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What it takes to wear “The Tin Star”


Twenty-four-year-old Anthony Perkins plays the inexperienced and fill-in sheriff Ben Owens, and Henry Fonda plays the veteran bounty hunter and former sheriff Morgan Hickman.

(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)



Blu-ray, 1957, Not Rated


Best extra: “Apprenticing a Master,” a conversation with British author/critic Neil Sinyard on the Paramount production and director Anthony Mann


EVERYONE ASSUMES the legendary John Ford was the top Western director of the 1950s. He and John Wayne made possibly the greatest Western, “The Searchers” (1956), using the large format VistaVision camera in the red mesas of Monument Valley. The film had a huge influence on the new Hollywood, filmmakers of the late ‘60s and ‘70s including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan. Beyond “Searchers,” Ford’s best Westerns were mostly filmed in the late 1930s and ‘40s: “Stagecoach” (1939), “My Darling Clementine” (1946), “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949) and in late 1949 “Wagon Master” released in the spring of 1950.


BUT, the director who had the greatest influence on the genre during the 1950s was Anthony Mann. After directing a series of B-film noir crime thrillers in the late ‘40s “Desperate,” “T-Men,” “Raw Deal,” and co-directing “He Walked by Night,” Mann transitioned from the claustrophobic urban jungle to the wide vistas of the American West.


First, he filmed the Western-noir “The Furies” (1950) in and around Tucson, Arizona, with the strong and independent Barbara Stanwyck (“Double Indemnity”).


Next, Mann moved into psychological Westerns, with a complex and troubled protagonist. He made five of them with James Stewart (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Anatomy of Murder”), an actor who was altered by his military action during World War II, the pilot for 25 missions over Germany. Mann and Stewart first collaborated on Universal’s black and white classic “Winchester ‘73” (1950), with the rest in color, “Bend of the River” (1952), “The Naked Spur” (1953), “The Far Country” (1954) and “The Man from Laramie” (1955). All five are beautifully photographed across perilous landscapes.

(1) “The Tin Star” is one of 75 movies Paramount captured in their superior widescreen format. (2) Director Anthony Mann provides a detailed closeup of the wanted man’s hand. (3) Hickman rides into town bringing in the once-dangerous and now-dead outlaw Luke Jameson. (4&5) Hickman watches the temporary sheriff practice his gun movements.


The two also made “The Glenn Miller Story” (1954) and “Strategic Air Command” (1955), but eventually went their separate ways. Stewart hitched up with the ‘Master of Suspense’ Alfred Hitchcock for three films “Rear Window” (1954), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1955), and “Vertigo” (1958), considered one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces.


Mann returned to the Western with Paramount’s “The Tin Star.” It was slated to be filmed in the studio’s high fidelity widescreen format VistaVision, but strangely in black and white. Henry Fonda (“The Grapes of Wrath,” “My Darling Clementine”) signed on as the veteran bounty hunter and former sheriff Morgan Hickman. Eight years earlier, Fonda left Hollywood to work exclusively on Broadway and his return to movies was driven by the opportunity to revive his stage performance from “Mister Roberts” (1955) and to produce and play juror No. 8 in “12 Angry Men” (1957). Before shooting “The Tin Star,” Fonda starred in Hitchcock’s docudrama “The Wrong Man.”


Twenty-four-year-old Anthony Perkins (“Psycho,” 1960), in his fifth film, plays the second lead, as the inexperienced and fill-in sheriff Ben Owens. His sweetheart Millie Parker (Mary Webster) is certain he will end up dead like her father, who had been the town’s sheriff for 20 years.


During the opening credits, Hickman rides into the western town bringing in the once-dangerous and now-dead outlaw Luke Jameson. He hopes to quickly claim the $500 “Dead or Alive” reward. “I tracked down Jameson, he tried to shoot it out. Fair fight. You won’t find any bullet holes in his back,” Hickman tells the crowd swarming inside the sheriff’s office. Owens isn’t forthcoming with the money until he can confirm the body is Jameson. The killer’s cousin Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand), a known troublemaker, will need to make a positive ID. Unwelcomed by the town folks, Hickman stays overnight with widow Nona Mayfield (Betsy Palmer) and her son Kip (Michal Ray), whose father was an Indigenous man. After dinner, Hickman reveals he lost his wife and son.  

(1) Hickman pulls the $500 “Wanted Dead or Alive” poster for Luke Jameson off the wall. (2) Everyone wants to know the intention of the bounty hunter. (3&4) Hickman ends up at the home of widow Nona Mayfield (Betsy Palmer) and her son Kip (Michal Ray). He checks on young Kip before heading to bed.


The next morning violence escalates in town, a commentary on the Civil Rights aggression towards all people of color during the ‘50s, as Bogardus kills a “half-breed” man in the streets claiming self-defense. Owens tries to de-arm Bogardus, who threatens him, but Hickman shoots the gun out of his hand. Soon released by Judge Thatcher (James Bell), Bogardus’ time behind bars is less than 24 hours,


Owens becomes Hickman’s apprentice, learning to improve his marksmanship and diplomacy. “Remember, there’s a lot more to gun fighting than just shooting at a mark,” Hickman tells Owens. “But, when you shoot, shoot to kill.”


The excellent supporting cast includes John McIntire (Dr. Joe McCord), Lee Van Cleef (Ed McGaffey), and Russell Simpson (Clem Hall). 


Production began in the fall of 1956, mostly at Paramount’s western backlot – sadly, today it’s a parking lot – the Santa Ana Mountains in Riverside County, and two ranches in the San Fernando Valley. It premiered a year later in November of 1957 at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles with a brisk running time of 93 minutes.   

(1-3) The next morning violence escalates in town, as troublemaker Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand) kills an unarmed “half-breed” claiming self-defense. (4) A wonderfully composed wide shot between Bogardus and Sheriff Owens.



The Blu-ray includes two new featurettes. The first is “Apprenticing a Master” with British author/critic Neil Sinyard, who thoroughly explores the “Tin Star” and Mann’s career. He considers the Oscar-nominated adapted screenplay from Dudley Nicholas, “A nearly perfect structure.” It’s based on the novel “The Tin Badge” by Barney Slater and Joel Kane. “[For] anybody teaching a course on screenwriting this would be a marvelous film to use for its template.” Sinyard points out that “The Tin Star” was nominated for a British Best Film award, the only Mann film to receive that honor.


He also transitions into Mann’s following western “Man of the West” (1958), in which  Gary Cooper plays a reformed outlaw who stumbles upon his old gang while heading east on a train to hire a schoolteacher.


The second featurette “Beyond the Score” highlights the career of composer Elmer Bernstein (“The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “To Kill a Mockingbird”) with his son Peter. Composer Peter Bernstein recalls his time going to a small private school in LA with the children of composer Jerry Goldsmith (“Chinatown,” “Planet of the Apes”) and Alex North (“Spartacus”).


The commentary with author Toby Roan is serviceable, playing like an audio popup trivia track.

(1) The McGaffey brothers Zeke (Peter Baldwin) and Ed (Lee Van Cleef). (2) The stagecoach arrives in town (filmed on Paramount’s Western backlot) with one of the drivers shot by two masked men. (3&4) Dr. Joe McCord (John McIntire) makes a late-night house call for a baby delivery and records his medical notes. The next day the town celebrates his 75th birthday.



What’s shocking is that it’s taken 20 years for this Anthony Mann Western to make it onto a physical disc at a higher resolution than its original 2004 DVD. Paramount and Arrow Video don’t provide the details on the VistaVision restoration, other than its 1080p presentation. But the onscreen results are so good, it’s clearly from either a 6K or 4K scan of the original B&W camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio). Plus, every single mark, dirt, and scratch has been removed, revealing a nice washing of fine structured film grain.


Clarity is superb from the deep focus cinematography by Loyal Griggs (“Shane,” “The Ten Commandments”) and the larger horizontal 8-perforation negative (normal 35mm vertical 4 perf), while the grayscale is first-rate on highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. The only way this could’ve been better was if it had been released in TRUE 4K with HDR grading.



The original Mono track has been restored, and an optional 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround has been provided. The Mono track is the way I preferred to watch, keeping everything front and center for the dialogue and Bernstein’s score. I have a supersized center speaker with an interior subwoofer that gives it a powerful sound.


The packaging from Arrow Video is second to none including a 35-page booklet, poster, postcard lobby cards, and a reversible jacket.

Nice job by all! 


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

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1 Comment

Ken Roche
Ken Roche
Jun 01

The sharp Black and White images look inviting in this little Paramount western (I did not know Mann was involved with this). While his 'Man of the West' gets more attention, I did not like it, but this looks interesting. A few years later Paramount released director James Clavel's first western "Walk Like A Dragon" another little known but very interesting B/W western.

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