Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

1923 (Paramount +, 2022)

 

A big-budget romance

 

Like 1883, the Western series we reviewed recently (click the link for that), 1923 is another spin-off of the popular Yellowstone, created and often written and/or directed by Taylor Sheridan. It recounts the history of a different generation of the Dutton family in Montana.

 

 

It is less obviously ‘Western’ than 1883, and indeed much of the story concerns a white hunter in East Africa and his romance with an over-privileged rich English girl. There are in fact three stories woven in together, the East Africa one, one about an appallingly abusive religious school for Native American girls and the more classically Western ranch story about a looming range war, which, fortunately, is given greatest prominence.

 

To dispose of the Kenya/Tanganyika thread first, which I found pretty boring, we have macho Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar) who is a professional animal killer for hire, and a very beautiful but essentially spoiled and tiresomely giggly English aristo, Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), and their love affair. It is really little more than a Mills & Boon romance. Because of all the shenanigans back in Montana, Spencer is sent for but doesn’t read the letters for some unconvincing reason and when he finally does, all sorts of accidents frustrate his return. Presumably, in Season 2 Spencer will assume command of the Dutton clan and save the Yellowstone ranch, but not in this run.

 

 

It’s difficult to imagine that the priests and nuns entrusted with the education of American Indian children would be quite that wicked and cruel but terrible abuses certainly did occur at these establishments and this show makes the most of those. The principal goal of these clerics seems to have been to beat the ‘Indianness’ out of their charges, physically and with mental torture too, turning them into a suitably ‘white’ (and Christian, of course) underclass fit to be domestic servants. The chief character is fifteen-year-old Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves), who finally rebels against the vicious priest in charge of the school (Sebastian Roché) and two of the nuns, one who takes pleasure in beating her brutally (Jennifer Ehle) and the other who sexually assaults her (Kerry O’Malley). This part of the tale does have a satisfactory anti-clerical tone, which was good, but makes hard viewing.

 

 

The chief stars, though, are Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as the elderly Dutton rulers of Yellowstone, Jacob and Clara, who have to deal with a lowlife sheepherder – traditional enemy of the cattleman in Westerns, of course – Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn) and then, worse, with loathsome mining magnate Whitfield (Timothy Dalton) who is determined to drive out all the ranchers, including the Duttons, so that he can extract the mineral resources from the land in order to enrich himself and his dynasty.

 

Oldies’ romance in Montana

 

Mr Ford did a pretty good job, I thought, as the 78-year-old hard-as-nails rancher determined to protect his family heritage, and top-billed Ms Mirren, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for her role as The Queen in 2007, assuming a broad Irish accent, is strong, let’s say, as the matriarch.

 

Harrison’s still got it

 

Mirren being dramatic

 

There are assorted more junior Duttons and neighbors, all with their own romances and sub-plots of course. You never really identify with them or find them particularly sympathetic.

 

On the plus side, some of the Montana locations were fine, and beautifully shot by Ben Richardson, who was also writer and director of some episodes, and Corrin Hodgson (perhaps the South Africa locations, I’m not sure).

 

 

On the debit side of the ledger I found the music (Brian Tyler, Breton Vivian) turgid and dull, and often slushily romantic (though that was appropriate for much of the content).

 

Also not too hot was some of the writing, which was both anachronistic and clichéd. Dalton actually says at one point “I want the whole valley”. Some cowboys leave for California to appear in “the silent movies” (of course they weren’t called that; silent movies were the only kind there was). Shipwrecked Spencer gives his shirt to his fiancée and jokes that he is “gonna work on my tan”. The posh English girl says, “Like I said, I’m British.” And so on. Never mind, it’s not too glaring generally.

 

I can’t really recommend this show, I’m afraid.  It’s a big-budget romance. If that’s your thing, go ahead, but it isn’t mine. Sheridan’s contemporary crime shows like Mayor of Kingstown and Tulsa King are grittier and better, in my view.

 

The uses of Photoshop

 

 

13 Responses

  1. Regarding Yellowstone spin-offs, more to come with Yellowstone : 1932 and
    Yellowstone 6666, the latest starring Matthew McConaughey taking place in Texas when the Comanches were still roaming the llano estacado… Is Mr Sheridan willing to kill the golden goose !?

    1. Yes, it’s a profitable franchise alright. I might be interested in the Comanches one, as long as its not too ‘romantic’.

      1. Somebody with guts should do the Quanah Parker story. I think too many feathers would be ruffled if the Comanche were portrayed as hard as they really were.

        1. Chris, I agree, and I don’t see the true Quanah Parker story being made in today’s politically correct woke Hollywood. I don’t know if the Native American-owned film and TV studio, Camel Rock Studios of near Santa Fe, New Mexico would be interested in doing the true story, either.

    2. Jean-Marie, the YELLOWSTONE prequel 1923 is actually 1932 retitled and a second season is in the works. A 1944 is also in the works.

      Where did you get your information regarding the proposed series taking place in the days of the still roaming Comanches?

      It looks like to me that Taylor Sheridan is hitting while the iron is still hot. Will he burn out? Will the Golden Goose be killed? I think that we’ll just have to wait and see.

        1. Jean-Marie, thank you for the links, they are very helpful. From what I’ve read the 6666 series will be set in contemporary Texas, although they could have some flashbacks to 1870’s Texas. Only Taylor Sheridan knows. YELLOWSTONE had some flashbacks all the way back to 1893.

          No links to the antichrist, because the mark of the beast is 666 according to the New Testament book Revelations.

          The screenwriters strike has put a halt to the production of Sheridan’s tv series’, but I wouldn’t doubt if he’s using this down time to be writing up a storm.

          1. From Route 66 to 4 Sixes ranch or the Philadelphia Sixers, 6 is a magic number in America and travelling along route 666 in New Mexico from Gallup up to Colorado border aka Highway to Hell, is quite an experience but as Jeff will tell you, as far the western world is concerned the most western magic number is 7…

  2. Jeff, thanks for the good write-up on 1923. I haven’t viewed this Taylor Sheridan YELLOWSTONE prequel yet and I’m in no hurry, but I probably will eventually.

      1. I’ve watched the original ‘Yellowstone’ since the beginning. I like (it has Costner for crying out loud) but it can be soapy. I mean it would take the denizens of ‘Dallas’ and destroy them. I recommend ‘Yellowstone’ as a long hoot. I do wonder too if Sheridan will experience burnout.

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