Thin Line Between Stupid and Clever

Opining on Whatever

The Case for Lonesome Dove

This isn’t a movie review.  There are plenty of those out there.  This is me trying to convince you to spend six hours in the next week, or month, watching one of the greatest, most epic, movies of all time.  And before you say, it’s too long and it’s a western…  lemme tell ya, it’s not a western in the John Wayne or Clint Eastwood tradition, and by the time you finish it, you may find yourself wanting more.

Augustus "Gus" McCrae and the Captain, Woodrow F. Call

Peaked your interest yet?  Doubtful, so I’ll keep going.  Like dramas?  Like adventure?  Like romance?  Like seeing a young Diane Lane dressed-to-kill as a down-on-her-luck prostitute?  Like a few tumbleweeds mixed with gun-play?  If you said “yes” to even one of these questions, you’re going to love Lonesome Dove.

What makes it so great?  The answer is simple.  The characters.  The entire cast is enormous so I’m just going to touch on a few.  The two main characters are life-long friends, cattlemen (or at least they try to be), and retired, gun-slingin’, ex-Texas Rangers named Captain Woodrow F. Call, played by Tommy Lee Jones, and Augustus “Gus” McCrae, played by the legendary Robert Duvall.  If you doubted these two guys’ chops prior to seeing Lonesome Dove, afterward, you’ll be saying they’re two of the best.  Capt. Call and Gus have a great dynamic, one that’s rarely seen on the screen.


Woodrow F. Call is a hard man, in the tradition of John Wayne.  He’s stoic, and honestly a bit of an asshole, but to anyone who knows (or thinks they know) anything about the Wild West, you couldn’t have a better guy leading your posse.  He’s all business, start-to–finish, always keeps his word, and never backs down from a challenge.

But as authentic as Tommy Lee Jones is, it’s Duvall that really steals the show.  He is brilliant as Gus McCrae – the prototype lazy, gamblin’, easy-going, womanizer, and perfect sidekick to the anal retentive Captain Call. He’s about the most likable old man you’ll find and the women (including a very young Diane Lane, and much older Angelica Huston) just can’t get enough of him.  To quote McCrae, as he’s telling a story to the young Newt Dobbs (played by Rick Schroder), and being reprimanded by Captain Call for laziness:

Woodrow Call: You ever get tired o’ loafin’ I reckon you can get a job waitin’ on tables.
Gus McCrae: Oh, I had a job waitin’ tables once. S’ on a riverboat. I wasn’t no older than Newt, there, but I hadda give it up.
Newt: How come?
Gus McCrae: Well I was, too young and pretty and the whores wouldn’t let me alone.

As you can see Gus just oozes confidence and swagger and will keep you laughing the entire flick.  Now the movie can be slow in parts, and some of the castings could have been a little better, but even so, it’s well worth your time.  Granted, if you’re the type of person that goes and sees Tyler Perry’s House of whatever, or some date movie (cant think of an example at the moment) on opening night, this isn’t the movie for you.  That sounds a little smarmy, but I’m just trying to be honest.  If you thought Indiana Jones 4 was a good movie because the special effects rocked…  you may want to pass this one up.

So why didn’t this movie get the critical acclaim that other movies of its caliber get?  Well, my theory is that 1) it’s length turns a lot of people off  2) it was originally a mini-series on PBS so it didn’t really get the Hollywood treatment 3) the special effects and overall production design leave a little to be desired and 4)  people automatically assume it’s a traditional Western  5) Wes Studi and Sam Elliot aren’t in it.


Finally, before this “short” blog entry turns into a six hour long essay, i want to list a few of the other casts members.  In no particular order:  Chris Cooper, Angelica Huston, Danny Glover, Robert Urich, Rick Shroder, Frederic Forrest, and Diane Lane.  If anything, it’s worth watching just to see a young Diane Lane in action.  *wink wink nudge nudge*  note:  she doesn’t actually get naked…  so, your kids can watch this.  There is some violence and a few gun fights but as we all knew, it’s much more acceptable to show people killing each other than having sex with each other.  But that’s another one for another time.

So, maybe I am a bit biased. maybe you won’t all think it’s the bestest movie EVER, and i can guarantee there will be some slow parts, but if you like epic tales, with great actors, rich characters, and deep plots, along with a few 6-shooters and brothels, check it out!


below is the original short preview that was shown on PBS.  Only 1 minute in length.

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20 thoughts on “The Case for Lonesome Dove

  1. James S. on said:

    I actually like Lonesome Dove. I haven’t seen it in years, but I remember liking it a lot.

