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With: Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins, Betsy Palmer, Michel Ray, Neville Brand, John McIntire, Mary Webster, Lee Van Cleef
Written by: Dudley Nichols, based on a story by Joel Kane, Barney Slater
Directed by: Anthony Mann
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 93
Date: 10/23/1957

The Tin Star (1957)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Behind the Badge

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the major complaints about the Western during its heydey was that too many of them were the same. That usually came from people who didn't bother to look beneath the surface and discover personal and artistic qualities in the films of Howard Hawks, John Ford, Fritz Lang, Raoul Walsh, Budd Boetticher, Andre de Toth, Samuel Fuller, Monte Hellman, Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and others.

As a result, more self-consciously artistic, award-worthy films began to crop up, films like Shane, High Noon, The Gunfighter and The Ox-Bow Incident.

De Toth's original story wound up as The Gunfighter, and although it resulted in the pesky "B" picture maker's only Oscar nomination, he despised the end result, claiming that its highbrow ideas had nothing to do with the way things actually were.

These movies have their good qualities, but they have their noses too high in the air to understand what the air really smells like. The more down-to-earth Westerns have aged far better as a result.

Anthony Mann was one of the few who straddled both realms. On the one hand, he was responsible for a series of five Westerns with James Stewart (Winchester 73, Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, The Far Country and The Man from Laramie) that breathed new life into the genre, as well as one well-loved Gary Cooper Western (Man of the West).

But Mann eventually bowed to the pressures of wanting to be more respected and made The Tin Star, now released on DVD by Paramount.

The Tin Star never feels as if it's unfolding naturally. It's as if the mighty hand of fate guides all the action in the film. We feel preached to rather than entertained. You know you're in trouble when Anthony Perkins is cast as a young, brash and ineffective small town sheriff.

Dealing with a town bully, Ben Owens (Perkins) nearly gets himself killed. A mysterious bounty hunter, Morg (Henry Fonda) feels sorry for the lad and sticks around to show him a thing or two. The film is full of talk, about the psychology behind killing, and how a man never wants to kill but sometimes has to, etc.

Only when it comes down to the final shootout in the hills -- Owens and Morg try to track down a couple of cold-blooded killers (one of them played by a young Lee Van Cleef) before an angry posse gets to them -- does Mann's skill kick in. He uses the rocky terrain and its natural high and low spaces to glorious effect.

Dudley Nichols, who usually wrote high-minded stuff like this for John Ford, wrote the screenplay. Ford could usually fold it into his own vision, but Mann doesn't really know what to do with all the talk. He seems perplexed by it all, as do Fonda and Perkins, looking like a couple of extras who wound up at the wrong wardrobe trailer.

Paramount gives the black-and-white film a fairly clean transfer, though it has bits of flutter and some scratches. It includes no extras, not even a trailer, which is a bad habit Paramount has fallen into with their catalog titles.

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