Friday, June 20, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die (1942)

TOMBSTONE: THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE (1942) is an entertaining spin on the Wyatt Earp story, with Richard Dix as the legendary lawman.

The film reunited Dix with Kent Taylor, his costar in MEN AGAINST THE SKY (1940), which was reviewed here last week. Taylor plays Doc Holliday, with Rex Bell and Harvey Stephens as Virgil and Morgan Earp. Victor Jory plays villain Ike Clanton.

In this telling Wyatt helps to reform Johnny Duane (Don Castle), a young man who's fallen into league with the Clantons and another outlaw, Curly Bill (Edgar Buchanan). Earp appeals to Johnny's innate decency by placing his trust in him, and he later works to reunite Johnny with Johnny's hometown love, Ruth (Frances Gifford).

I liked Richard Dix in this more than I have in some other films; he unbends a little in this one, playing Wyatt as a genial fellow, confident in himself and in the backing of his brothers and Doc.

The gunfight at the OK Corral is very nicely staged; I loved a shot from down low in the street of the Earps and Doc walking out of the saloon, checking their gun belts as they go. The sound of the men's boots advancing ever closer strikes fear in the heart of the Clanton gang, and the gunfight takes place at point-blank range, which was interesting.

As it happens, the OK Corral fight is simply setting the stage for a much bigger gun battle which closes out the film, shot amidst the rocks of the Alabama Hills.

The movie has a nice sense of style, including some evocative music heard at the theater in Tombstone. One of the quartet members singing "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" is Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger and a familiar voice at several attractions at Disneyland.

An interesting if sad footnote is that Beryl Wallace, who plays the dance hall singer Queenie, would die, along with Broadway producer Earl Carroll, in a plane crash in 1948.

1948 was also a bad year for Long Beach native Frances Gifford, who was nearly killed in a car accident. She gradually recovered, but her career dwindled to a close within a few years of the crash. Gifford lived until 1994.

Based on a still found online, seen at the right, at least some of Gifford's part in TOMBSTONE ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Gifford had bounced around among several studios, including Paramount (where she was a lovely nurse encountered by Alan Ladd in THE GLASS KEY), Republic (where she starred in the serial JUNGLE GIRL), and RKO (where she played an artist in Disney's THE RELUCTANT DRAGON). After making TOMBSTONE she would soon sign with MGM, where she was a leading lady in films such as OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945), THE ARNELO AFFAIR (1947), and LUXURY LINER (1948).

The supporting cast of TOMBSTONE includes Chris-Pin Martin, Roy Barcroft, Jimmie Dodd, Donald Curtis, and Charles Halton.

TOMBSTONE: THE TOWN TOO TOUGH TO DIE was directed by William C. McGann and photographed in black and white by Russell Harlan. It runs 79 minutes.

The script by several writers was based on a book by Walter Noble Burns.

Like Dix's THE ROUNDUP (1941), reviewed a couple of weeks ago, TOMBSTONE is is yet another Paramount film owned by Universal. Like so many Paramount films of the era, it's long been held out of circulation. These decades-old films which are part of our American cultural heritage deserve to be available so that new audiences can discover and enjoy them.

Thanks to John Knight for making it possible for me to see this film.

Wyatt Earp movies previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939), MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), WINCHESTER '73 (1950), GUN BELT (1953), MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954), DAWN AT SOCORRO (1954), WICHITA (1955), and BADMAN'S COUNTRY (1958).

2018 Update: I wrote more about this movie for Classic Movie Hub.


Blogger Moira Finnie said...

This sounds like a small gem to me, Laura. Love Frances Gifford in everything I've ever seen her in, and the Richard Dix formality aka "stiffness" that you so aptly name always makes me think that I am seeing a style of acting so rooted in 19th century theater, I almost expect a naked Adah Isaacs Menken to come riding across a saloon stage tied to the back of a horse in any Western Dix appears in back than, even as late as '42.

I think Dix's fustian, intriguingly old-fashioned air did unbend more often in his '30s films at RKO, such as "Ace of Aces," "Blind Alibi," and "Reno," but from what little I know of him as an individual, I believe that he was quite ill during the filming of his '40s features up until his death in '49. Actually, I think his haunted look gave his "The Whistler" movies and Val Lewton's "Ghost Ship" an added fillip of underlying melancholy beyond the script and direction of those films.

I'll look for "Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die" soon. Thanks again for your post.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I'm really enjoying the fact that Richard Dix is turning up a lot in your posts currently, Laura.
I can't help feeling that his stoical demeanor is rather suited to the roles in his westerns. He doesn't exactly come across to me as "stiff".
Anyway, another Dix film I like here. Great that John Knight made your review possible.
Moira's comment that Dix may have been quite ill as early as this is most interesting. I would really welcome a biography of this now much-neglected actor.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Hi Jerry, you might be interested in the autobiography of Richard Dix's son, Robert, called "Out of Hollywood" (Ernest Pub.), in which he details his father and his family's lives.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Thanks for the tip, Moira. Dix Sr was a big enough star in his day to warrant the full works for himself, I feel. Problem is, I guess, that he died so long ago that his name is increasingly forgotten.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Moira, how lovely to hear from you! So glad that you and Jerry stopped by to share your enjoyment of Richard Dix. I liked each of your descriptions, and that's very interesting background, Moira. I also appreciated the information regarding the book, which I have bookmarked.

It's funny, Dix hasn't registered strongly with me and yet I love the people he worked with and keep going back for more...and along the way I'm enjoying getting to know his work more. He's kinda growing on me. :)

Look for more Dix films to be reviewed here in the weeks to come! I need to pull out my VHS tape of WHISTLER movies recorded from TCM as well as THE GHOST SHIP from the Val Lewton DVD set.

Best wishes,

1:36 PM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Thanks, Laura. I'll look for future Dix reviews here. So glad you are still writing so well and so often.

3:17 PM  
Blogger John Smith Books said...

The film was shot in the studio, at Paramount Ranch, in the Owens Valley around the Alabama Hills, and in another outside location that I couldn't pin point. It was part of the cattle drive/wagon load scene where they would switch back and forth between the Alabama Hills and another location with pine covered hills. Where was this location?
John Smith Books

4:32 PM  

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