Last of the Badmen

Throughout both the cinematic and literary realms of the western, a common thread/title tends to appear: “the Last of the Badmen.” In fact, there have been about a half a dozen movies and novels released during the last century or so to have used those very same words as their title, most of which were re-titlings of other projects, given a new name to help sell the goods. Interestingly, the first film to actually be based on a book called Last of the Badmen (as penned by Jay Monaghan) wound up receiving a new title for its theatrical release. And it’s an odd one at that, especially considering Bad Men of Tombstone really doesn’t reach the legendary lawless town of the wild west until the last third of the short (75min) film. Heck, they don’t even reach Arizona until then!

But that’s B-Movie Hollywood for you, boys and girls. There was evidently some sort of shift in demand for B western settings back in 1949, to wit someone at Allied Artists headquarters shouted “We need Tombstone!” – many years before impoverished, inebriated inhabitants of university dormitory dwellings would utter the same cry during their various weekend night gatherings. So, this adaptation of Last of the Bad Men (later re-published as Tom Horn: Last of the Bad Men) came to pass, with a slightly misleading and completely unnecessary different name accompanying. Of course, all misnomers and misconceptions aside as a result of this studio (in)decision, Bad Men of Tombstone remains quite the enjoyable little B-unit moving picture.

Here we bear witness to two criminally underrated greats of the silver screen. The first is Mr. Barry Sullivan, who was at the very beginning of a long distinguished career of remaining largely unnoticed in American cinema (something he would rectify with a transition to the European film industry in later years). The second name is that of Broderick Crawford, who was only a few projects away from reaching the pinnacle of his profession (including All the King’s Men for which he received an Oscar – and Born Yesterday), before becoming typecast and battling with the bottle some years on. Both actors would later work on television (Mr. Sullivan actually directed a few episodes of Mr. Crawford’s Highway Patrol series), but this was the only time the pair actually appeared on-screen together.

And that’s a real pity, too, since they play off of each other admirably well here. Taking the lead as a western outlaw by the name of Tom Horn (who may or may not be a fictionalization of the real life legend of the same name) is Barry Sullivan, who arrives in a small corrupt town one night with the intent of cleaning up at a card game. The game (as presided by B film noir baddie extraordinaire Douglas Fowley, in a bit part) being just as crooked as Horn is, our protagonist of loose morals soon finds himself in a jail cell with William Morgan (Mr. Crawford, in a superb supporting role), a local villain who is awaiting a late night extraction by his resident gang of misfits (as represented by the terrific combination of supporting character actors Fortunio Bonanova, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, and John Kellogg).

After impressing “Mister” Morgan, the gang leader agrees to take Tom along for the ride, and it isn’t long before Tom is riling up the feathers of the Morgan’s bad company, whether it be by his superior shootin’ skills, higher IQ, luck with the ladies, or his arrogance and rebelliousness in general. But Tom is a good addition to Morgan’s crew just the same, helping mastermind a few robberies in the area while wooing local lass Julie (second-billed Marjorie Reynolds, who was pretty much at the tail-end of her motion picture career after having co-starred in classics such as Holiday Inn and Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear only a few years before), before the collective of cunning and charismatic cutthroats make plans to split and reunite in Tombstone after they stash away a big score.

Though an average B western on the outside, this budget offering from director Kurt Neumann (The Fly) and co-writer Philip Yordan (El Cid) is above-average in every other respect. The acting, particularly from leads Sullivan and Crawford, is second to none. The cinematography by Russell Harlan (who would go on to photograph movies such as To Kill a Mockingbird) is downright noir-ish at times. Morris Ankrum (no stranger to B movies, best known for his roles in numerous science fiction movies of the ’50s) is joined by Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade, in the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films) in a brief scene towards the finale in this production from the same siblings (the King Bros.) who would later bring Rodanto America.

Never before released on home video, Bad Men of Tombstone finally rides its way into town via the Warner Archive Collection. The film is presented in its original Academy aspect ratio (1.37:1) and looks quite marvelous. The accompanying mono English audio track comes through very clear indeed, and is so good that you can most assuredly tell the uncredited Gerald Mohr was in a not quite soundproof booth when he recorded the movie’s narration. Sadly, a trailer must not have been available for this MOD DVD-R delight, as this is a barebones affair, ladies and gentlemen. That said, Bad Men of Tombstone is a wonderful, neglected B picture made and cast by some truly wonderful (and lost) talent. It’s a movie that deserves to be rediscovered, and comes highly recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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