Tin Star, The (1957)

Tin Star, The (1957)

“You’d better take off that tin star and stay alive.”

A former-sheriff-turned-bounty-hunter (Henry Fonda) rides into a town where the current sheriff (Anthony Perkins) is afraid to face the local bully (Neville Brand). Fonda soon falls for a widow (Betsy Palmer) with a young half-Native son (Michel Ray), and Perkins gradually learns the tricks of his trade — perhaps enough to convince his girlfriend (Mary Webster) to marry him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Mann Films
  • Anthony Perkins Films
  • Betsy Palmer Films
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • John McIntire Films
  • Lee Van Cleef Films
  • Mentors
  • Neville Brand Films
  • Sheriffs and Marshals
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary opens his review of this Anthony Mann-directed western by noting that “the typical leads” in such films “are men who were once solid citizens in the increasingly tame West, but had something terrible happen to wreck their settled lives — usually the deaths of everyone they loved, caused by people they had trusted — that sent them on crazed, savage paths of revenge throughout the West,” thus leading Mann to show “how these men finally rid themselves of their inner demons, allowing the prodigal sons to be welcomed back into civilization.” Such is the case here, with Fonda playing a ‘hero’ who “became a ruthless bounty hunter after his wife and child died,” who “rides into a struggling town where a young deputy (Anthony Perkins) is in over his head trying to bring about law and order.” Peary notes that perhaps Fonda sees “himself in Perkins, who had been a youth with hopes, dreams, and ideals,” and thus he “teaches him the ropes so that he can handle any situation.”

Meanwhile, he “becomes attached to” a widow and her son — a “ready-made new family” — and once “again has something to live for.”

Interestingly, The Tin Star has a “pacifist theme, unusual for a western,” and “Mann succeeds in getting us to want a peaceful resolution, without hero-vs.-bad-guy confrontation scenes.” Meanwhile, “Fonda gives a very controlled, sensible performance” — not “nearly as neurotic as Jimmy Stewart in his Mann films.”

I’m in overall agreement with Peary’s review of this well-made western, nicely filmed by cinematographer Loyal Griggs and featuring a relatively uncomplicated tale of mentoring and redemption in the Old West. Film fanatics will surely enjoy seeing Betsy Palmer (of Friday the 13th notoriety) as a sympathetic young single mother:

… Neville brand as (naturally) a baddie:

… and John McIntire giving a quiet but powerful performance as the beloved town doctor.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Loyal Griggs’ cinematography

  • Elmer Bernstein’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you like westerns.


One thought on “Tin Star, The (1957)

  1. Agreed; not must-see, but certainly of interest as a significant western. As per my first-viewing 2/20/20 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I wore one a lot longer than you ever will.”

    ‘The Tin Star’ (1957): There was a period recently in which I found myself saying that westerns weren’t really my thing – unless I came across one that was unique and stood out as being above-average. I’m realizing, though, that there are too many that do stand out. Of course, Anthony Mann made many of them and here’s another one of his – this one without James Stewart.

    Henry Fonda plays a man (with a past as a sheriff) who comes into a rather sleepy town (as most western towns are) to collect a reward. He’s a bounty hunter and has brought in a dead man on a ‘dead or alive’ call. The town itself is an odd mix of sentiment: It’s not without its prejudices – but, if it likes law and order, it also has a taste for vigilante justice. Anthony Perkins is its interim sheriff; quite the neophyte. It will be up to Fonda to give Perkins some crucial pointers when the town suddenly faces a tricky predicament.

    Though Mann’s direction is solid and all of the performances are fine (esp. Fonda’s), perhaps the real star here is screenwriter Dudley Nichols – an extremely prolific scribe who wrote or co-wrote in a wide range (i.e., ‘Bringing Up Baby’, ‘Stagecoach’, ‘The Informer’ – for which he won an Oscar) and was top-notch when it came to plot structure. Here Nichols constructs with many of the necessary ingredients for a film of this type – and throws in a number of refreshing ‘spices’ for good measure. I only have one tiny quibble. There’s one pivotal moment that I don’t buy entirely – but, without it, there would be no last 1/3 to the story. (That’s ok; it’s an easy shift to let slide.)

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