"Lonesome Dove" introduced us to two unforgettable characters - Gus McRae and Woodrow Call. A remarkably popular miniseries, it left viewers wanting more - and television, as well a author Larry McMurtry, scrambling to provide it.
Just one problem - Gus (played by Robert Duvall) died in "Dove." And Tommy Lee Jones has shown no desire to return as Call.So we've had sequels with first Jon Voight ("Return to Lonesome Dove") and then James Garner ("Streets of Laredo") playing Call. We've had the syndicated "Lonesome Dove: The Series" without either character.
But in "Dead Man's Walk," both Gus and Call are back - albeit considerably younger versions of the men. "Walk" recounts an adventure involving the two before they were even 20. And, despite the fact that Gus is now played by David Arquette and Call is played by Jonny Lee Miller, they two characters are readily identifiable.
"Gus is still quite talkative, and Call is rather subdued and tight," said Diana Ossanna, who co-wrote the script with McMurtry. "But they're young men, and they're more raw in their response to things. They're feeling their way. And this is the development of their relationship as well."
(One might even say that Arquette goes a bit too far, turning his Gus into an imitation of Duvall at times.)
"Dead Man's Walk" (Sunday at 8 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m., Ch. 4) is what we've come to expect from McMurtry, who is an executive producer of the two-part, five-hour miniseries. It's steeped in history and loaded with violence.
As a matter of fact, if you've got a weak stomach you may want to avoid "Walk" altogether. At times, it seems that if we aren't seeing shootings and stabbings and scalpings and whippings and beatings and torture and bodies being pierced by arrows, we're hearing about even worse things. It's a bit much - sometimes way too much.
In the miniseries, Gus and Call are young men who've enlisted in the Texas Rangers - back in the days of the Texas Republic. Recruited by a former pirate (F. Murray Abraham) who has plans to wrest Santa Fe from the Mexicans, they set out on what becomes a disastrous expedition.
They're nearly killed by the Comanche raider Buffalo Hump. They're captured by the Mexican Army, under the command of Capt. Salazar (Edward James Olmos), attacked by a grizzly bear, and marched through a dangerous desert known as Jornado del Muerto - Dead Man's Walk. There, in addition to the elements, there's an Apache band picking them off a few at a time.
Basically, it's one disaster after another in beautiful but desolate territory. The two-parter was shot over 54 days in some rather remote areas of Texas - Van Horn, Alpine and Lajitas.
"The population of Van Horn is 12," said Olmos. "It all depends on what time of day. And Lajitas has no population. No one lives there."
Of course, there are the requisite memorable characters from a McMurtry Western - Major Chevallie (Brian Dennehy); Matilda Jane (Patricia Childress), the hooker with the heart of gold; Bigfoot Wallace (Keith Carradine) and Shadrach (Harry Dean Stanto), two top-notch scouts; Clara Forsythe (Jennifer Garner), the love of Gus' life; and Lucinda Carey (Haviland Morris), the English lady with leprosy. As a matter of fact, there are so many characters that it's a bit difficult to keep them all straight in Part 1 - until they start getting killed off.
With yet another "Lonesome Dove"-inspired miniseries on TV, is it possible that American viewers are going to tire of the story?
"Sure, there's always that danger," said McMurtry, who doesn't even acknowledge either "Return to Lonesome Dove" or the syndicated series, which he played no part in.
"I think there's only `Lonesome Dove,' `Streets of Laredo,' `Dead Man's Walk' and one to come, which will be called `Comanche Moon.' It's a tetralogy," McMurtry said. "There's always a danger in long, long sequences of books that you lapse over into a parody or a comic strip."
And the author said not to expect an endless string of sequels.
"I think four books is about it. I wouldn't make it five," McMurtry said.
As for "Comanche Moon," don't hold your breath on seeing it in either bookstores or in TV miniseries form.
"It's not sold, not written, and not really thought about," McMurtry said.
A NEW EXPERIENCE: Neither of the principal actors in "Dead Man's Walk" were exactly experienced horsemen.
"We actually didn't have any real experience on a horse until this production," Arquette said. "But we picked it up pretty quick. We had a couple of weeks before we went to Texas and a week when we got to Texas. And by the time we got on a horse we were pretty comfortable. You just pretty much hold on."
Of course, how well the actors rode horses was not necessarily of primary importance in "Dead Man's Walk."
"Remember the title," said Olmos. "We did very little riding. We walked a lot. I'm serious."
As for the very British Miller, the production was rather memorable for him.
"The whole thing was an incredible experience for me, because I'm from Kingston, London," he said. "So it was, like, brilliant."
"We chased a buffalo in one shot," added Arquette. "And that was rather exciting.
"Jonny turned to me and he said, `I can't believe it! We're on horses and we're about to chase a buffalo!' "