The Great Movie Controversy — Tombstone is NOT the Greatest Western Ever. That Would Be…


A truly great performance but…

“I’m your Huckleberry,” says Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) before he kills crazy, evil Johnny Ringo.

“Go ahead, skin it! Skin that smokewagon and see what happens,” spits out slate-eyed Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell).

There is no question that Tombstone is packed with great acting and memorable dialogue.


Spoiler alert and fightin’ words

…That notwithstanding, there is no way in the world that Tombstone is the best Western of all time, as has been proclaimed by some, including my Buddy, who is right about every damn thing, except this.

I’ve been watching Cowboy movies for almost 60 years – since I was knee-high to a coyote. And my pedigree is as authentic as it can be – my Grandpa came to Indian Territory as a baby in a covered wagon, no less.

By birthright and by study, I have come to know that there are 10 sure-fire, dad-gum, requirements for a Truly Great Western.

1) Howard Hawks has to be the Director, and he died in 1977.

2) The plot has to be simple; there cannot be umpteen subplots and characters (where Tombstone goes badly wrong).

3) Good triumphs over evil. Always. There can only be black and white in a Truly Great Westerns.

4) Them that gets kilt, deserves it, mainly. And, importantly, when they get kilt, they don’t splatter blood all over the place.

5) Sidekicks have to be crazy memorable – drunks, cripples and old Injun fighter are all good. If they can throw a knife or blow a bugle, so much the better.

6) The main characters in a Truly Great Western have to have great names like Cole Thornton, J.P. Harrah and Alan Bourdillion Traherne (a.k.a. “Mississippi”.)

7) There has to be a love interest, besides the star’s horse. She must pretty but not frilly; able to ride, rope and shoot as good as any man, better’n most. She also has to hate, or be real mad at, the lead actor for much of the movie.

8) There has to be really good Bad Guy. He can be a rich bastard kind of bad guy — with a name like Bart Jason — who is stealing water rights and bringing in hired guns. Or he can be a pretty boy gunslinger hired by Bart Jason, with a scar across his face and, surprisingly, a certain amount of professional courtesy.

9) The star has to be punched, stomped, bucked and shot at a lot, and kissed only once or twice, in that order.

10) And, it goes without saying, but I will say it here anyway, any Truly Great Western has to star John Wayne. I mean, come on.

This means that the Greatest Damn Western of All Time, which I personally have watched at least 25 times, is hands down El Dorado, starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Ed Asner, Christopher George and Olaf Wieghorst.
el dorado


Although El Dorado is absolutely the best Western ever made, every time we watch Rio Bravo, we are tempted to elevate it to the No. 1 position. It also checks all 10 of the must-haves listed above.

Rio Bravo has a better leading lady — Angie Dickinson — who to this day sports the highest Yowza Factor ever allowed in a Great Western.

Plus it has singing by Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan, and you do NOT get any better than this scene (key lyrics: “Just my rifle, my pony and me.”)

So, to reiterate, Tombstone is a really good Western, but it is NOT the greatest Western ever.

The Greatest Western ever made is El Dorado.

(When it’s not Rio Bravo.

Enjoy ’em both, pardner.


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