Lonesome Dove (1989)



Larry McMurtry, 1985

It is funny that Lonesome Dove should be the first entry into this marathon. Of course this whole marathon was sprouted by the idea of the Harry Potter Marathon, which has yet to conclude I remind you, and by how much fun that was reading the books and watching the movies. I had so much fun doing it that it rekindled my passion for reading. That being said, Lonesome Dove is the perfect book to start this marathon with for three reasons. One is that it is a monumental classic by reputation as a novel which won the Pulitzer Prize. Two is that it is a monumental classic in terms of mini-series, creating much buzz when it aired in 1989 starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. In addition I have grown very fond of Westerns and have been told that I would love this one. Three is that Lonesome Dove is the last book I purchased before getting my kindle. In that regard it seems kind of fitting that it should be first here.

So with that out of the way, let’s start the review. But first, a disclaimer. I began reading this book quite a few months ago. Probably before winter quarter began in January, but I cannot recall the exact date. But what I can say is that I read the first 273 pages and fell in love with all of the characters and their personalities and the setting created so wonderfully by McMurtry in the small border town of Lonesome Dove. As luck would have it, it would seem I got stopped up at the perfect break point, as when I picked it up again this past week for some nice spring break reading, I found myself at the point that the Hat Creek outfit was leaving Texas for the first ever cattle drive to Montana. So I would like to make it known that I read the last 600 pages of the book in the time span of a week, so my reading was not that choppy.

Like any other Western, I immediately fell in love with the setting, and even more, the settings, as the book takes place in so many. There are also so many characters that I was initially worried that I would get confused or it would go in too many directions. Of course each character mattered immensely to the wonderful story told by McMurtry, even if some were vastly more important than others. What was most remarkable is that each and every one of the characters seems real by the way McMurtry writes them. And what is even more remarkable is how simple his writing style is. He uses no big words or flowery presentation. It is straightforward perfect for the type of book he was writing.

It may be a long book, at over 800 pages long, but it is one that is well worth reading and something I will not soon forget. McMurtry is able to weave together a beautiful, heartbreaking, real, adventurous, love story about humans, settings and even animals. I have not read too many books in my day and I will not claim to be well read, having missed out on pretty much all of the “classics”, but this is one of the best pieces of literature that I have ever read, perhaps the single best. If the mini-series can live up to even half of how awesome the book was, I am in for a great four part event.



Simon Wincer, 1989

“Lonesone Dove” is a four part epic miniseries that if often credited with resurrecting the style. Based on the Larry McMurtry book, which was originally a screenplay set to star John Wayne as Capt. Call, Jimmy Stewart as Gus McCrae and Henry Fonda as Jake Spoon, “Lonesone Dove” is a majestic, romantic and exciting adventure. The story takes Call and McCrae, retired, and famous, Texas Rangers who have decided to try their hand as ranchers when they leave their little border town in Texas, called Lonesome Dove, and head north, all the way to Montana, in an attempt to capitalize on the open country.

What makes this “film” so strong is the characters it is about, and the performances by the actors that play them. The western is a genre that I love on basic premise. It is historical and adventurous. But in this western the characters, while being larger than life, also seem so familiar and so authentic, and I must attribute a lot of that to the writing of the characters and the story, but credit is also due to these remarkable actors. It all starts with Robert Duvall. Duvall has said that his portrayal of Augustus McCrae is the best performance of his career. While I have not seen everything he has done, I have seen a lot, and I am not so sure I could disagree with him. It is just a case of Robert Duvall actually being Gus McCrae. His delivery and characterization comes off so naturally and is a great thing to behold. On top of that, the character himself is arguably the most important and central character in the film. Tommy Lee Jones’ Capt. Call is also important, as it little Ricky Schroeder’s Newt and Diane Lane’s Lorena, but without McCrae, there is no story, not an interesting one anyway. The other actors I just mentioned are also quite good in their roles, as is Chris Cooper as Arkansas sheriff July Johnson. Apart from the “famous” actors, however, the performances are sub par and really contribute to the television feel of the film. True, it is a made for television production and that tv feel is to be expected, but it really becomes so much more obvious when the great actors, who make you forget its tv with their performances and their screen presence, are not present. This inconsistency is a bit distracting at times and generally takes away from the overall aesthetic of the film.

Simon Wincer and his collaborators do a great job of adapting McMurtry’s work for the television screen, for once I started rolling, I found myself unable to stop, watching it almost all the way through, start to finish, which is remarkable given its 384 minute length. Something must be said for mini series for it to have done this to me. That being said, it also did feel rushed, even being as long as it is. Overall, I did enjoy myself and the experience actually has piqued my interest in a few other mini series that I may want to seek out in the future. It is certainly an interesting concept to deliver a story and finds a way of giving more depth to a longer story than a movie, as well as being much more definite than a running television series.


After reading the great Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, my expectations were very high for a visual interpretation of the masterpiece I had just read. While I enjoyed the mini series directed by Simon Wincer, it cannot, will not, and never will be able to compare to reading the book. The fact that it was made into a mini series was a promising concept given how long the book is and just how much goes on. The mini series ran at 384 minutes, yet still failed to fully encapsulate all the things that made the book so special. I think working within the restrictions presented to the filmmakers, they did a great job and should not be slighted in any way. The mini series “Lonesome Dove” is a great experience and a great achievement when taken by itself, but when compared to its source, which is exactly the purpose of this post, it comes nowhere near measuring up.

What sets the book apart so much is its ability to set the scene and develop the characters in ways the mini series cannot. Despite the length of the mini series, there is still not enough time to show these men, and women, as they are in the book. There is just so much more depth to be explored in the book. There is just so much more setting to be explored in the book. Perhaps it is also one of those instances where the imagination can set the scene better than anything else will ever be capable of. That is the luxury of reading books, the imagination. The downfall of films adapted from other things is the fact that it is adapted. Rarely does something live up to its predecessor, though it is not impossible. That is just the nature of things and in this case, it doesn’t even really come that close, and I even was hooked by the mini series to watch it straight through and thoroughly enjoy myself. That is a testament to the original writing of Larry McMurtry. That is a testament to the greatness that is Lonesome Dove.

1 Comment

  1. Your summary is perfect, spot on..mini-series great, book even better. I have highly recommended it to a friend who has neither seen nor read it.


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