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USA 1980
Directed by
William Wiard
98 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Tom Horn

Starring and executive-produced by Steve McQueen and released in the year of his death from lung cancer, Tom Horn is an elegy to the death of the Wild West - slowly paced and beautifully filmed (photography is by veteran John A. Alonzo) with human figures dwarfed by the wide open spaces and an almost choreographed sense of movement.

Released the same year as Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate it deals with the same time and place, Wyoming at the turn of the century. In a role that recalls that of Christopher Walken in Cimino's film, McQueen is hired by the Cattlemen's Association to clear the land of undesirables. The difference here is that the sympathy lies with Horn, the people he kills being generically portrayed as lowlife and Horn portrayed pretty much as the outsider hero standard to Hollywood film. Pretty much but not entirely, for there is recognition that for all the charm with which the also-doomed McQueen endows him, Horn was a paid killer and that in the end he got what he deserved. As writers Thomas McGuane and Bud Shrake memorably have his lover (played by Linda Evans who went to star in Dynasty) say: "Someday, you're going to have to pay for your way of life, Tom. You're a bad man and I know it. And if I let you talk me out of it, I'll be lost forever. So my adventures in this life won't mean anything because you will have seduced my soul...and drawn me into your world".

Director William Wiard whose long career before and after this film was almost exclusively televisual started off directing episodes of Bonanza and Gunsmoke and if his work is not invariably compelling the upside is that he has a sense of economy that eluded Cimino, letting McQueen be the focus of attention and it is surprising that the film has largely been forgotten. It also stars the incomparable Slim Pickens and gives a small role to Elisha Cook Jr, whilst Richard Farnsworth who plays John Coble would eventually play the lead in David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999).




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