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Monday, 1 October 2012

Franchise Fallout - The Lonesome Dove saga part 3

Before I talk about the original Lonesome Dove TV mini-series I would just like to say that this is as about perfect a western as you can get. All of the sequels and prequels, as good as they were, can not hold a candle to this absolute classic of the genre. In fact many people claim this to be the best western ever made.

Lonesome Dove is where we were first introduced to the one time Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrea (Call and Gus) played respectively by Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall. The two men are firmly in their twilight years and where Gus is content to laze away his days, Cal hungers for the adventures the two men once shared. When Jake Spoon rides back into Lonesome Dove with stories of the riches to be made in Montana, Call decides to start off on an epic cattle drive to Montana - "Oh about twenty five hundred miles that way!"

Er Kenny Rogers(?) and Gus
The entire thing runs for 6 hours and so it gets to offer a story as big as the west itself - but it is for the characters that the show is so loved by so many people, myself included. There's something deeply involving in the friendship between Gus and Call, and both actors play their parts to perfection. Duvall gets the best screen time but then Gus is a  good natured, fun loving character and he seems to have much more heart than his partner, Call. Duvall is so good here that you can honestly say he has never played a better role- and this is an actor with several iconic movie roles behind him, but still he has never been better than he is here.

Tommy Lee Jones offers the prefect opposite as Call, but even although the character seems emotionless the actor does a great job in conveying the inner man beneath the necessarily hard surface with by playing the subtext in his eyes. It's another stunning performance and together Gus and Call may just be the best buddy/buddy combination we've ever seen on screen anywhere.

It had originally started off as a project for James Stewart, John Wayne and Henry Fonda before being adapted into the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by author Larry McMurtry, and in the mini-series Robert Ulrich plays the third lead, Jake Spoon who would have been played by Henry Fonda had the movie been made. And although it is an enticing thought to imagine the film with Wayne, Stewart and Fonda  it is perhaps the best thing that it never got made. No two hour movie could have truly done such a large story justice and the mini-series format was much more suitable. Ulrich though is perfect as Jake Spoon, a character who seems to be just as lazy as Gus, but far more spiteful and cowardly, nevertheless when he comes to his end,  friendships are sorely tested. Danny Glover is another important case member as the one time slave, Deets and Rick Schroeder plays Newt Dobbs, a 17-year-old whose mother was a prostitute named Maggie and whose father may be Call.

Original US broadcast attracted an estimated 26,000,000 homes, unusually high numbers for a Western at that time. The western genre was considered dead by most people, as was the miniseries. By the show's end, it had earned huge ratings and virtually revamped the entire 1989–1990 television season. A favorite with audiences, as well as critics, Lonesome Dove garnered many honors and awards. At the 1989 Emmy Awards, the miniseries had 18 nominations and seven wins, including one for director Simon Wincer. Another miniseries of significantly lower TV ratings and less critical acclaim, War and Remembrance, won the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries. Yet, Lonesome Dove found success later, when it won two Golden Globes, for Best Miniseries and Best Actor in a Miniseries (Robert Duvall).

We lost several characters during the epic story which is as much about death as it is life, but no matter how solemn things become there is a genuinely moving feeling of hope running through what is  basically a very dark story. Author Larry McMurtry has told interviewers that he is puzzled by the way so many people identified with what is anything but a feel good story. None of the characters truly get what they want out of life and theirs is a cruel and hard existence.

 Funny at times, brutal at others but never less than compelling. Lonesome Dove is a close on perfect adaptation of a perfect western novel. And needs to be seen by everyone and not just western fans.

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