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TIN STAR, THE(director: Anthony Mann; screenwriters: Dudley Nichols/based on a story by Joel Kane & Barney Slater; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editor: Alma Macrorie; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Henry Fonda (Morg Hickman), Anthony Perkins (Sheriff Ben Owens), Betsy Palmer (Nona Mayfield), Michel Ray (Kip Mayfield), Neville Brand (Bart Bogardus), John McIntire (Dr. Joseph J. ‘Doc’ McCord), Mary Webster (Millie Parker), Lee Van Cleef (Ed McGaffey), Peter Baldwin (Zeke McGaffey); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: William Perlberg/George Seaton; Paramount; 1957)
“Perkins in an audition for his Psycho role.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A classic character study western directed by the always first-rate Anthony Mann (“T-Men”/”The Furies”/ “Strategic Air Command”). The lean but preachy script is by Dudley Nichols; it’s based on a story by Joel Kane and Barney Slater. It has a disillusioned longtime sheriff turned bounty-hunter Morg Hickman (Henry Fonda) ride into a dusty town in the Old West to collect the reward for bringing in a dead wanted man (for murder during a stage robbery). The greenhorn sheriff, Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins), was just appointed to the job and acts nervous (Perkins in an audition for his Psycho role). His shrill girlfriend Millie Parker (Mary Webster), whose father was the longtime sheriff prior to Ben, was killed in office, says she won’t marry Ben unless he quits. Old timer Dr. Joe McCord (John McIntire), who delivered just about everyone in town, smugly tells Millie a man must do his duty and when she slams the door on her way out he exclaims: women! Ben acts self-righteous with Morg, showing his displeasure that he didn’t bring the wanted man in alive. Morg tells him, just give me my dough and I’ll be on my way. The banker says it’ll be a few days, the mayor coldly says there are forms to fill out. I don’t get why the town is looking down upon Morg for not taking the criminal in alive, and why their hostility is carried over to the only hotel in town that won’t rent him a room (Don’t they dig capitalism and making money!). The livery stable owner Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand), a surly bigoted relative of the wanted man, refuses to shelter the bounty hunter’s horse and kicks out the halfbreed child Kip (Michel Ray) who was looking for pigeons in his stable. Bogardus was the easiest character in the film to find credible and the easiest to understand. The kid takes Morg home and his mom turns out to be the gorgeous blonde widow Nona Mayfield (Betsy Palmer, maven of the 1950’s TV game shows), who is the only one in town to give the outsider a room–they bond being that she’s also an outsider, as everyone talks behind her back that she’s an Indian lover.

Morg takes a fatherly concern for the obnoxious, inept and dutiful sheriff, and agrees in the four days of his stay to mentor him on the fundamentals of shooting 101, to know men and how to act like a real sheriff even if you’re only a little shit. Soon a stage is robbed and one of the drivers is killed and good ole Doc, on the day the town is celebrating his birthday, is killed by the same two stagecoach outlaws who also killed Millie’s pop. The return of the dead Doc in his buggy while the town lines the streets and are singing in celebration, is the film’s showstopper. After that it’s all routine, with wild man Bogardus going ape upon learning it’s those halfbreed McGaffey brothers (Lee Van Cleef, auditioning for his role as the bad one in the “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” and Peter Baldwin). When the brothers are brought in alive by the sheriff with the help of Morg, after a posse led by Bogardus fails to get them, Bogardus organizes a lynching party. It results in Morg getting deputized and a showdown between the two lawmen and the mob; and, finally when the mob is subdued, a showdown between Bogardus and Ben, where the sheriff graduates and becomes The Man.

It covers the theme of apprenticeship in a didactic way, making the narrative feel stodgy and unnatural except for the brilliant images. It also keeps the emotions repressed by the main characters for the entire film; when they seem ready to pop out of their skin for either a piece of ass or jump for joy that they kicked ass, the film only moves on to the next plot point. The Tin Star begins and ends with the same shot of the sheriff’s window, as everything is wrapped up about as neatly as they do it on TV. Perkins and Fonda are fine, but critic David Thomson nailed it with his astute remark:”Fonda and Perkins look like business executives dressed up in cowboy togs.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”