Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Tin Star (1957)

THE TIN STAR is a solid, interesting Western directed by Anthony Mann, starring Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins.

Fonda plays Morg Hickman, a sheriff-turned-bounty hunter who brings in the body of an outlaw to the sheriff's office in a small Western town. Morg must remain in town until his reward money arrives, but finds he's persona non grata among most of the townspeople, who turn up their noses at a bounty hunter.

After Morg comes to the aid of the green young sheriff (Anthony Perkins), the two men form a wary friendship. The cynical but kindhearted Morg sets about teaching the sheriff how to stay alive, and meanwhile he develops a quietly understanding relationship with the widow (Betsy Palmer) who rents him a room. The widow has problems of her own; she was married to an Indian and has a half-Indian son which makes her something of an outcast with the local populace.

Eventually the film takes on the air of HIGH NOON (1952), as the sheriff must fend off a lynch mob while the townspeople walk away from helping him.

The movie is at its best when it's a simple character study of Morg's interactions with the sheriff and the widow. There are many subtle, interesting moments that make the film very much worth watching. The Oscar-nominated script by Dudley Nichols has some excellent lines as the older man offers sage advice to the earnest young sheriff, and there's also a very nice payoff regarding the title star in the final action sequence.

I had some hesitation about fully embracing this movie, at least on this first viewing, as I have trouble with kindly old men (John McIntire) and young children (Michel Ray) being endangered. An extended sequence following the old doc (McIntire) from patient to patient is filled with too-obvious foreboding and pumps up the pathos; it's his 75th birthday, there's a surprise party planned, and... I didn't care for this section of the movie, which felt somewhat manipulative. (John McIntire, a master of makeup disguises, was a mere 50 when he filmed this movie, incidentally.)

I also felt that at times Elmer Bernstein's score was a bit too ostentatious, calling attention to itself in a way that worked against the low-key tone of the movie.

On the plus side, the film was photographed in beautiful black and white VistaVision by Loyal Griggs. There are many familiar faces in the supporting cast of this 93-minute film, including Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, Howard Petrie, Russell Simpson, Frank Cady, and James Bell.

An interesting bit of trivia is that Michel Ray, who plays Betsy Palmer's son, married the heiress to the Heineken beer fortune. A Harvard graduate, he is also a wealthy businessman in his own right. He goes by the name Michel de Carvalho.

THE TIN STAR is available on DVD in a beautiful widescreen print. It was also released on VHS. It can also be purchased for download from Amazon.

The trailer is available at Turner Classic Movies.

12 Comments:

OpenID fiftieswesterns said...

Mention of The Tin Star during all the Night Passage discussion over at my place has me wanting to watch this again.

My take on it has always been pretty much the same as yours — a double, not a home run. But of course, lesser Mann or Fonda is still better than about anything else.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I guess I'm kind of working my way up to NIGHT PASSAGE by watching a couple films with people involved with NIGHT PASSAGE first!

That's a good description -- I liked it and certain elements were excellent, but it didn't make it all the way to home plate.

Best wishes,
Laura

8:47 AM  
Blogger ClassicBecky said...

Laura, I don't know why I never watched this one! I love Fonda and Perkins! Probably I skipped it because I'm not really a western fan, but this one sounds like a looker! I'll watch for it -- wonderful article, Laura!

8:54 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Yes, this is the one Anthony Mann wound up directing instead of NIGHT PASSAGE.

I don't have the problems with it you do--yes, John McIntire is playing a beloved character within the film's world but it is just a role and what happens is there to motivate the climax. There are a lot of beautiful things in THE TIN STAR, although it doesn't have the full bore intensity of the best Anthony Mann Westerns, especially those with Stewart but also MAN OF THE WEST. The only question is my mind is how minor are his lesser ones like this one--there are ways they are all outstanding, except for CIMARRON; even that is pretty good for about half its length--the first half.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Somehow I'd never heard of this one, but it sounds interesting. Too bad Amazon doesn't have it for rent as well as sale!

12:56 PM  
OpenID livius1 said...

I have to agree too that the film is only partially successful. I reviewed it myself some time ago - http://livius1.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-tin-star/ - and mainly struggled with two elements: the development of Perkins' character, and the inappropriate ending.
Still, there are plenty of good things in there too.

Colin

1:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Becky and Elisabeth, hope you get to check it out soon. It's quite worthwhile. Elisabeth, I thought it was odd you could only purchase the download from Amazon!

Blake and Colin, I always love to hear your feedback! Blake, I like your philosophical attitude toward McIntire's role; maybe I need a little more detachment, LOL.

Thanks so much for the link, Colin! I think we each felt the movie wasn't a complete success, but for different reasons; I didn't have issues with the aspects you cited and found the ending something of a relief (grin). It was refreshing to have Fonda's character find happiness instead of wandering off, a perpetual loner, like Wayne or Scott at the end of THE SEARCHERS or COMANCHE STATION.

I've been musing on it today and I think, in addition to what I cited in my post, perhaps I also felt the movie seemed a bit self-important at times, in the way that some late '50s movies seem to do. (That's kind of a sweeping generalization but...) Maybe that's part of what I was picking up on with the Bernstein score, which didn't seem right for the movie, and it's rare I have a complaint about a score.

In any event, I don't want my critical comments to negate the many things that I enjoyed about the movie, as I really enjoyed Fonda's interactions with the young man and the widow. Good stuff.

Best wishes,
Laura

4:15 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

For another terrific performance by Fonda check out 20th Century-Fox's 1959 CinemaScope Western "Warlock" ("The best Western you've NEVER seen....."). The cast also includes Richard Widmark, Dorothy Malone, Anthony Quinn (as a pathetic cripple) and a young DeForest Kelly. Directed by sure-hand Edward Dimitryk.....wonderful film.

Brad

6:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Brad! I checked and my dad has a copy of WARLOCK, I'll have to add that movie to my "to see" list! Love Richard Widmark.

Best wishes,
Laura

6:40 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Thanks for your review, Laura. I have Tin Star but haven't watched it for years. Will get it out!
Oh, you must see Warlock, it's great.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

eeeeI'm also a great fan of WARLOCK--one of my three favorite films directed by Edward Dmytryk, and one of the others is also a Western, BROKEN LANCE (which I mentioned in another thread here recently)--Richard Widmark is in both of these films and great in both, in very different roles. With is complex weave of characters and relationships WARLOCK has so much of what I love in late 50s Westerns.

My other favorite Dmytryk is the postwar drama TILL THE END OF TIME with Dorothy McGuire, Guy Madison and Robert Mitchum--not a Western, though it was written by Niven Busch (DUEL IN THE SUN, PURSUED, THE FURIES). Well, enough digression.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna and Blake, thanks much for the feedback on WARLOCK. Definitely on my "to see" list now!

I saw TILL THE END OF TIME a few years ago, Blake, and liked it. Would enjoy revisiting it at some point.

Best wishes,
Laura

10:04 AM  

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