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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Franchise Fallout - The Lonesome Dove Saga part one

Chronologically, Dead Man's Walk is actually the first story in the Lonesome Dove saga - though it was filmed after Lonesome Dove and its sequel Streets of Laredo. Originally Lonesome Dove had been a screenplay for John Wayne and James Stewart. It was very nearly filmed too in 1972 with Stewart as Gus, John Wayne as Call and Henry Fonda as Jakes Spoon. However when Wayne quit the project the movie was shelved and so author McMurtry later turned his screenplay into the Pulitzer prize winning novel, Lonesome Dove.

 It did eventually find its way to the screen as the excellent Lonesome Dove mini series and was followed by Return to Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo, Dead Man's Walk and Comanche Moon. However the correct chronological order of the stories would be Dead Man's Walk, Comanche Moon, Lonesome Dove, Return to Lonesome Dove and finally, Streets of Laredo, and this is the order in which we will talk about them.

There was also two TV series - Lonesome Dove: The Series and Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years but I've so far been unable to see these shows and so they are not including in this Lonesome Dove retrospective.

Now like most people, I guess, I saw Lonesome Dove first so when watching any of these series it is difficult to get over the powerhouse performances of Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as Gus and Call, and all of the other films are thus compared, often unfavorably to our first cinematic view of the characters - and yes I know cinematic may not be the correct term since all of these shows started out as a TV mini-series but they really are as expansive as anything the big screen can offer, so cinematic it is.

The two characters who carry the entire saga are Woodrow (Call) and Augustus (Gus) and this time they are played by Jonny Lee Miller  and David Arquette and both actors do a great job with their roles - Miller is excellent and even although Arquette's Gus often seems a little lightweight he does manage to channel some of the character Duvall created in Lonesome Dove. So no real complaints on the casting of our two central characters. Likewise the secondary characters with Harry Dean Stanton, Keith Carradine and Edward James Olmos being particularly good.

The storyline is loosely based on the historical Santa Fe Expedition of 1841.It opens up with Call and Gus having newly joined the Texas Rangers and after a skirmish with commanche, Buffalo Hump they return to civilisation, before soon setting off on an expedition to capture and annex Santa Fe, part of New Mexico (the part east of the Rio Grande) for Texas. The expedition, led by pirate and soldier of fortune, Caleb Cobb, is ultimately a failure; of the large troop only about 40 survive, falling to starvation, bears, and Indians , only to be swiftly arrested by the Mexican authorities. That's where the Dead Man's Walk of the title comes in as the survivors are forced to march the Jornada del Muerto ("Dead Man's Walk") to El Paso, and many, Mexican and Texan alike, die along the journey.

The production standards are of the highest quality and even although this was made for the small screen it is best watched on a HD larges screen TV if you are to get the full effect of the great photography. One memorable scene in which the rangers have to hang over a cliff after the Comanche's set the prairie grasses on fire is seriously  spectacular. As are the many and varied battle scenes, but the most effective moments are all character driven. Each and every character here is fully flushed out and realized fully by the cast. On times the characters suffer incredible hardships which can be difficult to watch, but at all times there is a feeling of humanity running through the entire production. There are some great scenes between Tim Blake Nelson as the gormless Johnny and Ray McKinnon as Long Bill, and these are only two stand outs among a string of great turns.

Dead Man's Walk then is an epic western adventure that although coming from the small screen is as visually effective as any big screen oater.

Next up Comanche Moon.

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