OK, so I’m prejudiced. I was born and raised in Texas and still live in Houston, and whenever I watch Lonesome Dove, I get all misty-eyed.
It doesn’t take long — just the opening credits with that stirring Basil Poledouris music over a map of Texas. Seeing it and hearing it, I’m done. Game over. Pass the tissues!
And why? Not only because I love Texas with all its bigness and boldness, but because I love this landmark 1989 miniseries which did justice to Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Price-winning novel — by way of Austinite Bill Wittliff’s screenplay and Aussie Simon Wincer’s direction — with its eventful saga of aging former Texas Rangers, now ranchers, on a last-hurrah cattle drive. Graced by an unbelievably strong cast, Lonesome Dove marked the roles of a lifetime for both Robert Duvall as Gus McCrae and Texas-born Tommy Lee Jones as Woodrow Call, especially Duvall, who’s often said that Gus is the best character he’s ever played. And these feisty old friends are involved in more action, drama, humor and heartbreak than in any Western I’ve ever seen.
Now Lonesome Dove returns to DVD, courtesy of Genius Entertainment, and finally with some proper extras, after the sparse set issued by Cabin Fever. Billed as all-new though it was shot two decades ago (well, it’s newly seen), the 50-minute The Making of an Epic includes revealing on-set footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Shot at the time of filming in Texas and New Mexico, they provide intriguing anecdotes, including the fact that Duvall’s fine horsemanship not only saved his hide once when his horse bolted, but also provided a memorable shot, since it was used in the film.
Extras aside, the film itself is reward enough. As a quote from my former newspaper says on the DVD box cover, it may well be the best western ever made. I know it’s my favorite.
Everyone also has their favorite scenes, and mine include one set in San Antonio, where Gus and Woodrow arrive all tired and dirty and dusty as they step into a bar for some refreshment. Happily, an old friend of mine, Houston actor Brandon Smith, is in this scene, playing the surly barkeep who doesn’t realize Ranger royalty stand before him. When he gives Gus and Woodrow a hard time, Gus conks his head on the bar, points to a photo of himself and Woodrow when they were Rangers and demands not only a drink but some courtesy. He then quaffs his drink, tosses the glass in the air and shoots it in flight. The pride, audacity, resolve and reckless abandon of that single scene epitomize this entire miniseries.
So mosey up to the bar and order a shot of Lonesome Dove. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but for many of us Texans it just doesn’t get any better.