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Tom Horn

The Essential Steve McQueen Collection

  • Bullitt: Special Edition
  • The Cincinnati Kid
  • The Getaway
  • Never So Few
  • Papillon
  • Tom Horn
  • While Steve McQueen's career may have been cut short by his early death in 1980, the actor's life on screen was in fact more condensed than his three decades of credits suggest. First garnering popular attention on the TV western "Wanted: Dead or Alive" as bounty hunter Josh Randall, McQueen's sly wit and inimitable poker-face soon landed him in feature films — and after supporting Frank Sinatra (Never So Few, 1959) and Yul Brynner (The Magnificent Seven, 1960) in quick succession, he joined Hollywood's top tier with The Great Escape (1963). A string of hits followed throughout the '60s — with 1968's Bullitt a fan-favorite — but by the '70s McQueen had already entered his "quiet years." In Papillon (1973) he delivered a mature, watershed performance. But after taking an ensemble part in The Towering Inferno (1974), McQueen left Hollywood behind. His extracurricular love of motorcycles and racecars (and eventually airplanes) always competed for his time on film sets, and after recovering from years of drug abuse and settling down with his second wife, Ali MacGraw, McQueen turned inward — and turned down parts in A Bridge Too Far and Apocalypse Now, among other scripts. Thankfully, he had three final roles before cancer claimed his life — the little-seen Ibsen adaptation Enemy of the People in 1977, and two mainstream titles in 1980, The Hunter and Tom Horn — the latter returning him to the western genre where he first rose to fame.

    Based on the autobiography The Life of Tom Horn, Government Scout and Interpreter, Steve McQueen stars in Tom Horn as the titular character, a man whose reputation precedes him across the western half of the United States. A skilled tracker and marksman — credited with capturing the Apache chief Geronimo in 1886, and also once court-martialed for invading Mexico — Horn lived simply and by his wits. But as America's western frontier fades and a new century arrives, Horn is no longer certain of his purpose. As Tom Horn opens, Horn finds himself passing through Wyoming, where he manages to earn a beating from future heavyweight champion 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett, thanks to his smart mouth. But local rancher John Coble (Richard Farnsworth) takes Horn under his wing, and eventually he introduces the sharpshooter to "The Association" — a group of cattle barons who find themselves at odds with both rustlers and homesteaders. Aware that Horn is likely to do as he sees fit on the open range, they hire him as a "stock detective," and it isn't long before Horn's deadly accuracy with a Winchester puts a halt to all rustling in the territory. However, his vigilante justice soon creates reprisals — and when The Association realizes Horn has become more of a liability than an asset, they frame him for murder.

    *          *          *

    Understated, often quiet, and remarkably somber, Tom Horn is a fitting final western for Steve McQueen — already suffering from the rare mesothelioma cancer that would claim his life, it's unlikely he would have been able to undertake a vigorous action film, and while this project lacks the mythic undercurrent that marks the best genre entries, it's an effective character study in the hands of a great film actor. Rather than offering a tightly threaded plot, Tom Horn is a film full of moments, starting with McQueen's trademark wiseassing of Jim Corbett (which contains echoes of his mocking Nazi officers in The Great Escape). But Tom Horn is not a matinee hero — his cold-blooded ruthlessness is far from brushed aside, and it's not long before viewers have to wonder what sort of moral compass guides a man who kills not to enforce law and order, but simply to earn a living, acting as a willing (if unwitting) instrument of the wealthy and powerful. Clearly, The Association knows a thing or two about Tom Horn — who, in a later moment, seethes with rage while unloading a Winchester into a man for shooting his horse. Tom Horn is a strong bookend to McQueen's other final film, The Hunter — a movie that strikes a much lighter, humanist tone while still showcasing the fact that McQueen's acting range was broad, if subtle. Richard Farnsworth and Slim Pickens deliver workmanlike support, while love interest Linda Evans serves as little more than attractive window dressing. Thankfully, while McQueen's final western was helmed by TV veteran William Wiard, the director makes the setting palpably real, working in a single-set Wyoming town built against the immensity of its natural surroundings — whether lit in late-summer warmth or brushed with winter snow, Wiard suggests a cinematic realism that would re-appear in the neo-western revivals of the 1990s.

    Warner Home Video offers Tom Horn in its first widescreen presentation on home video, with a sharp anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) and the original monaural audio on a Dolby Digital 1.0 track. Only the theatrical trailer is included as a supplement, but it's featured with Warner's new Essential Steve McQueen Collection, which includes Bullitt, Papillon, Never So Few, The Getaway, and The Cincinnati Kid. Keep-case.
    —JJB



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