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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Tin Star Blu-ray Review



Arrow Video

Blu-ray Release: April 30, 2024

Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0; LPCM 1.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 92:51

Director: Anthony Mann


When veteran bounty hunter Morg Hickman (Henry Fonda) rolls into town, he finds the population paralyzed by fear. The local sheriff has been killed, leaving the inexperienced Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins) to fill the void with the hope of securing a permanent position. Morg discovers that the newly appointed young sheriff is having difficulty facing the provocations of a notorious bully, Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand). Morg, a former sheriff, takes it upon himself to teach Owens how to assert himself and maintain order. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)



Director Anthony Mann made a name for himself as a director of crime noir during the ‘40s, eventually bringing that darkness to a series of revisionist westerns. As a subgenre, the revisionist westerns set out to deconstruct the Hollywood myth of the American West, which was so heavily perpetuated that it had become the truth in the minds of filmgoers the world over. Decades of market saturation had left the genre stale and there was little sign of westerns going the way of the dodo as their low production costs made it easy for studios to switch over to television in the 1950s. Arguably, Mann’s best and most influential western was The Furies (1950), which was one of the more groundbreaking of ten westerns starring femme fatale queen Barbara Stanwyck, but he also attempted to bend expectations with movies like Devil's Doorway (1950), which approaches familiar post-war tropes from a Native American point of view (unfortunately, starring white man Robert Taylor).


Five of Mann’s westerns featured James Stewart, but that relationship came to an abrupt end when Mann dropped out of Night Passage (eventually directed by James Neilson, 1957). The director’s first post-Stewart fallout film was Tin Star in 1957, starring Stewart contemporary and political opposite, Henry Fonda. Fonda’s western work is so legendary that Tin Star is typically an afterthought, but it’s notable for casting Fonda somewhat against type as a gruff antihero. While he’s not a sociopathic killer, like the one he plays in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (Italian: C'era una volta il West, 1968), a cynical bounty hunter is still a stretch in range. Speaking of Leone, Tin Star does appear to have had a measurable effect on the spaghetti western genre. I’m not sure if it’s the first western to use a mentorship style story, but multiple sources cite Mann’s film as a major inspiration behind a series of master & apprentice spaghettis, including Giulio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse (Italian: Da uomo a uomo), Tonino Valerii’s Day of Anger (Italian: I giorni dell'ira), and especially Massimo Dallamano’s Bandidos (aka: You Die...but I Live, 1967).



Mentor westerns tend to be gussied-up revenge westerns involving some sort of delayed retribution, but with a Pygmalion twist, one that often ends with the student surpassing the teacher and recognizing the moral shortcomings of his mentorship. The popularity of the mentor western in Italy stems from Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più,1965), in which Lee Van Cleef plays an older rival to Clint Eastwood’s character. Van Cleef was almost immediately typecast as similar characters who happened to take on younger apprentices in several films afterwards. Tin Star’s influence on For a Few Dollars More is negligible, but still probable, given Leone’s interest in Mann, Fonda, and the fact that Van Cleef himself makes an appearance. 


Fonda’s apprentice is played by the up-and-coming Anthony Perkins, three years before his signature appearance as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). As is usually the case with these types of stories, Perkins’ role is the meatier one with the bigger arc and he is perfectly cast on that account. He perfectly portrays transparent overcompensation and likely reminded viewers of Mann’s former associate, Jimmy Stewart. What’s interesting about the idea of Tin Star as a prototype is that Fonda’s apprentice is divided between the boyish Perkins and an actual boy, played by future Olympian Michel de Carvalho (his mother and Fonda’s love interest is played by future Mrs. Voorhees, Betsy Palmer).



The Italians skipped the dual surrogate son bit and there aren’t many examples of literal children befriending spaghetti western antiheroes. The only example I can recall is Lucio Fulci’s late stage western Silver Saddle (Italian: Sella d'argento, 1978), in which Day of Anger apprentice Giuliano Gemma plays the mentor bounty hunter. In most cases, Italians also skipped the romantic subplot, but it’s probably more significant that their elder gunslingers were genuine villains, not just cynical old-timers, ensuring that the apprentice recognized real villainy. Tin Star’s main theme pertains to the toxicity of retributive violence and racial/cultural prejudice, both things that can be seen throughout Van Cleef’s spaghetti westerns in particular, especially Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown (Italian: La Resa dei Conti, 1966), though that’s more of an odd couple pairing than a mentor/apprentice situation.


Following Tin Star, Mann only made two more westerns, Man of the West (1958) and Cimarron (1960, the second adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name), before trying his hand at period epics El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), then ending his career with war drama The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and spy flick A Dandy in Aspic (1968). 


Bibliography:

  • 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director’s Take on the Italian Western by Alex Cox (Kamera Books, 2009)



Video

Tin Star has been available on streaming in HD for a while and on barebones R1 DVD via rightsholder Paramount. I don’t receive full retail releases for my Arrow reviews, but the company doesn’t mention anything specific in terms of the remaster in their advertising specs, so I assume that this 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is straight from Paramount and similar to the streaming versions. While the whole thing could benefit from an upgrade in fine textures and dynamic range (it was shot in higher resolution VistaVision), the dusty black & white imagery fits the film’s moody, noir-ish intent. Edges are clean and cinematographer Loyal Griggs’ busy, yet tidy compositions are nicely represented. Film grain is sometimes blotchy, but otherwise appropriately gritty and print damage artifacts are minimal.


Audio

Tin Star is presented with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0 stereo and original 1.0 mono in uncompressed LPCM. The 5.1 and 2.0 mixes were initially prepared for the old Paramount DVD and sound fine, especially for fans of Elmer Bernstein’s score, which definitely benefits from a stereo upgrade, but the mono track is preferred for authenticity’s sake. Dialogue is crisp and natural (it’s always easy to pick out specific voices during crowded scenes), the simple effects are clean and tidy, and, even when crammed into a single channel, Bernstein’s music is plenty rich.



Extras

  • Commentary by Toby Roan – The ‘50s western expert and author of A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks (independent, 2019) mostly explores the wider careers of the cast & crew, but also discusses the history of the sets and locations, connections between Tin Star and other pictures from Mann or the lead cast members, and reads from contemporary and modern reviews.

  • Apprenticing a Master (27:34, HD) – Critic and author of Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience (McFarland, 2003) Neil Sinyard talks about the pristine structure of Dudley Nichols’ screenplay (from a story by Joel Kane and Barney Slater), Nichols’ career, the western phase of Mann’s career, comparisons between Tin Star and his more celebrated westerns, Henry Fonda’s performance, what James Stewart might have done with the role, character motivations, the themes of racism and violence throughout the film, and comparisons to Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952).

  • Beyond the Score (31:37, HD) – Elmer Bernstein’s son Peter looks back on his father’s legacy, growing up with a famous composer dad, his own career as musician, orchestrator, and composer (sometimes under his father), some of Elmer’s artistic and technical methods, and the relationship between the composer and Anthony Mann.

  • Theatrical trailer 

  • Image galleries – Promotional, stills, French photocomic samples.



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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