The Sacketts,
directed by Robert Totten
(Warner Bros., 1979)

I recently have been reliving my youthful enjoyment of Louis L'Amour's vast collection of western novels. Having enjoyed this return to my teenage years, I thought it might be fun to see how some of the stories were translated to the screen.

The Sacketts is a two-part, made-for-TV movie that boils down two of L'Amour's early novels in the Sackett family series: The Daybreakers, which introduces us to brothers Orrin and Tyrel as they leave their native Tennesee to go west, and Sackett, which introduces their older brother Tell who fought in the Civil War and went west before them.

This version has a lot going for it, although much from the stories -- particularly from Sackett -- is left on the cutting-room floor. The 3-hour TV movie, adapted from the novels by screenwriter Jim Byrnes, does a fair job of telling Orrin and Tyrel's story, but Tell's loses most of its scope.

And, while I'm no expert on western movies, I can't think of a better cast to play the parts. The Sacketts don't fit into the John Wayne mold of western heroes, and neither are they Clint Eastwood types. As Tell, Sam Elliott is pretty close to perfect, although his Tell -- hard-bitten and ornery -- lacks some of the rough-hewn humor of his literary counterpart. Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage are likewise exceptional reflections of L'Amour's vision of the characters: Orrin is the handsome, smooth-talking older brother to Ty's earnest, more serious role.

The movie weaves both books together, creating a couple of overlapping scenes to tie them together and pulling one major character, the Sacketts' boon companion Cap Rountree (Ben Johnson) from one book and plopping him in the other.

Given the limitations of the medium, some characters -- particularly the brothers' romantic interests, Laura (Marcy Hanson), Drusilla (Ana Alicia) and Ange (Wendy Rastattar) -- get short shrift. Others, like the initially congenial Tom Sunday (Glenn Ford), fare better.

The villains are fairly two-dimensional, although L'Amour certainly presented somewhat black-and-white views of his good and bad guys. Here, John Vernon's ambitious Jonathan Pritts gets the most screen development, while antagonists Ira, Benson, Jack and Wes Bigelow (Jack Elam, Gene Evans, Slim Pickens and James Gammon) and Kid Newton (Paul Koslo) are mostly just looming antagonists with a grudge. One of the major themes from The Daybreakers -- the effort by white settlers to uproot Mexicans already living in New Mexico -- gets scant attention.

Meanwhile, there are horses a-plenty, cattle roundups and cattle drives, dust-ups and gun fights, incredible vistas, dusty trails, some politickin', poker, saloon whiskey -- and, of course, a bit of gold in them thar hills.

The Sacketts isn't the best western I've seen, but it's a darned good interpretation of its source material and one any fan of the genre should enjoy.

review by
Tom Knapp

13 May 2017

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new