The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

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. Apparently he is a singer.
 
Virginian as biker
 
The
Trampas is a Canadian in his only Western, Steve Bacic. He is a one-dimensional snarling
villain, almost comically so, but this may not be Mr. Bacic’s fault: the part
he has is poorly written.
 
Trampas
 
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.
 
Steve
 
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”. Judge 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.

 

5 Responses

  1. Trace Adkins is a very popular country music star in the U.S. Goodness sakes alive, I had no idea that he had ever starred in a movie.

  2. As mentioned above, Trace Adkins is a well-known country music performer, and this isn't his only movie. It's not usually a good sign when a western has country music folks as its stars, and your review of this film would seem to bear that out.

  3. I didn't realize that Mr. Adkins was a country singer. I'm afraid my country singers stop at Hank Williams. The only such singer I know of who was good in Westerns was Johnny Cash (see 'A Gunfight' with Kirk Douglas). I'm afraid I wouldn't even include Kris Kristofferson, really.
    Jeff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Labels