An OK TV movie
First screened as A Gunfighter’s Pledge by the Hallmark TV channel, then released on DVD under its working title The Pledge (maybe they wanted some reflected glory from the 2001 Sean Penn-directed crime drama of that name), this is still basically a fairly bland TV movie with little original to say.
Still, these pictures are probably no worse than the B-Westerns of our youth (if like me you are old enough). They are churned out to a formula, yes, but well, they are still making Westerns after all, and the cast and crew do their best.
This one stars the late Luke Perry, not an actor I know well but I understand he was very popular with teenage girls. He did a few Westerns, some of which we have reviewed (Johnson County War, Goodnight for Justice, the TV remake of Angel and the Badman) and he is OK in The Pledge, I guess, in a straight-man kind of way. He is Matt Austin, a tough lawman who wants out of the game to settle down with his wife and son on their ranch but who is forced to strap on the six-gun again when a very bad man kills said spouse and offspring. So naughty.
The villain, Tate, was the best thing about the picture, though, and was played by probably the best actor on the set (though his part as written was pretty one-dimensional) Kim Coates, who will forever be (for me) Butler, the nasty gunman in Open Range shot by Kevin Costner, though I remember him well too as Tig Trager in Sons of Anarchy. Tate is really not a nice man, what with murdering women and children and all. He will of course get his just deserts in a one-in-one showdown in the last reel (not that these TV movies have reels).
The writer by the way was Jim Byrnes, who has been penning pictures since 1958 and worked on The Sacketts and Wild Times (see our reviews in the index) as well as 16 Western TV movies (The Shadow Riders, those Kenny Rogers The Gambler movies, etc) and 110 episodes of nine different Western TV shows, so he is pretty experienced in the genre.
The picture was directed by another old hand, Armand Mastroianni, who has been helming TV shows and movies and some features since the late 70s, though this is his only Western, poor soul.
The plot is the tried-and-tested one of the ruthless rich man, Horn (C Thomas Howell, obviously a bad guy because of is thin mustache) who wants the whole valley.
Horn has a crooked sheriff (Francesco Quinn) in his pocket, as well as hired gunmen, notably Tate, to drive decent hard-working homesteaders off their land, you know how they do.
The pledge of the title is when the hero accidentally shoots one of these farmers in a gunfight in a saloon (oops) and promises the dying man that he will protect his family and save them from being evicted, which he duly does.
This family consists of a woman (Jaclyn DeSantis) and her young son (Wyatt Smith) who are so remarkably like his own dead wife and son that they could have used the same actors, and you know dern well that they will all become a new family unit at the end, which they duly do.
There are other characters such as an ineffectual preacher (James Keane) and a storekeeper (Nicholas Guest) who finally stands up to the ruthless type.
The hero gives the mother a shooting lesson, one of the great clichés of the oater.
It climaxes in a siege as the brave settlers hold off the posse of the rich guy – which posse numbers seven, as is right and proper in a Western, though probably it was budgetary restraint in this case that didn’t make it bigger.
Either the actors’ diction was poor or the sound was because I didn’t catch a lot of the dialogue. Maybe it’s my ears.
There are some quite nice shots of the Simi Valley locations, riders on the skyline at sunset, that kind of thing. It’s quite a pretty picture here and there.
There are the usual fades to black to allow for the commercial breaks, though they don’t, because the TV channels that show the movie now just break the film every x minutes, even in the middle of a scene, regardless of the pre-ordained FTB pauses.
The biggest gripe I have with it visually is the costumes, or perhaps it’s the way the actors wear them: at any rate they are totally unconvincing. They look like costumes. Furthermore, the women and children have perfect hair, skin and teeth, as usual in these TV Westerns, and are ever so slightly sickly-sentimental in that ‘perfect family’ kind of way. The film hardly has the, er, hallmark of authenticity.
The show ranked as the second-highest-rated Prime Time program of the day and the second-highest-rated ad-supported cable movie of the week, so Hallmark was probably pleased about that. Apparently the channel did some vigorous marketing to get those ratings, sending twenty cowboys a day to places such as Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, and Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. Over three days, the cowboys engaged onlookers in showdowns. Sounds gripping.
The picture won’t make you grimace at its awfulness and it won’t make you bubble with enthusiasm at its quality, it’ll all just seem a bit tepid. But you might could devote 84 minutes of your life to it, you know, on a wet afternoon or something.