Movie Report: The Sacketts (1979)

Book coverIt’s been a while since I’ve read Bendigo Shafter, but based on that reading and A Trail of Memories: The Quotations of Louis L’Amour, when I saw this two-videocassette set at the Friends of the Library book sale in April, I picked it up. And given the long Thanksgiving weekend coming up, I figured I could make it through the whole miniseries. To be honest, I was not sure whether it was a major two-night or four-night event when it aired when I was seven years old. The videocassettes themselves said the running time was 198 minutes, but I was not sure whether that was each or total. When I got to the end of the first part, the end titles played, but they used the same stock western footage as the beginning titles, so I thought two episodes per videocassette. But, no, it turns out this was a two night movie event. Maybe it was a couple years before miniseries stretched to four or five nights.

The story is based on two L’Amour novels, The Daybreakers and Sackett featuring basically two stories that tangentally intersect–one can almost see the stitching lines. Sam Elliot plays Tell Sackett who is working in a mining camp when he shoots a card sharp cheating at a camp poker game. He has to leave before the Bigelow brothers come to avenge their brother. He ends up discovering a gold mine and a woman who has been hiding from the Indians who slaughtered her family. Meanwhile, his brothers Orrin (Tom Selleck) and Tyrell (Jeff Osterhage) run from a Tennessee feud, join a cattle drive, gather their own cattle, and then make their way to Santa Fe where Orrin gets elected sheriff just as an Anglo cattle baron (John Vernon) is preparing to square off against the Mexican natives.

The stories continue independently except for a couple crossovers ending in a climactic shootout where the brothers dispatch the Bigelow brothers and their hired hands. The brothers reuinte only after a frantic cable to Santa Fe summons Orrin and Tyrell who ride out and arrive just in time and not tired at all.

I am sure that the books cover most of the threads in greater detail. Orrin’s romance with the cattle baron’s daughter probably encompasses more pages than the couple minutes of screen time we get. One of their friends from the cattle drive and business partner develops a grudge against Orrin that leads to a shootout, but it happens in a couple of short scenes. Tyrell also has a fellow cowpuncher from the cattle drive that for some reason decides he’s an enemy, and they have a near-shootout where Orrin spares but humilates the man; one wonders if he would return later. But if you’re going to make a miniseries out of two whole books, you’re going to chop a lot.

Still, it’s Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck, and Jeff Osterhage as brothers in a western. It worked so well that they later did another L’Amour book together, The Shadow Riders (which I had previously seen). If you’re a fan of the western genre, you could do worse. However, I’m not sure if I’m quite the western fan. After all, the genre often relies on minutes and minutes of stockish footage of men riding horses in Western expanses, rivers, deserts, and so on. I guess my favored genre might be noir as I’ll take black and white shots of dark streets, alleys, and rooms over horses and farms.

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