Veteran bounty-hunter Morg Hickman rides into a town in danger. The sheriff has been killed, and young inexperienced Ben Owens named a temporary replacement until a permanent can be found. Ben wants to be that permanent replacement, so needs to impress the townspeople with his skill. When he finds that Morg was a sheriff for a long time before he became a bounty-hunter, he asks the older man to teach him. Morg thinks that being a sheriff is a foolish goal, but agrees to instruct Ben in handling people, more important to a sheriff than handling a gun. Written by
Ken Yousten <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A decent man doesn't want to kill, but if you're gonna shoot, you shoot to kill.
The Tin Star is directed by Anthony Mann and the screenplay written by Dudley Nichols who adapts from a story by Joel Kane & Barney Slater. It stars Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins, Betsy Palmer, Neville Brand, John McIntire and Lee Van Cleef. Loyal Griggs is on black and white photography duty and Elmer Bernstein scores the music.
Bounty hunter Morgan Hickman (Fonda) rides into a small American town with a dead outlaw for company. He's here to claim the reward money put up but finds that most of the town despise him for what he does. However, Ben Owens (Perkins), the town's young greenhorn sheriff, sees something in Morgan that he greatly admires. When Morgan comes to Ben's aid during a run in with the town bully, Bart Bogardus (Brand), it's the start of a friendship that could alter the rest of their lives.
Based on a short story and with no great budget behind it, it was something of a surprise that The Tin Star was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Writing Category (it lost out to Designing Woman - George Wells). Tho classy as a character study, the film has often been criticised for being over talky and preachy into the bargain. This was Mann's first Western movie after leaving behind actor James Stewart and writer Borden Chase after a run of genre defining classics. Here it finds the great director playing safe, producing a Western more in the traditional mould than the psychologically tough edged one he helped to shape. True enough it is didactic, across the humanistic board, and there's no getting away from the fact that the film reeks with predictability. But Mann still crafts his story well whilst giving it the odd visual flourish; even if it only truly feels like a Mann picture once Ben and Morgan hit the mountains in pursuit of criminals and a wandering boy.
It can be argued that The Tin Star is guilty by association with so many similar Westerns of its ilk. It's galling that Mann felt a need to shift from where he was at in the genre to, what? Be accepted? Luckily for Western fans Budd Boetticher was plugging the gap left by the Mann/Stewart fall out with the excellent movies made with Randolph Scott. While Mann returned to arguably great form with Man Of The West (Garry Cooper in the saddle) 2 years later. Fonda here is iconic and every inch the Western dude, eyes like chips of ice and a stubbled face that's home to a mouth that can tell sad tales and impart pearls of wisdom. Perkins is twitchy, amiable and easy to side with as he searches for the skills to solidify his backbone. I don't buy the criticism's of the pair, that they are dressage cowboys, they have a warmth to their pairing, and it proves to be a most engaging father & son like relationship.
Away from the leads, Brand is his customary gravel voiced ball of machismo, revelling in playing another snarly villain. Palmer and Mary Webster aren't asked to do much in the two main female roles, but both are on cue and easy on the eye. While Cleef is only in a small support role but he leaves a marker for better things to come. It 's John McIntire who takes the acting honours as the town doctor, it's a critical role, the catalyst role in fact (I promise you will remember his whole birthday sequence). His turn is a classy bit of glue binding the narrative together. Be it eloquently holding court with common sense chatter, or commanding in his surgical saw bones manner, it's a fine performance from a great American character actor.
I enjoy the film very much, and find on revisits that it has aged better than many other similar themed Oaters. Far from perfect, and certainly miles away from being in the top section of a best of list of Anthony Mann Western's, it's still, however, a film that leaves a favourable mark once the film has reached its memorable conclusion. 7/10
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