Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm Your Huckleberry

"Tombstone", made in 1993, was one of the most enjoyable Westerns I can recall. Sadly, John Wayne was not in it, having passed away in 1979. But the cast of the 1993 film was impressive, nonetheless. Kurt Russell starred as Wyatt Earp, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. This is a classic Western tale with good guys and bad guys. Written by Kevin Jarre and directed by George P. Cosmatos, the story involves Wyatt Earp and his brothers moving to Tombstone, Arizona where they and Doc Holliday face off against a band of criminals called the Cowboys. The film is considered by many to be one of the most quotable films ever made.

"I'm your huckleberry" is a line uttered more than once by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

But what makes this film most interesting is that the good guys, in this case the Earps and Doc Holliday, are all flawed characters. We discover much about them that keeps us interested, where the film allows us to see little of the bad guys' positive aspects (if any). "Tombstone" gives us a glimpse into friendship and loyalty, family ties and love, along with utter hatred and evil.

One of the classic moments of the film comes, not in the rendering of the famous 'Gunfight at the OK Corall, but in a final showdown between what are arguably two psychopaths: Doc Holliday, played by Val Kilmer, and Johnny Ringo, played by Michael Biehn. The scene is set when Wyatt (Kurt Russell) agrees to meet Ringo to fight it out. Wyatt has been tending a very sick Holliday, who has been bed-ridden with a bout of tuberculosis. Wyatt believes that Ringo will kill him in a gun-fight, that Ringo is simply too fast to beat. But he goes anyway, as duty demands. Holliday tells him he can't beat Johnny Ringo. But Earp heads out, determined to do his best, or die trying. Holliday, however, rises from his sickbed, and goes to meet Ringo, ahead of his friend Wyatt.

And that's what leads up to this classic scene. Psychopath versus Psychopath, Good versus Evil.

As for the "I'm your huckleberry," line, what does it mean? Well, despite a lot of speculation, it comes down to some easy research into word origins, as Lawson Stone shows.
On and off I hear discussions in which people speculate on the exact origin and meaning is of the quaint idiom used by Doc Holliday in the movie "Tombstone." I've heard some wild suggestions, including "huckleberry" meaning "pall-bearer" suggesting "I'll bury you."

Still others think it has something to do with Mark Twain's character, Huckleberry Finn, and means "steadfast friend, pard." This is unlikely, since the book of that title was not written until 1883. Tom Sawyer was written in 1876, but nowhere there is the term "huckleberry" used to mean "steadfast friend" or the like.

Still others claim that a victor's crown or wreath of huckleberry is involved, making the statement "I'm your huckleberry" something like "I'll beat you!" But no such reference can be found in the historical materials supporting the use of this term in 19th century America. Additionally, "huckleberry" was native to North America so it's unlikely it was used in ancient Britain as a prize!

[...] The second and more common usage came to mean, in the words of the "Dictionary of American Slang: Second Supplemented Edition" (Crowell, 1975):

"A man; specif., the exact kind of man needed for a particular purpose. 1936: "Well, I'm your huckleberry, Mr. Haney." Tully, "Bruiser," 37. Since 1880, archaic.

The "Historical Dictionary of American Slang" which is a multivolume work, has about a third of a column of citations documenting this meaning all through the latter 19th century.

So "I'm your huckleberry" means "I'm just the man you're looking for!"

Now ain't that a daisy!

The "Daisy" comment is easier. In the late 19th century "daisy" was a common slang term for "the best in it's class." So for "daisy" just substitute "the best" and you'll have it. It was a short-lived idiom and doesn't seem to be popular much after 1890.

Among the classic quotes from this film:
[Doc Holliday is drunkenly playing a somber piece on the saloon piano, and a drunken Cowboy is harassing him to play something by Stephen Foster]
Cowboy: Stephen Foster. "Oh, Susannah", "Camptown Races". Stephen stinking Foster.
Doc Holliday: Ah, yes. Well, this happens to be a nocturne.
Cowboy: A which?
Doc Holliday: You know, Frederic fucking Chopin.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Doc Holliday: I have not yet begun to defile myself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wyatt Earp: What makes a man like Ringo, Doc?
Doc Holliday: A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of himself. And he can never steal enough, or kill enough, or cause enough pain to fill it up. And so he walks the earth, forever seeking retribution...
Wyatt Earp: For what?
Doc Holliday: Being born.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wyatt Earp: You die first, get it? Your friends might get me in a rush, but not before I make your head into a canoe, you understand me?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Doc: In vino veritas.
Ringo: Age quod agis.
Doc: Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego.
Ringo: Iuventus stultorum magister.
Doc: In pace requiescat.

Doc: That's Latin, darlin'! It appears Mr. Ringo is an educated man. Now I really hate him!

Hard as it is to imagine, some of you may not have seen "Tombstone". Yes, it is a violent film, but it is a magnificent story-telling escapade. The acting is solid, the characterizations are intriguing, the film is a winner. If you have seen "Wyatt Earp" starring Kevin Costner, then you know a too-long film (and rather dull one) when you see it. "Tombstone" is the film to see.


shoprat said...

saw it years ago. Good but forgotten.

Perhaps it shouldn't have been. I might have to see it again.

Anonymous said...

Don't know 'bout all that...but I do like huckleberries.

Brooke said...

Holy crap, Benning! The hubby and I just watched Tombstone this week and were speculating on "I'm your huckleberry!"

It's FREAKY! We must be on the same vibe! LOL!

(I went with the Twain theory while we were guessing.)