"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Last Outpost (Paramount, 1951)

Clunky Civil War drama

The Last Outpost, re-released later as Cavalry Charge, is an implausible Civil War story starring Ronald Reagan and Rhonda Fleming. It has its saving graces, such as Loyal Griggs photography in Technicolor of Arizona locations around Old Tucson (dust and saguaros). Griggs of course won an Oscar for the cinematography in Shane in ’53 and he was a real artist.

Popular at the time but a dud really

But the acting, writing and direction are pretty clunky, I fear. Only Noah Beery Jr. as a Confederate sergeant is good. Fleming, who was female lead in Gunfight at the OK Corral and Alias Jesse James, could be electric, but she isn’t here, probably because of the script. Poor old Ron was never any good and while he was certainly more fluid than a block of wood, it was a close run thing.  The rest of the casting was pretty bland.

Rubens would have admired the religious composition of this picture, The Death of Noah. He had died in similar circumstances the year before in Two Flags West, but there was one big difference: that was a good film.

The producers of the movie were William H Pine and William C Thomas, known in the industry as ‘The Dollar Bills’ because they made movies so quickly and efficiently that they seldom lost money. This was their most expensive production to date but was also their biggest box-office success.

The film was directed by Lewis R Foster. Foster was a workaday B Western and TV western director. He did several of John Payne’s oaters, The Eagle and the Hawk, Passage West and The Vanquished. He got pace into his films anyway, though little in the way of subtlety, I fear.

Ron 'n' Rhonda

It was written by a bunch of people. George Worthing Yates, Winston Miller and Daniel Mainwaring are all credited with working up the screenplay from a David Lang story. But they came up with an improbable tale which ends with Rebels and Yankees joining forces against the Apaches. That idea was used in Two Flags West and Escape from Fort Bravo but they were good films. 

Southern Arizona, saguaros and dust

At one point Reagan switches uniforms, from gray to blue, and goes to visit Apache chiefs, talking to Mangas Coloradas and Cochise (Iron Eyes Cody and Chief Yowlachie). Meanwhile, Geronimo is a prisoner at Fort Point, having been captured after attacking a wagon train. If he is not released, Mangas and Cochise will declare war, which they do. Victorio‘s there too. It’s as if the writers got together and said how many Apache chiefs can we name? We’ll bung ‘em all in.

I recognized Burt Mustin as the marshal, a bit part. This was his first Western.

Marshal Mustin

There are very obvious tire tracks visible during the final charge.

Tire tracks

Reagan has a very fancy ride and Eastern saddle. He insisted on using his own mare, which he had sent out by railroad. He was a keen horse breeder and did ride well, in an English sort of way.

Although a money-maker at the time, The Last Outpost has not lasted well and today remains eminently missable. It just scrapes to two-revolvers for the photography and Noah.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Two Flags West (Fox, 1950)

A powerful Western, very well directed, photographed and acted

Two Flags West is an outstandingly good film, probably Joseph Cotten’s best Western performance and with Linda Darnell also very fine.

It was directed by talented Robert Wise, the editor of Citizen Kane who went on to win Oscars for the direction of The Sound of Music (but I excuse him and will pretend he didn’t make that appalling film) and the great West Side Story.  Sadly, he only directed three Westerns, two of them superb (this one and Blood on the Moon). He had a real eye and a real feel for the West, judging by the Joseph Cotten and Robert Mitchum pictures. What a pity he didn't make more.

It’s a cavalry Western and comes from a story by Frank S Nugent who did all three pictures of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy as well as several of Ford’s later films too, notably The Searchers, for which he wrote the screenplay from the Alan LeMay novel. The Nugent story was worked into a screenplay by Casey Robinson, not a Western specialist but clearly very able. Cavalry Westerns were all the rage at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s: Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, Ambush (review coming soon), others.

Cavalry Western

The story is about the ‘Galvanized Yankees’, Confederate prisoners of war who fought Indians on the frontier under the command of Union officers. There is a basis of historical truth in this (not that the story of Two Flags West claims to be true). Between January 1864 and November 1866 about 5600 Confederate soldiers put on the Union blue. Of the ones who served on the frontier, most were in Minnesota where there were serious Indian troubles but some did go as far south as Fort Union in New Mexico.


