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Louis L'Amour's The Sacketts

Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 30, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted July 18, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Set in the late 1860's, two of three Tennessee brothers- Orrin Sackett (Tom Selleck) and Tye Sackett (Jeff Osterhage) leave their backhills home after a violent incident concerning an ongoing feud with a rival family. Heading West, they turn to working as cattle drivers, being trained along the way by old pros Tom Sunday (Glenn Ford) and Cap Roundtree (Ben Johnson) as they amble further West with intentions on settling and making a steady home. The brothers come across factions at political odds headed by Jonathan Pritts (John Vernon) and Don Luis (Gilbert Roland), one a rich powerful entrepreneur trying to drive all Mexicans out of Santa Fe, the other a Mexican dignitary attempting to take care of his fellow countrymen in New Mexico. Their strong convictions in living by the law inevitably draw both Sackett men into the fray.

Meanwhile, the third and oldest brother Tell Sackett (Sam Elliott) has long since left Tennessee, having never returned home after serving a number of years in the Civil War. After killing a cheating poker player, Tell leaves his own job on the range and heads into the high country to prospect for gold in nearby Purgatorie, New Mexico. Trying to stay away from the Bigelow clan- the brothers of the card player he killed- in time he is forced into a family feud as well. Tell's story is entwined with the the tale of his brothers, on occasion interweaving all three brothers but for the most part a separate storyline. The Sackett brothers come from a hard working, honest father who has passed his legacy of honesty and wisdom down to all of his sons, none of whom fear to stand up for themselves nor for each other when backed against a wall.

Adapted from two Louis L'Amour novels (The Daybreakers and Sackett), this two-part, three hour 1979 miniseries attempted to bring to the small screen the same sort of rambling all-star Western epic that moviegoers flocked to in the 60's, and in many ways it succeeded at doing so. At the core of the movie is the age old struggle of good versus evil, with The Sackett men representing right at every turn while a number of thugs, gunmen and thieves take up the side of wrong. While there aren't an inordinate number of gunfights or fist fights, there is enough action to keep the viewer satisfied. The ample footage of mountains and plains is lush and in many cases splendid as the film's backdrop, and with over three hours of screen time the miniseries manages to angle quite a few intriguing subplots into the storyline.

The cast of the film is a stellar one, worthy of any larger scale theatrical release of the day with Western character actors aplenty, well-known and in Selleck's case soon to be well-known. The Sackett brothers themselves seem to have fairly equal billing throughout the movie; a then little-known Tom Selleck plays middle brother Orrin as the most stable Sackett, a ladies man who is also the most thoughtful and even tempered. Sam Elliot's take on eldest brother Tell is an interesting one; heck, seeing Sam Elliott with both black hair and beard looking this young is interesting in itself. Gritty, stone faced with the wily edge of a predator, he's the lone wolf of the three, his fate unknown by the family for 10 years until the day the brothers Sackett paths finally cross. This is one of Jeff Osterhage's early roles, going from this production to what seems like a long string of one shot character parts in various television series episodes. It seems a shame as his screen presence here is for the most part solid and far better than many young actors might have fared in a like situation. His Tyrell Sackett is a young man shy with the ladies but unafraid of a fight, and probably possesses the quickest draw with a gun of the three.

For this viewer the other standout performances are ones given by two icons in Western cinema- Glenn Ford and Ben Johnson. Ford delivers a take worthy of an Emmy with his portrayal of Tom Sunday; in Sunday we are introduced to a well-educated, hard working cowhandler who knows the ropes and takes cattle driving novices Orrin and Ty under his wing, not only instructing them in the herding profession but also serving as something of a father figure for them, giving Ty some life lessons about women and imploring both siblings to learn to read and write. Not until midway through the miniseries are we given glimpses of any moral flaws within the man, but when they finally surface they do so with an ever more disturbing regularity to the end. His character seems to single-handedly embody the good versus evil struggle depicted throughout the miniseries, and because of this Ford's character becomes both surprising and fascinating to watch.

Ben Johnson, in the fairly meaty role as Cap Roundtree, is mostly seen here just being Ben Johnson, consummate cowboy/good guy- and that's plenty reason enough to enjoy his inclusion here. He gives further validation for looking at this production as something more along the lines of Hollywood Western theatrical epic rather than just another made-for-TV miniseries, as do recognizable names and faces such as John Vernon ably playing the slimy, crafty Jonathan Pritts and Slim Pickens, Jack Elam, L.Q. Jones, Pat Buttram, Buck Taylor, Ruth Roman, Shug Fisher and Mercedes McCambridge in small parts along the way.

Some might see this miniseries as a bit of a letdown, lacking a degree of depth and not giving the viewer a few more details to chew on. While I can understand that reasoning, it should be noted that Louis L'Amour's The Sacketts was a pioneer in the Western miniseries genre; it was filmed in 1979, preceding later, longer works such as Lonesome Dove and giving other studios a fine blueprint with which to work after its successful airing.

The DVD-

Clocking in at 193 minutes, the miniseries is presented over two dual layer discs in a single Amaray keepcase.

Video-

Aspect ratio here is 1.33:1 fullscreen, preserving the film's original television exhibition. How it looks is tricky; when I started watching the opening credits I have to say I was worried as the video looked horribly grainy and soft with colors smearing. I'm happy to say the image cleared up quickly after this; colors are decently rendered, and the image, while still grainy in spots is for the most part clean; sharpness is adequate. A bit more care could have been given to cleaning up the transfer, but for the most part this print is very watchable.

Audio-

The audio track here is Dolby Digital mono and is a solid track, nothing special but clear and easy to understand.

Extras-

The lone extra here is a 12 minute featurette, The Sacketts Go West, featuring co-star Jeff Osterhage and writer Jim Byrnes discussing melding two of L'Amour's books together in order to add the Ben Johnson role to the film as well as the casting process, bringing in unknown Osterhage and then-unheralded Selleck, but having earmarked Sam Elliot for brother Tell even as the film was being written. Short but of interest.

Final Thoughts-

While there are occasional oversimplifications in the film, this is one heck of a great Western told in the vein of the genre's big screen offerings of the 60's; it has the look and feel of a grand, sweeping epic and the cast is a filmmaker's dream, with some outstanding performances by several famous faces. What is here is alot of fun to watch. With a list price of $19.95, this is a release that anyone who likes Westerns should add to their collection. Highly recommended.
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C O N T E N T

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A U D I O

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A D V I C E
Highly Recommended

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