April 18, 2024

THE TIN STAR: A Worthwhile Little Western

THE TIN STAR (Blu-ray)
1957 / 93 min
Review by Mr. Paws

The Tin Star is one of the few westerns Anthony Mann directed during the 1950s that doesn’t star Jimmy Stewart. While no Winchester ‘73, it’s an entertaining film thanks to good overall performances and an engaging (if thematically familiar) story. 

Henry Fonda is Morgan Hickman, a wandering bounty hunter riding into town with the dead body of his latest quarry. He meets idealistic-but-inexperienced sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins), who got the job after the last one was killed. He doesn’t approve of Morgan’s methods, believing everyone should get a fair trial. However, his righteous resolve is frequently tested by Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand), a local bully who regularly challenges and intimidates him.

Bounty hunters aren’t held in high regard in this town, so when the only hotel refuses to rent him a room, Morgan ends up staying with Nona (Betsy Palmer), a widowed dressmaker who lives on the edge of town and is also something of an outcast herself, raising a son she had with a Native-American. As he’s waiting to collect his bounty, Morgan becomes close with them, while Ben, despite his initial misgivings, realizes this stranger is more than he seems. In fact, he’s a former lawman. Somewhat reluctantly, Morgan agrees to teach Ben the ropes.

"Welcome, stranger. We have 12 cabins, 12 vacancies."
Later, when beloved town doctor Doc McCord (John McIntire) is murdered, the mayor demands Ben to form a posse to track down the killers. Ben wants to bring them in alive, while Bogardus and his bloodthirsty bunch plan on lynching the culprits. Despite the bounty placed on the killers, Morgan initially refuses to get involved and implores the inexperienced Ben to think twice about trying to catch them. However, when the boy follows the posse into the hills, Morgan is compelled to try and same them both.

Running a brisk 90 minutes, The Tin Star isn’t a particularly complex film, but it’s generally pretty enjoyable, with well-drawn characters and an interesting story that culminates in a satisfying climax. Fonda doesn’t really stretch himself here, but his indubitable earnestness is just what a character like Morgan needs for us to be invested. On a side note, it’s kind of amusing that two prominent cast members would someday be best-known for playing legendary psychos. Palmer is actually quite a dish in this one (and gets to keep her head).

Fairly light on action until the final act, The Tin Star benefits from a well-written screenplay (which was nominated for an Oscar) and typically confident direction by Mann, both of which compensate for the story’s overall predictability. While not as big or ambitious as some of the more iconic westerns of the genre, it's a worthwhile little western that looks great on this limited edition Blu-ray, which comes which a smattering of interesting bonus features.


NOTE: Free Kittens Movie Guide was provided with a promo disc for review purposes. Physical supplemental material included with the final product (booklets, artwork, inserts, etc) were not available for review.

APPRECIATING A MASTER - A pretty thorough appreciation of the film by critic Neil Sinyard.

BEYOND THE SCORE - Elmer Bernstein’s son, Peter, talks about growing up with the legendary composer.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By historian Toby Roan.




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