Tom Horn (1980)

See him before he sees you

A renowned former army scout is hired by ranchers to hunt down rustlers but finds himself on trial for the murder of a boy when he carries out his job too well. Tom Horn finds that the simple skills he knows are of no help in dealing with the ambitions of ranchers and corrupt officials as progress marches over him and the old west.

Someday, you're going to have to pay for your way of life, Tom.
Tom Horn is directed by William Wiard and adapted to screenplay by Thomas McGuane and Bud Schrake from Horn's own autobiography. It stars Steve McQueen, Linda Evans, Richard Farnsworth, Billy Green Bush and Slim Pickens. Music is by Ernest Gold and cinematography by John A. Alonzo.
Plot finds McQueen as legendary army tracker - turned hired gun - Tom Horn, who is hired by Wyoming ranchers to see off cattle rustlers, only to see them turn against him when his methods threaten their reputation.
As a big fan of both Westerns as a genre and McQueen (in the process of getting the cancer that would kill him) the actor, it's tricky trying to review Tom Horn (and his final film "The Hunter") without the heart ruling the head. Fact is, is that Tom Horn is not the glorious hard hitting Tom Horn picture that the character demands. It looks fabulous, is very melancholic, and McQueen is genuinely affecting in his performance, but the production problems (various attached directors, rewrites etc) are evident and give us a film of what might have been.
Nonetheless, this is no stinker, in fact, it's a very reflective piece dealing with a man out of his time - and he knows it. The narrative is strong on the end of the so called Wild West, a changing of the times, where law and order is about to finally become the dominant force. Horn was the man who helped bring in the mighty Geronimo, which gives the makers a chance to not only nod towards respect for the great Apache chief as a plot device, but to also let Horn, in McQueen's hands, show us a resignation of time being up for his kind.
One dodgy "special effect" aside, when the violence is required for the story it is an adrenaline jolt, this is because the tone of the piece is ultimately sombre. The hazy romantic thread between Horn and Glendolene Kimmel (Evans is fine in a thankless role) is suffering from flashback overkill, but the tender feel to it sits comfortably within the pic's earnest intention. The political aspects strike the required chord for narrative worth, and the key aspect of Horn's ultimate fate being based on fact or otherwise? is deftly handled.
Poor editing and a number of "time filling shots" grate a little, and if not prepared for a sombre pic then this will disappoint. Yet there's a lot of beauty here and if you be a fan of McQueen or not, his turn is brave, committed and very engaging. 7/10

First Artists, Solar Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures by William Wiard, Thomas McGuane, Bud Shrake.
Stars: Steve McQueen, Linda Evans, Richard Farnsworth, Billy Green Bush.

Genres: Biography, Crime, Drama, Romance, Western

Keywords: hero ranch shootout trial one man army rancher brutality justice rustler

03/28/1980

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