Written by Fantasma el Rey
Louis L’Amour, possibly America’s best and beloved writer of western fiction has three of his stories in the spotlight on Warner Bros.' Louis L’Amour Western Collection. The Sacketts, Conagher, and Catlow are three different tales held together by L’Amour’s simple charm. He was a writer who knew the land he wrote about and came into contact with many people who would build a base for the yarns he wove. Wandering the west in his youth, he rode the rails and took jobs working mines, cattle, and the land, which gives his stories an authenticity often missing with writers of the genre. So with three titles to cover, let’s get this thing going, both guns blazing.
Conagher is the story of Con Conagher, a simple man with all the traits of the typical western good guy, hard-working, honest, loner. Played by Sam Elliott, who makes a great screen cowboy, Con’s life is interrupted by cattle rustlers and a widow with two kids trying to make it in a hard land. Con meets the widow (Katherine Ross) while working for a stagecoach line that stops by her place, which acts as a temporary station until the new station is built. Con and the widow make an instant connection, but being the loner he is, Con rides off and continues his drifting while always keeping her in mind.
While taking a winter job on a not-too-far-off ranch, Con discovers that some of the hands are slowly stealing cattle from the old rancher and selling them to the neighbor. Con, being an honest man hired to do a job, must act accordingly. So he gets the cattle back, runs off the outlaws, and finds his way back to the widow’s cabin. There are a few storylines blending together here and it’s a western light on the gunplay and action, but that’s all right as the basic story is easy to follow, and Elliott carries the day in this made-for-cable oater.
Catlow is the only film of the three to have a theatrical release and some major stars. Yul Brynner is Catlow, a cattle rustler with plans to steal gold from the Mexican Government. Richard Crenna plays the lawman that’s on his trail but is also his friend who always manages to let Catlow slip through his fingers. Last we have Leonard Nimoy as the sharpshooter hired to kill Catlow; kind of odd to see Nimoy with out pointed ears. As Catlow and his gang, along with his hellcat girlfriend, head south of the border followed by the lawman and the bounty hunter, they run into trouble from hostile Indians and Mexican bandits and federales. That’s the story in a pea pod, which gets a bit messy and incoherent, but the film is fun to watch as the cast is clearly having a good time in this comedy western. It’s easy to see that Brynner is having the time of his life as the witty, lovable outlaw.
Leaving the best for last, we have The Sacketts. Made for television in 1979 and aired in two parts, this is the tale of the three Tell brothers: Orrin (Tom Selleck), Tyrel called “Ty” (Jeff Osterhage) and William called “Tell” (Sam Elliott, once again), whose adventures throw them different direction in the Wild West. All three brothers are forced to leave their home in the Tennessee hills for different reasons, and they end up roaming the western states. The boys, at different times, fight outlaws, herd cattle, do a bit of mining, enter politics, find gold and women they love, and have all kinds of other adventures along the way. Based on two novels, Sackett and The Daybreakers, the film blends them well and keeps the pace for its just over three-hour rum time. As is a theme with the L’Amour adaptations, there’s a lot going on and some of it seems a bit much, but with the long list of Sackett novels it good to see our heroes well played on screen. The Sacketts also boasts a fine list of actors known for westerns including Ben Johnson, Glenn Ford, Gilbert Roland, Jack Elam, Slim Pickens, and even Pat Buttram.
Adaptations of L’Amour’s work have a tendency to stray from the original story and can seem crammed into too short a time to tell the tale properly. I can’t say with Catlow and Conagher as I have not read those but I liked The Sacketts for its well-acted/authentic-looking characters and the fact that I know L’Amour had final say on the script; he even gives an intro to the movie. All three films are flawed, some more than others but their base story and fine actors hold interest and make these westerns enjoyable.
Drawbacks to the DVD set are that all three films have been released before and none carry any special features. In fact this version of The Sacketts while remaining on two disks lacks the one featurette that was available when first released. Now that’s just damn odd. There are no quick five-minute looks at L’Amour or his stories. If not for the mention in the titles, one may not even know it’s a L’Amour tale. Also, Conagher looks untouched from sitting in the vaults as far as the actual film quality is concerned. But retailing at around $19.95 or less for fans that don’t have these films already, I say go for it if only to watch some of Louis L’Amour’s characters and story adaptations brought to life on film.