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Monday, 27 September 2010

Monte Walsh (2003)

This was not the first version of Jack Schaefer's hymn to a way of life that was fast vanishing - there was a big screen version in 1970 starring  legends Lee Marvin and Jack Palance, but this version starring Tom Selleck and made for broadcast on the TNT network is actually the most faithful to its source material. It is also, to my mind, the better movie.

In recent years the made for TV movie has become the home for quality westerns- starting with Lonesome Dove perhaps, the small screen has seen a constant stream of quality western entertainment. And this movie is no exception - Tom Selleck seems to hold a genuine love for the genre and he gives an outstanding performance as the man who has lived far too long and is at odds with the new modern world.

First and foremost this is an affectionate look at the American cowboy and of how the wheels of progress made him an anachronism in his own time. There are some beautiful landscape shots but all are tinged with sadness as the camera constantly pulls to the barbed wire that is rapidly closing down the open range.

As in the novel both film versions offer up the Mustang as the ultimate symbol of the freedoms of the Old West - throughout the movie there is one unbreakable horse and this creature comes to represent everything that the coming corporate culture seeks to replace. There's a great sequence towards the end of the movie where Monte rides the mustang, holding on while the horse breaks free of the corral and continues to buck and kick around the town, even crashing through Monte's friends hardware store and back out again. When the ride is finally over and the horse broken there is no feeling of triumph, only an empty sensation. The time of the true cowboy is over.

There is humour in the movie - it opens with an expertly paced sequence in which Monte plays a practical joke on an attorney who has been nasty to some kids - he seems to be playing his joke not so much to avenge the kids but to hit back at the lawyer who represents the modern age that Monte is so busy running from. There is also a great bunk-house punch up that descends into laughter when the men forget what it was they were fighting about, but over all it is a film tinged with sadness, longing and ultimately the realisation that times are a changing.

The film's careful attention to maintain a consistent vision, a glum dirge to the vanishing cowboy way of life, make it a wonderful experience for the viewer. It ticks all the boxes and tugs at the heart strings as well as raising the excitement level in several action sequences.

A brilliant western and maybe Selleck's finest moment.

1 comment:

Ron Scheer said...

Thanks for the appreciative review. I have enjoyed this one, too, and like the performances and the quality of production. Tom Selleck is almost as perfect-looking a cowboy as Sam Elliott (could be the effect of all those Marlboro commercials during my formative years).

I have yet to see the original and hope to eventually get my hands on a copy.