Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Great showdowns: The Tin Star

Early in The Tin Star (1957), bounty hunter Morg Hickman gives some advice to inexperienced sheriff Ben Owens after Owens' near-disastrous attempt to arrest town tough Bart Bogardus: "You walk right up to a man, chances are he won't gun fight. 'Cause at three feet he knows he'll get hurt, maybe killed, even if he draws first." Hickman becomes a reluctant mentor to Owens, teaching him some of the things he learned in his own time as a sheriff and preparing Owens for the inevitable showdown with Bogardus at film's end. "It's that time you wait," he tells Owens, "that split second, that means the difference between missing a man and killing him."

The showdown comes at night, when Bogardus leads a mob to Owens' office to demand the release of two outlaws so they can be hung without trial. Wielding a shotgun, Owens refuses to give up his prisoners and challenges Bogardus. "You're a brave man when you've got 100 better men to back you up," he says. "Why don't you come on and get them by yourself?"

"Put down that gun," replies Bogardus. "I'll tear you apart."

But the dismantling is done instead by Owens, who calls Bogardus on his bluster: "You fight with your mouth and hat." The mob parts, leaving Bogardus standing alone. Owens approaches him, first handing the shotgun to Hickman. "All right, I put down the shotgun, Bogardus. Now tear me apart." Bogardus stares, dumbfounded. Owens slaps him twice in the face. A stunned Bogardus turns, looking for help among the retreating mob but finding none. As Bogardus walks away, ostensibly in humiliation, we know that he is really removing himself to safe gunfighting distance. But we also see that Owens knows this as well — he stands still, hands at the ready, watching Bogardus' every move. As Bogardus turns and fires, Owens waits the split second and shoots — Bogardus falls dead.


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