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Veteran bounty-hunter Morg Hickman (Henry Fonda) is bringing a dead outlaw into a town where the sheriff has recently been killed. A young, inexperienced Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins) is the temporary replacement, but he lacks the confidence that can only come from experience as a seasoned lawman. Once Owens realizes that Hickman was once a sheriff, he views him as a mentor and asks his help in acquiring the skills needed to maintain his new position. Hickman tells him that being a sheriff is a foolish and dangerous quest, but agrees to instruct the fledgling lawman in handling people - in his view, a much more important skill than handling a gun.
Based on the story The Tin Badge by Barney Slater and Joel Kane, aging screenwriter Dudley Nichols fashioned The Tin Star (1957), a straightforward Western of an older man trying to impart some hard-won wisdom to a young greenhorn who's trying to do right in a world often gone wrong. Director Anthony Mann made his distinctive mark with a film that addresses the emotional damage done to heroes of high ideals by those who have none, a frequent theme in Mann's films (The Man from Laramie , Winchester '73 ).
The Tin Star is also concerned with the merits and potential pitfalls of "going it alone," of standing up for right and wrong, even if you have to do it by yourself. This was a theme that Fred Zinnemann's High Noon (1952) tackled within the context of McCarthyism, a virulent presence still felt in Hollywood in the late 1950s when The Tin Star was made. Fonda, an ardent opponent of McCarthyism and its ilk, brings a world-weary wisdom to his role, while Perkins is earnest yet believable as the idealistic young man not yet touched by the evil that other men do.
To prepare for his role as an unready, but willing, Western sheriff, Anthony Perkins received a little help. Rodd Redwing, a fifty-year-old Chickasaw Indian who had been in films since 1922, was hired to coach Perkins in the proper drawing and firing of six-gun pistols. Perkins supposedly only got the rhythm right by practicing to a jazz recording of "Shine On, Harvest Moon." Meanwhile, Mickey Finn, an ex-L.A. cop turned professional stuntman, taught Perkins the ins-and-outs of fighting in front of the camera. Perkins was an apt pupil, disappearing between takes to concentrate on every upcoming shot.
The reviews of The Tin Star were mostly positive. The New York Post said, "The Tin Star is mighty satisfactory frontier drama. Anthony Perkins helps Henry Fonda make it so; the two performances are simpatico, with Perkins looking to the veteran Fonda for leadership. And Fonda gives, but comes out star anyway with his quiet, sure, graceful underplaying."
Producers: William Perlberg and George Seaton
Director: Anthony Mann
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, Joel Kane and Barney Slater (story)
Cinematography: Loyal Griggs
Art Direction: J. MacMillan Johnson, Hal Pereira
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Film Editing: Alma Macrorie
Cast: Henry Fonda (Morg Hickman), Anthony Perkins (Sheriff Ben Owens), Betsy Palmer (Nona Mayfield), Michel Ray (Kip Mayfield), Neville Brand (Bart Bogardus).
by Scott McGee
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