The idea of Confederates fightling alongside Union troops was used again later, notably in the very good John Sturges-directed Escape from Fort Bravo in 1953. In 1968 Two Flags West was remade by Sam Peckinpah as Major Dundee - or shall we say Major Dundee could be seen as variations on a theme of Two Flags West. Dundee was not Peckinpah’s best work and Heston and Harris were certainly not as good as Chandler and Cotten. Two Flags is in fact superior to both pictures.

Winter 1864. We see a prison camp in Rock Island, Illinois. CSA Col. Clay Tucker (Cotten), Sergeant Pickens – I hope he was named for Slim (Arthur Hunnicutt), Corporal Davis (Noah Beery Jr.) and the rest of the depressed men are visited by Union Capt. Mark Bradford (Cornel Wilde, who only did three Westerns, all in the early 1950s, and is quite good in this one), who offers them open air, food, a horse and forty cents a day to fight Indians out West. The men vote but the decision is tied. With his casting vote, Col. Tucker says they will go.

Capt. Cornel Wilde

The scene shifts to Fort Thorn, NMT. The post commander is a rigid, Colonel Thursday-ish martinet played by Jeff Chandler in one of his first roles. Chandler was often a Union soldier in Westerns (when he wasn’t Cochise) and was always very good. He was in fourteen oaters before his tragically early death, and I especially like his performances in Broken Arrow and Pillars of the Sky. He was 6 foot 4 inches (1.93 m) and with his iron-gray hair looked impressive. Brooklyn born and raised, he was nevertheless totally convincing as a tough Westerner. In Two Flags he plays a very interesting character – and the character develops throughout the movie. He is ambitious but sidelined to a Western posting after a wound. He hates Indians as much as he does Rebels. He is bitter, grieving for his killed brother and secretly in love with his brother’s widow. He descends into a rage of hatred but ends with a noble self-sacrifice. It’s an excellently written part and a first class performance.

Chandler. Very good.

It is said that even when he was not needed on the set, Chandler came often just to watch Joseph Cotten before the cameras, and learn.

Joseph Cotten was a good friend of Orson Welles and is probably best remembered for the parts he played in Citizen Kane and The Third Man. He was a fine actor. From his first Western starring role in Duel in the Sun in 1946, he played in nine oaters altogether. Two Flags West was only his second but, in my view, his best. As a man he is bitter at what he has lost (for he knows the war is drawing to its conclusion) and his Southern-gentleman behavior (and as a Virginian he was able to carry this off) is cynical and mocking. He laughs at Linda Darnell’s character, Elena Kenniston, and in a subtle and clever performance he is self-mocking too. As a commander, however, he is in deadly earnest. He struggles to do what is right and what is best, for the cause but above all for his men. He is faced with an agonizing dilemma as to whether to desert and ride for Texas or go back to save the people in the Yankee fort from massacre. The writing, direction and acting as he ponders this problem are of very high quality. It’s a bravura effort, and worth watching the movie for Cotten alone.

O, I wish I was in the land of Cotten...

With the working title The Yankee from Georgia, the film had first been slated for Victor Mature but in the event it was fortunate that Cotten got the part.

Noah Beery Jr. (he was just calling himself Noah Beery these days) was always very good indeed, in that Ben Johnson/Harry Carey Jr./Slim Pickens class of true Westerner character actors who always brought authenticity and magic to their roles and always elevated even an average picture to something better because of their presence. Curiously, he was to play an almost identical part the following year, as a Reb sergeant (he’d obviously been promoted in the meantime) who dons a Union uniform and ends up fighting alongside Yankees, in The Last Outpost. The Last Outpost wasn’t a patch on Two Flags West, not even in the same league, but Noah was equally good in both.

The death of Noah

Arthur Hunnicutt made the part of wisecracking scout and, later, cranky old-timer, his own. I always smile when I see his name in the titles. Here he is again very good as the Confederate sergeant whose defeat and gloomy captivity have not really dented either his sense of humor or his spirit. Another first class performance.

Hunnicutt. Fine.

As if these weren’t enough, we have good old Jay C Flippen as the (real) Union Sgt. Duey, old, grizzled and tough (I think he was born like that) and Dale Robertson, in only his second Western, in a small part as a Confederate trooper.

Dale's second Western
There’s some quite good badinage between the Yanks and the Rebs, especially when Sgt. Hunnicutt is riding with Sgt. Flippen. There’s also a scene of ‘competitive singing’ √† la Michael Curtiz (see Dodge City,1939 and Casablanca, 1942; Casey Robinson worked a lot with Curtiz). But the overall mood of the Confederates is consonant with their situation and Wise drew a somber, low-key performance from the troopers.

Sergeants Two

It really is an excellent cast.
If you have seen Linda Darnell only in My Darling Clementine you could be forgiven for thinking that she was a poor actress. You’d be wrong, though. John Ford and his writers tried, in that movie, to make her into a sub-Jane Russell Mexican vamp and it was a failure. But before Clementine she had co-starred at Fox with Tyrone Power on two Westerns (or semi-Westerns anyway), The Mark of Zorro and Brigham Young, and was third-billed as ‘the other woman’ with Maureen O’Hara in the Joel McCrea Buffalo Bill. In all of these she did an excellent job. Two Flags was her fifth oater and possibly her very best. Later, before her tragically early death in a house fire, she was in a couple of lesser Westerns, such as Dakota Incident (in which she was also very fine) and some Western TV shows.

Linda Darnell. Her best Western performance?

In Two Flags West she plays Elena, a Californian lady, widowed in the war and staying with her brother-in-law, the commandant of the post, Major Kenniston (Chandler). Nearly all the officers set their caps at her but she remains aloof. Texas-born Darnell is very convincing: she spoke good Spanish and, when required, looked quite Mexican. With this Spanish look and conveying great dignity, she almost comes across as a sort of Katy Jurado (praise indeed). The director and writer handle her identity cleverly, leading Tucker (and us) at first to believe that she is the Major’s wife and only then revealing that she is his sister-in-law. Anyway, Darnell is absolutely excellent in this film.

Almost Jurado

The Indian enemy are the Kiowas of Satank. You probably know that Set-angya or Set-ankeah, often translated as Sitting Bear (c 1800 – 71), raided wagon trains, settlements and even Army outposts, though he never attacked Fort Thorn as in the movie. There was a skirmish at the fort, between Union Soldiers and men of the Confederate Sibley expedition, on September 26th, 1861, but no frontal attack by Indians. In the film, a half-crazed Chandler kills Satank’s son and sends his body back over a horse, which leads Satank to besiege, then assault the fort with twelve to fifteen hundred men.

The real Satank, left. Sadly uncredited actor as Satank, right.

Two Flags West is very fine visually, shot in New Mexico by Leon Shamroy (The Bravados, Buffalo Bill) in a beautiful, luminous black & white. Shamroy and Wise put together some stunning shots.

Fine photography

You should definitely try it.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Dakota Incident (Republic, 1956)

Rather good

In 1956 fame as Jim Hardie had yet to come to Dale Robertson (Tales of Wells Fargo started on NBC in March 1957) but he was nevertheless a seasoned Western performer. He had appeared in five Western movies after World War II as well as a Death Valley Days episode before his first Western lead, the Delmer Daves-directed Return of the Texan in 1952. There followed seven leading roles in oaters, including The Outcasts of Poker Flat, Sitting Bull and The Gambler from Natchez, before in 1956 he starred in the color Republic picture Dakota Incident.

Shot on location in Republic’s Trucolor process in Red Rock Canyon State Park, with Ernest Haller (who did the Anthony Mann picture Man of the West with Gary Cooper) behind the lens, the movie looks good, and comes across as superior to the average run-of-the-mill Republic B Western.


But its best feature is the writing. Frederick Louis Fox did the screenplay and it is thoughtful, contains some excellent lines and develops character in a way we are not used to in B Westerns. Fox had only contributed to the writing of one other Western before this (Overland Pacific, an Edward Small/United Artists B with Jock Mahoney) and later he did mostly TV work but the script of Dakota Incident is very good. It has an authentic Western twang to it and is sometimes quite funny too. I liked it when Dale buys a horse and the liveryman asks forty dollars. Dale offers two ten dollar bills and the liveryman accepts, adding “I woulda sold it for ten”. Dale keeps one of the ten-dollar bills back and says, “You just did.” On the stage, Regis Toomey is asked where he is from and says that he has lived and traveled all over. “I’m the from-est man you ever did see.”

The film was directed by multi-talented Lewis R Foster who had directed quite a few John Payne Westerns and later did a lot of TV work, including several Tales of Wells Fargo episodes.

There’s a good cast. Top-billed Linda Farnell is Amy Clarke, some kind of singer or actress (it is never specified) and it was her best Western role. She had been faintly ridiculous, over-made-up, over-the-top and trying to be Jane Russell, as the Mexican Chihuahua in My Darling Clementine (probably John Ford’s fault along with writers Engel and Miller) but she had been female lead twice with Tyrone Power at Fox, in The Mark of Zorro and Brigham Young, and second to Maureen O’Hara when Joel McCrea was Buffalo Bill, so she was used to big roles in Westerns. She was superb in Two Flags West. In this picture she is beautiful, slightly world-weary, feisty, and she acts with power.


Early on we are shown a derringer in Amy’s purse but it never appears again, sadly, and I don’t know why it was there. Maybe to show that she was capable of using firearms if the need arose.


Robertson was a surprise. In early Westerns he was only just the right side of wooden. He came across as rather stiff and formal, though good as tough guy. In this film, though, he is a charming rogue and he loosens up noticeably, often smiling, if cynically, and coming out with the occasional wisecrack. He’s still tough, though. It’s a good performance.


The couple are well supported by character actors. Ward Bond is a senator on a fact-finding trip out West. You can hear his booming voice well before he actually appears! At first rather stiff (but that’s his part: he’s supposed to be a blowhard politician), he softens as the movie progresses and in fact talks good sense throughout – but the other characters think him a fool for preaching peace with the Indians. In the end he acts with courage and self-sacrifice and is finally, posthumously, proved right. It was in fact a rather moving performance and an unexpected one – Ward Bond didn’t normally play liberal pacifists. The message delivered by the script is slightly heavy-handed, I suppose, but even in post-Broken Arrow days it was not usual for mid-50s B Westerns, and worthy of praise.


Regis Toomey is Amy Clarke’s ferociously loyal sidekick and musical accompanist, Minstrel, in a role that reminds us of Hoagy Carmichael in Canyon Passage. It’s well done. 

John Lund is also good as ‘Hamilton’, really Carter, a man wanted for a bank robbery that Dale committed and determined to bring the real culprit back to clear his name.


Early in the film John Doucette and perennial punk kid Skip Homeier play the badmen who double-cross Dale - in fact shoot him in the back – to share the bank loot two ways instead of three.

It doesn’t do them much good, not when Dale proves to have been only playing dead and then catches up with them in the town of Christian’s Flat, which, the sign says, is “a peaceful town”.


The middle part of the movie is a stagecoach drama, as Dale and Lund act as temporary (very temporary) driver and shotgun messenger of the ‘Mile High Stageline’ coach, on a dangerous run through Indian territory to Laramie, with Amy, Minstrel, the senator and another man inside. But there isn’t too much psychological interplay between the stage passengers and the movie more resembles the later Hombre than the earlier Stagecoach in that the stage part, while well done, is only an interlude. Really, the film becomes a siege story, as Indians attack and burn the coach and the six characters are holed up in a dry wash under a burning sun with no water, and a band of Cheyenne doing its utmost to kill them. The story was done again in 1958 in another B Western, Apache Territory and was far from a new one. Siege tales, if well written and directed, allow good character development as ‘bad’ people show good qualities and often vice versa. Dale had done something similar in ’52 in The Outcasts of Poker Flat.

It turns out that there are only eight Indians (though the besieged don’t know that) and there are six white people. Members of both parties are picked off so the odds vary. Dale & Co get three out of the eight in the first attack but then, one by one, three of the whites are killed.

The ending is a little odd as water appears from nowhere, without explanation beyond the fact that “the big man” (God, presumably) sent it. And there’s an irony in that after almost dying of thirst, Dale nearly kills the last Indian by drowning.

The original music is rather odd. We have swirling romantic cadences at the start under galloping desperate men, escaping bank robbers. It doesn’t fit at all. It was by one R Dale Butts, who wrote for no fewer than 152 B movie and TV Westerns.

I don’t want to overdo this; Dakota Incident is no great Western. But it is much better than many and definitely worth a watch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Man from Button Willow (United Screen Arts, 1965)

A bit of a yawn

Not, I fear, Dale Robertson’s finest hour, this is an overlong cartoon Western which would have appealed in the mid-1960s to those perhaps between five and ten years of age but no one else, really.

Dale introduces it in the flesh – well, on celluloid in the flesh – and tells us that it is a story about evil men buying up land on the route of the trans-continental railroads and selling it to the government for a profit. This is apparently a heinous crime and very unpatriotic.

Desperately trying to boost sales of a dud

But actually, it only has such a plot peripherally. Mostly it’s set in Dale’s very palatial farm, Eagle’s Nest, where the anthropomorphic cartoon animals have adventures.

About the best of the animals

Only at the end of the 81-minute picture does Dale become a secret agent and foil the wicked scheme by rescuing a senator from a ship in San Francisco Bay. Or something.

Secret agent Dale gets his orders from mysterious man in black

There are childish sub-Disney songs, including one apparently sung by Dale. He is co-credited with the music too.

Dale on Rebel

The whole thing is full of stereotypes.

The only good thing about it is that he has an old-timer sidekick/factotum, Sorry, and Sorry is voiced by Edgar Buchanan.

Old-timer Sorry (Edgar Buchanan)

Skip it, Western fans. You have missed nothing. I think even your five-year-old kids (or grandchildren) will be bored.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Buffalo Bill and His Wild West by Joseph G Rosa and Robin May

The fact behind the myth

Searching for a neutral and definitive biography of Buffalo Bill, preferably with no revisionist slant or other agenda, on the advice of reader Bob Madison and also that of Joseph G Rosa, I ordered The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill by Don Russell (University of Oklahoma Press, 1960) from amazon. While waiting for it to come (and amazon seems noticeably slower these days) I found on my shelves a forgotten treasure. I usually write on the flyleaf of books I buy when and where I purchased them and I see that on August 13th, 2005 I was at Lookout Mountain, Colorado, Bill’s final resting place, and in the store there bought a copy of Buffalo Bill and His Wild West: A Pictorial Biography by Joseph G Rosa and Robin May (University Press of Kansas, 1989).


I have just read it (I don’t know how it got overlooked on the shelves) and I must say it is extremely good. Mr. Rosa is of course the great authority on James Butler Hickok (1837 – 1876) but he has made excellent excursions from the world of Wild Billery before - such as The Gunfighter: Man or Myth? (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1969). And Hickok’s path crossed that of Cody several times. There is a suggestion that Cody tried to emulate the slightly older Hickok in certain ways. It seems only proper that Rosa write about Buffalo Bill, and his co-author Robin May has also written before on the history of the West, alone and in conjunction with Rosa.

Hickok and Cody

Buffalo Bill and His Wild West is divided into five chapters: The Making of a Plainsman, about his youth and life on the frontier; The Wild West, about the early days of the Wild West show; The Conquest of England, about Bill’s tours to the UK; International Triumphs and an Indian Tragedy, about the further growth and travels of the show; and Old Scouts Never Die, about the declining last years.

I especially enjoyed the first chapter. It is very hard to get at the truth of Buffalo Bill’s youth and career on the plains. The dime novels about his life by Ned Buntline and others may be safely discounted as historical fact. Many writers have used his autobiography and various reminiscences as a source. This is probably a mistake, however, for four reasons: he had a very bad memory for dates; he loved tall stories and was very prone to exaggeration; he was hard-drinking man and such men are not always totally reliable in what they say; and he was a showman in later life and he made it his business (literally) to play up his exploits. I do not mean by this that he was a braggart and a liar. He comes across as sympathetic, he had many excellent qualities and he certainly did remarkable things as a scout. There is no doubt about that. But there was at times, especially later on, just a little something of the mountebank about him. That’s the impression I get, anyway.

What a poseur. But he was entitled.

It appears, for example, from Rosa & May’s book, and they are convincing, that despite what Bill often said and many writers have taken as gospel, Bill was never a Pony Express rider. In 1857, aged 11, Bill rode for three months for Russell, Majors & Waddell as a messenger boy. Perhaps in the way that tales get magnified over the years in the retelling, this grew into his being a regular Pony Express rider, outperforming all the other riders, naturally.

He was always something of a ladies' man...

But it doesn’t matter: take Bill with a pinch of salt, for what he was, warts and all, and admire him as a great figure of the West, a loving father, a charismatic man and deserving of enormous credit for popularizing both the history and the myth of the Wild West. So many features of Western ‘culture’ and conventions of the cowboy film date from Bill’s show. Rosa and May’s closing words are, “We are forever in his debt.”

The book truly is a pictorial biography and one of the excellent features of it is the selection of photographs and other images. There are of course the classic ones we all know, such as Cody posing with Sitting Bull, but there are also some which I had never seen before and which are absolutely fascinating. Though the text is excellent, I recommend this book for the illustrations alone. Some of the selected images come from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY, the town he helped found, but Rosa & May’s research has thrown up many more. Some come from their own private collections.

In another age this would have been a portrait by Van Dyck or Franz Hals. What a distinguished old gentleman he was.

Well, I’ll be back with more Buffalo Billery, doubtless, when amazon finally get their act together and the Russell arrives. Till then, e-pards, happy trails!


An 1887 poster of distinguished visitors to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The names aren't too clear (sorry) but outer figures, clockwise, starting at noon: King of Sweden, King of Greece, General Lord Wolseley, John Bright MP, WE Gladstone, HRH Prince of Wales, King of the Belgians. Smaller figures, below Buffalo Bill, l to r: King of Saxony, King of Denmark.
(Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY. Photo by Jim Steinhart © 2011).


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Virginian (Nasser Group, North, 2014)

The Virginian rides yet again, straight to video

It is inevitable that any great Western story will be remade in different versions as time goes on. That’s perfectly legitimate, just as new versions of Shakespeare’s plays or Verdi’s operas are often staged. We have a right to rethink these works, reinterpret them, perform them in modern dress and so on, especially if by doing so the works say something new or important for the current age. I’m not sure, though, that it is acceptable to rework a classic piece (and The Virginian is indeed a classic piece for Western lovers) to the point where the endings change, the book’s heroes become the villains and, worse, the film is not true to the spirit of the book.

Earlier this year a Canadian straight-to-video version of The Virginian came out, a hundred years after the 1914 silent directed by Cecil B DeMille and starring Dustin Farnum, which was followed by the remake in 1923 directed by Tom Forman and starring Kenneth Harlan, the 1929 talkie with Gary Cooper directed by Victor Fleming (by far the greatest treatment), the color remake in 1946 directed by Stuart Gilmore and starring Joel McCrea as the Virginian, and a TV movie of 2000 directed by and starring Bill Pullman. That’s a lot of Virginians and a lot of Trampases. We exclude the TV series The Virginian (1962 – 70) which used the names of some of the characters but bore no other relation to the book.

No it isn't

The new video one was directed by Thomas Makowski and written by Bob Thielke. I don’t know anything about these people. It stars an American, Trace Adkins, as the Virginian, another I’m afraid I don’t recognize – maybe you do. He was in the 2012 video Western Wyatt Earp’s Revenge. He’s from Louisiana and has some southern credentials, I guess, but he looks odd in his long hair and rather, ahem, imposing figure. To me he looks like a biker. We always imagine the Virginian as tall and rangy, skinny even, but I suppose that’s the Gary Cooper Virginian talking. He has a growly voice and tries to be a tough Westerner. He’s OK, I guess.

Virginian as biker

The Trampas is a Canadian in his only Western, Steve Bacic. He is a 2D snarling villain, almost comically so, but this may not be Mr. Bacic’s fault: the part he has is poorly written.


The Molly is Victoria Pratt, a Canadian. She seems to have been in a lot of things but she looks far too ‘now’ to be convincing as a schoolma’am in late 19th century Wyoming and her diction is, too. She takes part in the silly ending by emulating Grace Kelly in High Noon.

Molly and Owen

Someone named John Novak is Steve and is duly lynched, after writing a very long letter instead of the brief note scrawled on a newspaper. First he is shot and captured by Owen. The narrator is named ‘Owen Walton’ (Brendan Perry) and plays a key part in the action, shooting people, being shot and so forth. He buries his book in a grave at the end, in an odd scene, so perhaps we are supposed to imagine that The Virginian by Owen Wister was not the true version of the story.


Judge Henry (the highest profile actor, Ron Perlman, Josiah Sanchez in The Magnificent Seven TV series) is an evil big rancher trying to stamp out the small homesteaders.

Evil Judge Henry

All the actors are obviously wearing costumes. No one seems convincing in the clothes of the period concerned.

Some of the locations are pretty. It was shot in British Columbia by Malaysian C Kim Miles, his only Western.

There’s a crooked lawman, Sheriff Broyles (George Canyon) who is duly dispatched (by Owen).

Owen: "I shot the sheriff..."

The Virginian dislikes being called that. He is given a real name, Jefferson Fuller, but most people call him South.

In the famous saloon scene Trampas calls the Virginian “bastard” rather than a son of anything and it doesn’t sound right at all.

But the worst thing really is that the Virginian abandons the ‘code’ of the West, telling Owen that it was only there “to protect the Judge Henrys of the world”. He repents of hanging Steve (“He needed help and I killed him”) and adds “I hate Wyoming”. Henry pays Trampas to kill the Virginian.

I just don’t know what was gained by all this monkeying with the plot and the spirit of the book. Not much, I fear, for the film really isn’t very good.