It’s Deforest Kelley’s birthday and since I didn’t want a review of a Star Trek’s lackluster first attempt at filmdom to be the only thing to mark the occasion I’ll be looking at a western today too. Unfortunately it’s not a classic western just a remake of one.
This is a remake of the 1939 film directed by John Ford and starring the legendary John Wayne. It’s a made for TV movie starring Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash…yeah you can tell this isn’t going to be a lasting classic. Now to be fair that doesn’t make this a horrible movie, I would really call it a mixed bag. Since it’s not a cinema movie the budget is not as big so it doesn’t have the grandeur of Ford’s film, but I do like the opening song Willie sings and he does give a good performance as Doc Holiday. Although I don’t know why they changed the name of the character from the original or his profession; making him a dentist doesn’t really change anything outside of a few funny lines about delivering Mrs. Mallory’s baby. I also don’t know why they added the bit about him having consumption as that also doesn’t add anything to the story, and him going on about the Indians fighting for the land that was stolen from them was really preachy. Yes, obviously because this was made in the 80s when people were more socially aware of minorities it makes sense that they would make it a more two sided issue then the simple noble white guys and savage Indians that it was the original film. But there’s a way to be subtle with that kind of message, and yakking about manifest destiny and how noble Geronimo is to fight a battle he will surely lose is not the way to do it. Things like simply changing out the offensive Mexican character in the original with just a regular farming/ranching family and an army outpost worked far better I think.
They made changes to the other characters too like actually showing Mrs. Mallory is pregnant and having the other characters know this. On the one hand I like this because seeing a woman with a stomach flat as a board and wrapped in corset in the original film giving birth to a full term baby was eye rolling stupidity to me. On the other hand having everyone comment on the pregnancy like it’s no big deal breaks the authenticity of the time period this is supposed to be taking place in. The same is kind of true with the character of Dallas. I like that they made her more distinct from Mrs. Mallory in this version, with the deeper voice and the world weary outlook on life, and that she is leaving Tonto of her own choice; it makes her more pro-active and interesting. On the other hand I really liked the subtle indications of class structure in the 1939 film where when they get to Lordsburg Mrs. Mallory wants to offer to help to Dallas, but because of the way society works she knows she really can’t. Finally I like that the banker is actually given a reason for stealing the money and then skipping town with it, but once again the movie then ruins this by having everyone question the banker and having him be killed by the Indians in the final shoot out. If you’re just going to kill him off in the end why have anyone be suspicious of him at all? It’s a plot thread that is ultimately pointless.
What’s not pointless though is the big chase scene at the end of the film. Again while it obviously isn’t as big as Ford’s was I still think it was very well done. I especially liked seeing the US Marshall going down to get the reins of the horse and getting shot, it looked really good. I also liked that with the arrival of the Calvary we see a medical wagon as opposed to letting all the injured people just stay on the stagecoach until they reach the end of the line.
So, on the whole I have to say that I enjoyed this movie. Is it as good as the original? No, but it’s still fun to watch. Nobody does a bad job of the acting. Some of the updates are interesting, some of the updates are stupid, but I don’t think that detracts from the overall movie enough to call it bad. For having a TV budget they did well with the costumes and sets. I think they even used one of the areas the old TV westerns used to shoot in; one of the outcrops looked familiar. It certainly wasn’t a perfect film or deep, but I liked it anyway.