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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Men for a Hard Land., 28 July 2009
This review is from: Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove (Re-mastered) [2008] [DVD] (DVD)
That durable screen legend John Wayne made two big mistakes towards the end of his career. He unsurprisingly turned down the role of Pike Bishop in "The Wild Bunch", one of the finest westerns ever made, but a far more visceral vision of the west than Wayne had ever acted in. He also spurned the opportunity to play the part of Woodrow F Call in the mooted film "The Streets of Laredo" based on a screenplay by Larry McMurtry. The film, to have been directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who made the very good "The Last Picture Show"(71), was also to have starred James Stewart and Henry Fonda. I recall reading of this mouthwatering prospect at the time. On Wayne's refusal the project fell apart. Instead he went on to make a number of mediocre westerns with a couple of notable exceptions. The exceptions were films where he left his comfort zone, which is exactly what "The Streets of Laredo" would have required. The very realistic portrayal of McMurty's frontier west much like "The Wild Bunch" was possibly a step too far for him. Instead, far from finished, McMurtry developed the screenplay into his glorious epic novel of the west "Lonesome Dove". It stands as perhaps the finest novel set in the old west that has ever been written. I have yet to read better. It deservedly won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1986. It is thought to be loosely based on the lives of two cattlemen called Goodnight and Loving who made a similar epic cattle drive. The film "Red River" is also thought to be based on their lives. The book encompasses far more than any feature film could hope to cover. At last in 1989 it was made into an expensive all star, no expense spared TV series which was able to do full justice to the book.

A superb cast was assembled. Tommy Lee Jones took on the part of the taciturn and tough Call and Robert Duvall played his close friend Augustus McCrae. Both actors were perfectly cast in their roles. Jones has the ready made features of the granite like Call and Duvall simply was McCrae. Duvall effortlessly played similar veteran cowboy roles in "Broken Trail"(06) and "Open Range"(04). He had come a long way since his early role as a villain in "True Grit"(69). Diane Lane took the major role of Lorena Wood the whore beloved by all, and Angelica Huston also appeared. The story is very much centred around the two veteran ex Texas rangers and their relationship. Gus extrovert and outgoing whilst Call is quiet and withdrawn, harbouring some deep secret from the past. They decide to undertake a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It is a trip that requires tough men for the job as there are many hazards to negotiate. This includes hostile Indians and renegade Comancheros. Blue Duck the main villain of the piece is one of these, and is a villain to match any from the darkest fairy tales. Other characters are brought in, and sub plots develop when one is kidnapped. It is interesting when a sheriff and his deputy called July Johnson and Roscoe are brought into the story. McMurtry admired the film "Bandolero"(68) where there is a sheriff and his deputy of the same names. This hard land brings death and despair for many. There is action aplenty.

Having read the book I was not expecting too much of the series but I was in for a surprise. It picks up the flavour of the book perfectly and is a triumph on all fronts. The old west could be a cruel and unforgiving place. To survive you had to be as tough as the land. Call and Gus are from that mould. They are the good guys, but on the hunt for the bad guys there is steel in their eyes and they are to be reckoned with. The ending is particularly poignant, where we see Call suffer much like one of Sam Peckinpah's crucified heroes. We see him unravel and become human. He becomes his own judge and jury and stoically suffers the punishment inflicted on himself, all for love and the hope of forgiveness. This series is a towering achievement that does a magnificent book full justice. A must see. I was happy with the picture quality and did not notice any problems, but then I am happy watching dodgy old black and white VHS westerns on a creaky recorder. My apologies for a longer review than normal but this epic series deserves the full treatment. The only excuse that I can offer is that I am passionate about the subject matter.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Jul 2010 10:57:19 BDT
SUPERBLY accurate review.

Posted on 5 Jun 2013 12:14:49 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Jun 2013 12:15:31 BDT
Mike S says:
Bob, what a beautifully written & comprehensive review, thank you. I too am passionate about the 'true' history of the Old West. There are many Westerns which provide good entertainment but their historical accuracy is non existent. Lonesome Dove provides an insight into the hard & dangerous period concerned, when indeed men were men. To wander off the subject of Lonesome Dove a little, I highly recommend the film Appaloosa for those who appreciate a Western where meticulous attention to period detail has been followed.
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