  2. I hate being the “book is better than the movie” guy, but the book is WAY better than the movie.

  3. aaron b on said:

    i think it’s duvall’s best role… better than the apostle or godfather or probably a few other’s i cant think of lol. i actually just picked up a newer refined edition at the store the other day for like 10 bucks or less iirc.

  4. aaron b on said:

    imo it’s great for a lazy, hungover sunday afternoon

  5. I have seen almost more than 15 years ago, its a wonderful Epic to watch again and again, its lovely , I must appreciate the role of Duvall, Lee, Diane, Angelica and many more, One must get stretched afternoon with couple of beers and wings of chick,gr8,


  6. Jim Z. on said:

    Film was a faithful representation of the book.

  7. This is truly an Epic movie and it is just great. I can watch this over and over again. It is truly a work of art. I wish I could have known Gus and Call and in real life. I too hate rude behavior in a man and I will not tolerate it!

  8. Hollywood has been making westerns since early after the beginning of the twentieth century. Among the most popular ever made are The Searchers, Red River, and countless others. I’ve seen almost of all of them, many several times. But in comparison to Lonesome Dove all pale. Yes, it’s long and there a few spots where the plot bogs down but not for long. Gus is everybody’s favorite character. As Jasper remarked to Dish during one of Gus’s absences, “I wish Gus were here. He’s a sight more entertaining than you are.” But Capt. Call is the rock that commands everyone’s respect. Maybe at first simply because he is “the boss” but later he confronts a “rude” cavalry scout at the end of an imprompt full gallop down the main street of Ogalalla. He then undeniably demonstrates he’s not a man to be trifled with. He’s tolerant of few and friendly with no one save his only true friend in the world, Gus.
    The demise of three prominently developed characters are unqualified tearjerkers. There is humor, adventure, and tragedy all skillfully interwoven into an epic tale set in the Old West during the expansion after the Civil War. These six hours plus will pass before you know it and leaving you begging for more. In my opinion there has never been a better western ever filmed. Ever.

  9. rontaylor on said:

    Absolutely one of the best movies ever. I am not a Tommy Lee Jones fan but this was his best role to date maybe because he definitely didn’t look like himself. One thing I didn’t like was Robert Urich’s part. I thought he was not right for the part and I was a Robert Urich fan.

    • Jane Scribner on said:

      Wow; interesting. I loved Robert Urich in it (‘but I didn’t see no line, Gus” gives me goosebumps just thinking about it) but more so for me is that at least there’s something to remember Robert Urich by that will stand the test of time. “I swear” … he did die too young in real life.

  10. It was on CBS not PBS

  11. Col. Jankoski on said:

    I just rewatched this movie in its four episode format, just home from the hospital on bedrest………Now I am a john Wayne fan, hell the duke is still one of my hero’s but this isnt a movie its an epic saga. Of how precious life was and how fleeting. There is no gaurentee of everyone surviving a 2400 mile trip on horseback…..I did it by car and it damn near killed me. Call and MCcrea were at least in there 50’s maybe early 60’s it is an epic tale of the inhumanity of the times. What stood out most were the words Call inscribed on Deet’s tombstone. Simply the best monie I have seen since the first time I saw it like 25 years ago…………..I refuse to see return to Lonesome Dove

  12. what was Tommy Lee Jones last line in Lonesome Dove. I ran it over and over and never could understand what he said.

  13. By far the greatest book & movie. I have been watching Lonesome Dove regularly since I was four (I’m thirty-one now) and this movie is fantastic every time. This movie is the Cadillac of western movies!

  14. sandy richardson on said:

    No matter what anyone says, this epic movie is among one of the BEST westerns anyone person could ever see. The story is wonderful; it’s full of adventure, hardship, love, determination & most of all entertaining! My family has watched this iconic film so many times, we know some of the lines by heart. Lonesome Dove may not be Duvall’s or Jones’s favorite performances, but it always will be one of our family’s favorites

  15. Frank Ivey on said:

    I have watched this movie so many times I know everyone’s dialogue and in fact watching it as I write this, have it recorded and will watch again and again.

  16. Thane Fullerton on said:

    I often wonder who actually wrote this book for McMurtry. It is so many
    leagues ahead of most of his stuff,that one has to wonder.Well,Dead Mans Walk
    and Commanche Moon ran them a close race,but really no contest!!

  17. I’m a little late to your blog on lonesome dove but I’ll tell you, I’ve seen it over 100 times. Can recite it line for line, and watch it as often as I can. It is a story about true friendship , Gus and Call are the two best western characters of all time imo. Hands down it’s my favorite movie, nothing compares

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