Thursday, February 16, 2017

Always About Appearances

I can't recall discussing The Tin Star previously, although it seems I should have at some point. I haven't watched it in a few months, but I'd seen it several times prior to that.

In general terms, Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins a few years away from playing Norman Bates) is the new sheriff of a small town, still struggling to figure out how to do it, but driven by a belief in serving the community to try. Morg Hickman (Henry Fonda) is a bounty hunter who brings his most recent bounty to their town, dead. He receives a chilly reception, which doesn't bother him much. See, he was a sheriff once, until he lost his family and decided the life wasn't worth it.

Still, he needs Perkins to stay alive until he can get authorization to pay the bounty, so he steps in at one point when perkins has to confront the the local drunk bully Bogardus for murdering another man. At which point Perkins begins trying to learn about being a sheriff, and Fonda reluctantly teaches him. Things kind of spiral from there, as a couple of brothers (one played by Lee van Cleef) kill the beloved town doctor, and Ben quickly loses control of the posse to Bogardus. There's a whole big confrontation to be had there, and Morg has to decide what he wants to do.

That's not really what I'm interested in. What's curious to me is the attitude of the townsfolk. They picked Ben for sheriff, or he volunteered, because there was no one else. Well, Bogardus wanted it, but as Morg notes, Bogardus just wanted a license to kill. And the townsfolk want prisoners brought in alive (so they can kill them after a trial and the joys of jail chow).

So they've got Ben. Upright, pliable Ben. Ben has no actual idea what he's doing. He doesn't know how to handle drunks, or when to use his guns or not, or that he can't get bogged down with macho posturing. Here's Morg, who was a sheriff for years, who survived the profession, and is willing to educate him. Probably because it's just too painful to watch the hapless dope flail about in the dark. And none of the townspeople are helping. He has no deputies, and all the support he gets is a bunch of platitudes from Doc McCord about how some people walk through the briars picking flowers for others. So helpful.

Of course, even the platitudes run out once he starts spending time with Morg. Quickly he's told that the "leading" townsfolk aren't encouraged by him hanging out with this killer. When he tries explaining to McCord that Morgan was a former sheriff, McCord laughs at him like he's a silly child. He tells Ben his one failing is being too trusting, a little naive. But that's why they wanted him, because he'd do what they wanted. They told him he could do this, and it needed doing, and he went along with it like a schmuck. And if he kept going the way he was, they'd have needed another sheriff shortly. So he tries to get some training, to do the job they picked him for properly, and now they've got concerns.

It's just kind of interesting, that the doctor, the mayor/banker, whatever, are more concerned with having a manipulable incompetent than someone who can do the job, but might not always do exactly what they want. They figured he was a decent person, are they really afraid picking up a few tips from the bounty hunter will turn him into Dirty Harry? That he's somehow going to become worse than Bogardus? It's more about maintaining the appearance everything is nice and normal, rather than actually having someone who can protect the populace


SallyP said...

Is it me or are there a lot of amoral townsfolk in Westerns? I do love Lee Van Clef however. He makes SUCH a great bad guy. Gotta love those cheekbones.

CalvinPitt said...

There are a lot of crappy townspeople, but sometimes I feel as though we aren't supposed to see them as crappy. Although in this case, maybe we are. The movie wants us to like doc McCord, he seems like a mostly kindly doctor. But he doesn't like Morg at all, to the point he won't accept any statements that Morg is anything other than a hired killer, won't extend any understanding or empathy. So I don't know what they were aiming for there.

And I'm always happy to see Lee van Cleef.