DVD Review: The Louis L'Amour Western Collection -- The Sacketts (1979); Conagher (1991); Catlow (1971)

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The Sacketts (1979)

Based upon a duo of novels centering on Louis L’Amour’s beloved Sackett family tree, this nicely preserved, solid miniseries introduces us to the three very different Tennessee brothers who set out upon their fiercely independent paths to make their fortunes, only to find themselves by one another’s side whether it’s during a gunfight or a long night driving cattle.

After the brutal Higgins clan fatally shoots the new bride of Orrin Sackett (Tom Selleck) on his wedding day before Orrin’s quick-draw brother Tyrel (Jeff Osterhage) saves his neck, the two decide to head west in the footsteps of their gold prospecting miner brother Tell (Sam Elliott).

Herding cattle on the way, soon the three cross paths as eventually they settle in 1860s Santa Fe, New Mexico, making waves among the locals when Tyrel falls for a beautiful Mexican woman and the Sacketts take the side of the locals against the prejudiced masses, which makes the work even timelier today in light of the immigration debate and new border law.

Filled with rich western scenery and subplots runneth over, the two part miniseries is easily the standout in this author themed collection from Warner Brothers and it’s an easily compelling and compulsively watchable adaptation, even though there are enough time and logic gaps that threaten to intellectually pull you out of the viewing experience. Still, in culling from the richness of L’Amour’s literary landscape, The Sacketts is a tough work to beat.

Conagher (1991)

Enviously capable of balancing out his rugged side with a sensitive note here or there, nobody calls themselves a “sodbuster,” “cowpuncher” or “saddle bum” quite like actor Sam Elliott.

In Conagher, the newest of the three titles that was originally made for TNT in 1991 and co-written by stars Elliott and Katharine Ross, Elliott plays “a right peace-loving man,” named Conn Conagher who falls in love with Ross’s widowed rancher Mrs. Teale.

After venturing from Missouri to go into the cattle business, Ross suffers an unbelievable hardship when her husband disappears and dies on the journey to create a livelihood for his wife and two children from his first marriage.

Left in the middle of nowhere with a stepson and daughter who miss their mother, Ross does the best she can serving food to patrons on the local stagecoach until the official station is built and taking up arms against the Apache when fired upon in a horrific blaze of gunfire.

Vowing to only marry again if it is for love, Mrs. Teale finds herself drawn to the loyal Conagher who takes her stepson under his wing in giving them advice and soon begins going out of his way to visit the Teales until he realizes – later than one would assume – just how much he cares for the matriarch.

A harsher western than the brightly colored Sacketts but one that’s sure to appeal to an older audience given the age of the characters and maturity in handling the romantic relationship which always takes a backseat to “sodbusting,” Conagher makes a fine companion piece to the miniseries in a film that’s far superior to the wacky western adaptation of Catlow.

Orig. Published June 1, 2009

I'm not sure if Yul Brynner had a deal going with the American Dental Association or he was hoping to become the new face for a toothpaste campaign but throughout Sam Wanamaker's jokey western Catlow, the actor-- perhaps most famous for playing the king to Deborah Kerr's "I" in The King and I-- smiles enough to make even Pollyanna suspicious.

Based on a best-selling Louis L'Amour novel, this comedic tale set in the wide open spaces of America's west finds Brynner's Catlow pursued by basically everyone with whom he crosses paths. The crowded list includes angry cattle owners whose wandering livestock he and his posse branded and took for their own, Mexican Federales, a beautiful but ultimately obnoxious girlfriend (Daliah Law), an Indian war party, hired gun Leonard Nimoy (yep, minus the ears and "Live Long and Prosper"), and Marshall Ben Cowan (Richard Crenna).

While he always manages to maneuver out of every situation in a way reminiscent of the big screen Mel Gibson, James Garner, and Jodie Foster version of Maverick, Catlow's biggest challenge is from the tough but fair-minded marshal who is not only the local lawman but also Catlow's best friend with whom he'd served in the war.

Determined to avoid capture (or just at least anyway) until he can make his way down to Mexico to score millions worth of gold-- the film's good-natured, easy-going banter between Catlow and Cowan helps speed the unchallenging, fun, and if ultimately unforgettable movie along.

Featuring one of the creepiest displays of "going commando" since Dennis Franz took it all off in NYPD Blue, Leonard Nimoy's Dr. Spock--er, I mean his Catlow character Miller-- dares to bare all by bursting out of the bath in his birthday suit for a pre-Borat session of man-on-man full contact fighting as he and Brynner slug it out.

While I think most viewers could've done without the naked Nimoy sequence which will never make you think of him as just Jim Kirk's pointy-eared, logical Star Trek sidekick anymore, and the film doesn't offer anything new in its standard and straightforward take on the western sub-genre of the western comedy-- L'Amour fans, western enthusiasts, and those intrigued by the actors should get a kick out of it.

To ensure its tone as simply lighthearted, the screenwriters and director repeat jokes a la Butch Cassidy as Crenna routinely manages to arrest his friend (including from the opener which finds him passing out wounded while in the process of doing just that) only for Catlow to conveniently sneak out of custody, grinning like an overgrown child every time.

And while it's nowhere near the same level of quality as Brynner's best western (um, no motel endorsement implied) effort The Magnificent Seven, it's a pleasant enough out-of-the-blue discovery making its debut on DVD from Warner Brothers thirty-eight years after it premiered on the big screen.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.