- Movie Rating -

Tom Horn (1980)

| March 28, 1980

The ads for Tom Horn solemnly explain that not only was he a real person, but that he “became a legend”.  I might disagree.  Most people have never heard of Tom Horn, he wasn’t a legend so much as a minor figure in western history, though if anyone who takes an interest might like to know that this gunfighter was a lawman, a world-class steer wrestler, worked for The Pinkerton Detective Agency for four years, was a member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and secured terms for the surrender of Geronimo in 1886.  Oh and he was also hanged for murder in 1903 at the age of 41.  For this last reason perhaps, he has slipped into the cracks of history.

But not so much that a movie isn’t a valid idea.  Directed by veteran television director William Wiard, and written by Thomas McGuane (The Missouri Breaks) and Bud Shrake the film is placed at a very particular time in western history – a moment when the legends of the west were fading as the civilization of the 20th century was putting them out to pasture.

It is 1903, and catches up with Tom (Steve McQueen) as he is making his way across Wyoming and comes across a cattle rancher named Jim Coble (the invaluable Richard Farnsworth) who hires him to help get rid of a band of rustlers who are making it hard to make a living.  Horn makes short work of these here varmints and doing so without breaking the law.  Despite this, Tom is sought for murdering an innocent man and it is clear that someone very high up has framed him.

The shootouts in the film’s first half comprised of most of the trailer footage because the second half deals with Tom’s trial and either you’re invested in the moral quandary or you just want more shootouts.  Personally, I’m okay with the trial part of the story because I feel as if it fits with the aesthetic of the time and place when the west was being trounced by the new wave of 20th century modernity.

What I did object to is the film’s focus.  I admire the time and place but I think there are more interesting chapters of Horn’s life that could be explored.  When dealing with a man who rode with Teddy Roosevlet and worked for Pinkerton and settled the terms of Geronimo’s surrender, would you opt for a standard western about killing rustlers.  I like the film very much but I wonder if the focus wasn’t in the wrong place.

But, I can’t fault the film for what it isn’t.  I can only deal with the film that Wiard made, and he made a pretty good one.  McQueen’s Tom Horn is no angel.  He makes mistakes, he talks when he shouldn’t, but he’s a decent man who is railroaded for doing the right thing.  I liked his performance as the quiet hero who walks the moral equator.  It’s a good film, not one that will please everyone, but I liked it quite a bit.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized