johnlink ranks TOM HORN (1980)

I got my Steve McQueen box set years ago because it had a bunch of movies which were either favorites, or things I really wanted to see. BULLITT, PAPILLON, THE GETAWAY, CINCINNATI KID, that kind of stuff. Included in the set was a western which was not on my radar, TOM HORN. Years later, I still hadn’t put it in. But I love me some McQueen, so I gave it a run.


I watched TOM HORN (1980) on 5.21.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

I am left really confused by what this movie wanted to do. I kept thinking there was going to be something more, some bigger moral, some bigger picture. Instead, this is a straight-forward story about the latter portion of the life of Tom Horn as played by McQueen. Previously a war hero, Horn turned into a bit of a gun-for-hire. He gets himself into some trouble in Wyoming after being a bit too good of an assassin for a group of cattle ranchers who have paid for his services. After seemingly getting framed for a murder, Horn faces a trial.

The setting is barren, the edifices few, the emptiness vast. Symbolism to be sure, but not particularly nice symbolism to look at as far as sprawling westerns go. Legend says that several directors were on rotation during this film because McQueen (for whom this became a personal story) couldn’t get them to agree with him. William Wiard gets directing credit though much of the credit should supposedly go to McQueen himself. The chaotic behind-the-scenes stuff translates on screen. The editing is odd, with some mistimed romantic flashbacks being dropped into the latter part of the movie in an effort to stretch out the film and make it feel as though we aren’t just spending the last 40% of the movie hanging out with Horn in a small jail cell.

McQueen attacks the role, and there is some nuance there. In 1979, as this was being filmed, he was already diagnosed with cancer. It makes sense that he wanted to make a story about the last chapter of an iconic figure’s life. I can see why he cared so deeply about Horn and the parallels he saw. The film does not set out to portray Horn as perfect, by the end he just seems tired. The tone, it would seem, is right for McQueen. I’m not sure if I can let any of that forgive what feels like a lackadaisical movie.

I’ve never disliked a Steve McQueen movie until now. In many ways, I wish I had never seen this. It’s sort of sad that this was the second to last film of a mostly top-notch career. At least his performance here isn’t bad (in general, the acting in this is moderately good, though never great). Knowing how important this film must have been for him, I wish it came out a better product.






~ by johnlink00 on May 22, 2013.

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