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.
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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.