Not Rated, A TNT Original. Running Time: 1 hour 28 min.
Our rating by content: Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
WHAT?! Remake an American classic, The Western in the eyes of many fans of the genre! Smile, when you say that, partner.
Before you turn away thinking that producer David Rosemont and director Rod Hardy (Two for Texas and Buffalo Girls) have taken leave of their senses, take another look. Yes, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly will always come to mind first for those of us old enough to remember when the original film hit the screens. However, Mr. Rosemont’s desire to bring the story to the attention of a new generation, and also to bring a fresh point of view to it, is achieved in many ways. Tom Skerritt as Marshall Will Kane and Susanna Thompson as the newly married Amy Kane are good cast choices, and the supporting cast even includes the actor who played Chester on TV’s “Gunsmoke,” Dennis Weaver.
Also intriguing is the way in which scriptwriter T.S. Cook has stayed with the original script but rounded out several of the scenes, making them more acceptable to an audience today. We learn a bit more about Marshall Kane’s new bride Amy and her Quaker values, she telling Will’s former lover Helen Ramirez (Maria Conchita Alonso) about the violent death of her parents–of how they refused to take another life when attacked, but died true to their beliefs in nonviolence.
The church scene is really expanded, with the debate more lively and including more people, whereas in the original most of the worshipers sat mutely when Kane appealed for help. An especially nice touch is the admonition of two elderly sisters to stand up and support the Marshall. I always found it difficult to accept the total failure of the townspeople, and especially the leaders in church, to come to Will’s aid–this new version makes more sense. Thus Frank Miller returns, not just by himself, but also with two more gunmen: added to the three who have come to town to await the noon train, this makes six killers. We can better understand why Will’s friend, eager at first to join him, backs out when he finds that with just him, his brother, and Kane, the odds are six-to-two, rather three-to-four.
Oddly enough, what I missed most in the remake is not Gary Cooper or Grace Kelly, but the Dimitri Tiomkin score and Hank Williams singing the marvelous story-song by Tiomkin “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling.” There is a montage of scenes in the original film just before the gunfight in which we see all the various characters–in the saloon, hiding at home, praying in church, packing to leave town–supported by the composer’s pile hammer-like music that stirs the spirit and sets up everything for the climax. That kind of film music and editing is hard to duplicate. So, I will cherish the original, though still with serious misgivings as to its underlying philosophy*, but am glad to recommend the new version as well.
*My qualms are due to the ease with which one could develop a fascist point of view from this film, with its contempt for democracy because of its view that most people are weak and cowardly—and also for the belief that only the strong man, the proverbial “Man on Horseback” (certainly not on donkey back), can save us from a breakdown in law and order.
This review in a slightly different form appeared in the August 2000 issue of VP.