If the combination of Sam Elliott and a Western setting immediately fill your brain with visions of cussing & carnage, here's a made-for-cable treat that just might change your mind. Oh sure, Conagher, like any good Western, has a half-decent amount of gritty gunfights and hissable villains -- but it's also a relatively family-friendly and introspective little dramatic piece as well.
Elliott plays the strangely named Conn Conagher, a noble and unassuming ranch-hand who (repeatedly) comes to the aid and assistance of the Widow Teale (Katharine Ross). Mrs. Teale's husband went off to sell some cattle one day, and the poor guy never came back. (And here's a hint: he's never going to!) The widow must now raise two children on her own and manage the family carriage stop at the same time. And of course there are savage "Indians" out here in the wild, as well as more than a few devious bastards who like to prey on the weak and the isolated.
Which is why Conn Conagher is such a handy cowboy to have around. As played by Sam Elliott (who also co-produced this cable movie), Conagher is precisely the sort of understated, stoic, and eminently reliable Western hero that we all know and love. One might be tempted to call Elliott's work in Conagher among the best of his career -- but Sam's done a whole lot of movies, and the guy rarely fails to entertain.
Katharine Ross is stately and engaging as the young widow, creating a character who's wounded and scared -- but certainly no Western-era wimpette. Keep your eyes peeled for a solid handful of familiar faces: Barry Corbin, Dub Taylor, Ken Curtis, and James Gammon (among others) provide that "supporting player seasoning" that all the best Westerns have -- and yes, that's little Haley Joel Osment as the widow's little boy.
It's certainly not the most flashy or exciting Western movie to hit your DVD player, but it's an old-fashioned character study that (I'm told) is also extremely faithful to its Louis L'Amour source material. So if you dig the Western movies, the Western novels, or you just love good ol' Sam Elliott, I'd say Conagher is definitely worth a spin.
Video: Displayed in its original Full Frame format, which is all fine and dandy -- but the movie sure doesn't look so hot, all things considered. I realize it was produced (on the cheap) for the TNT Network, but the movie's not even 15 years old. It's the same issue with the other WB/TNT Western releases (The Desperate Trail, Purgatory, and Last Stand at Saber River): the movies just look fairly muddy and grainy, particularly in any scene that has the bad luck to take place at night.
Audio: 1.0 Mono track, but you can choose between English, French, and Spanish if you like. Optional English captions are available.
Extras: Just a promo spot for the three other Western flicks mentioned above.
If the very best "made for TV" Western is Lonesome Dove, then I suppose you have to have a handful of other ones right below that one. Conagher would comfortably fall into that category; it's a whole lot more engrossing than one might expect, thanks mainly to the pair of lead actors ... too bad about the transfer though.