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Case Number 04673: Small Claims Court

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The Tin Star

Paramount // 1957 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 25th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle would look out of place in a western too if he dressed up like his mom.

The Charge

"A decent man does not want to kill. But if you're gonna shoot, shoot to kill."—Morg Hickman (Henry Fonda)

The Case

Henry Fonda is veteran bounty hunter Morg Hickman, a rough and tumble cowboy who's good at bringing in outlaws but not so good at public relations. When Morg drags the body of a dead outlaw into a town where the sheriff has just been killed, he meets up with Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins, Psycho, The Lonely Man), an inexperienced lawman who has taken over the role of head officer. Morg is forced to wait around for the paperwork to come through on his reward for his catch, so he takes up room and board with a beautiful blonde woman (Betsy Palmer, Friday the 13th) and her half Indian son. When Ben discovers that Morg was once a sheriff he enlists him to help Ben hone his lawman skills to become a proper sheriff. Although the townsfolk want Morg out, he finds himself drawn to helping Ben be "all that he can be" when it comes to the duties of being sheriff. But when a local loudmouth begins making trouble for Ben, it will take all his courage and bravado to walk tall and protect his town.

I had high hopes for The Tin Star. I've become a minor a fan of Anthony Perkins in the last year or so, and after watching The Grapes of Wrath and Mister Roberts, I was looking forward to seeing Henry Fonda in a western. What I was looking forward to and what I got ended up being two different things.

The film was nominated for an Oscar for its story and screenplay by Dudley Nichols, Barney Slater, and Joel Kane, but suffers from the crushing blow of corny music, stiff acting, and worst of all, time—simply put, the film hasn't aged well. There are too many passages where cowboys ride on their horses to music that appears to have been lifted from a Walt Disney family western. I always have a slight chuckle ready whenever I watch a western made in the 1950s—usually it's just so dang obvious that the filmmaker's representation of the old west isn't even close to what the experience was really like.

The story is more character driven than action packed. Henry Fonda looks slightly exhausted as Morg, a man who has done his fair share of killing and knows the burden that comes with taking another man's life (a theme explored to better effect in Clint Eastwood's far better Unforgiven). Fonda is one of those rare types that makes acting look easy—both his stance and delivery are top rate. Anthony Perkins, on the other hand, looks slightly out of his element as Ben Owens. Perkins appears too uneasy in front of the camera, a trait that served him better as Norman Bates than it does as Ben Owens. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable, save for Betsy "Mrs. Voorhees" Palmer as the woman who catches Fonda's eye.

Western aficionados will most certainly enjoy seeing a seasoned professional like Henry Fonda in the confines of the genre. The rest of us may not be quite as amused. While there are a few minor good points about The Tin Star, they're tempered heavily by the mediocre ones. Recommended as a rental far before a purchase.

The Tin Star is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a fine job at making sure this black and white picture is free of any major defects or imperfections that might otherwise mar the image. Dirt and grain is kept to a minimum while the black and whites are crisply rendered. Aside of a few scenes that appear a bit too dark, this transfer looks excellent.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, as well as a restored Dolby Mono track. I wasn't overly thrilled with this newly re-mastered 5.1 mix—there aren't many instances where surround sounds come into play. Aside of a few musical cues, this is a front heavy track. My recommendation is to stick with the restored mono track if you're looking for an accurate representation of the film's original soundtrack. All aspects of mix are free of distortion and hiss. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.

On par with almost all of Paramount's titles, The Tin Star is void of any extra features. Not even a theatrical trailer has been included.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 72

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Western

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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