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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Franchise Fallout - The Lonesome Dove saga part 4

Out of the entire Lonesome Dove saga, it is Return to Lonesome Dove that is the most problematic. It's a fine western in itself but it operates in an alternative universe to the regular Lonesome Dove universe. It's the only adventure not written by Larry McMurtry and takes place immediately following the events in Lonesome Dove but completely contradicts the official McMurtry saga closer, The Streets of Laredo. It chronologically follows Dead Man's Walk, Comanche Moon and Lonesome Dove. Return to Lonesome Dove is part of an alternate time-line that does not include Streets of Laredo. In this new time-line, it is followed by the TV show Lonesome Dove: The Series and Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. The latter two TV series are not included in our Lonesome Dove retrospective, but I wanted to include Return to Lonesome Dove as it is a part of the Lonesome Dove box set.

Jon Voight does a good job in the  role originally played by Tommy Lee Jones, but there's no escaping the fact that the script isn't as colourful as the original mini-series. It was nice to see the relationship of Clara and July developed which was in the original novel, but ignored in the Lonesome Dove mini series.

Captain Woodrow F. Call (Jon Voight), having just buried his friend Augustus McCrae near Lonesome Dove in Texas, plans to return to his ranch in Montana. In order to make the trip profitable he decides to take a herd of wild Mustangs and drive them north with the help of Gideon Walker (William Petersen) and Isom Pickett (Louis Gossett Jr.). Call sends word to Newt Dobbs (Rick Schroder) that he intends to meet him at the home of Clara Allen (Barbara Hershey) but Newt becomes involved in a bar fight that concludes with the death of two local men. Newt is to be hanged for the incident before he is rescued by a neighbour, Gregor Dunnigan (Oliver Reed). Newt is paroled into his custody and develops a close relationship with Gregor's young wife, Ferris Dunnigan (Reese Witherspoon).

The weak points are that this movie doesn't share the realism of Lonesome Dove, and many of the new characters are drawn from the oft-visited well of western stereotypes. It's also overly sentimental and too many of the newcomers merely seem like replacements from much loved characters we lost in the original mini-series. Lou Gossett plays Deets replacement, and William Paterson's character is a younger,smoother version of Gus - suffice to say neither of these actors are given the script to develop their characters in the way Deets and Gus were drawn in the original.

 Author Larry McMurtry wasn't at all happy with what the producers did to his vision, and it was this mini-series that prompted him to write The Streets of Laredo which was his novel and screenplay that more faithfully told the final story in the Lonesome Dove saga.

Though it's not all doom and gloom and Return to Lonesome Dove is a quality western even if it is sanitised for TV - this is 19th century America and not one character seems to partake in the dreaded tobacco leaf. This, for me, is a problem with TV shows set in bygone eras - the anti-tobacco lobby are so powerful and TV executives so scared of angering sponsors that small period details such as smoking are left out. It's not that important but when you see a saloon scene with no-one puffing on a pipe,cigar or ciggie it stands out and the scene becomes glaringly PC. I have no doubt that one day we'll have our cowboy heroes forsaking the whiskey and supping soda-pop -sugar free of course.

Jon Voight is exceptional even if the Call he plays here is a far more likable character that he has been in the McMurtry universe. Oliver Reed is another standout as the devious, Dunnigan.

Think of it as an alternative Lonesome Dove and you'll have a fine enough time with this one. It's a quality western mini-series, just not a patch on any of the proper instalments of McMurtry's masterpiece.

1 comment:

Oscar said...

Missed this. Will have to pick it up.