“THE SHADOW RIDERS” (1982) Review

 

“THE SHADOW RIDERS” (1982) Review

When I first set out to discover how many of author Louis L’Amour novels had been adapted for the movies and television, I had assumed at least a handful had gone through this process. I was surprised to discover that many of his works had been adapted. And one of them turned out to be the 1982 television movie, “THE SHADOW RIDERS”.

I have only seen two L’Amour adaptations in my life – “THE SHADOW RIDERS” and the 1979 two-part miniseries, “THE SACKETTS”. Both productions seemed to have a great deal in common. The two productions are adaptations of L’Amour (which is obvious). Both featured three brothers as the protagonists. Both starred Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage as the leads. The two productions also feature Ben Johnson as a supporting protagonist and Gene Evans as a villain. But in the end, “THE SHADOW RIDERS” and “THE SACKETTS” have their differences. The latter aired as a two-part television movie or miniseries that mainly featured action and drama. “THE SHADOW RIDERS”, on the other hand, is a ninety-six minute television movie, with comic overtones.

L’Amour’s tale is basically about two brothers – Dal and Mac Travern – who returned home from the Civil War after fighting on different sides and discover that a company of Confederate cavalry had raided their family’s Texas ranch and the neighborhood for cattle, horses and especially people to sell in Mexico. Among those kidnapped by the raiders were other neighbors, the Traverns’ younger brother Jesse (also a Civil War veteran), their younger sisters Sissy and Heather, and Dal’s former sweetheart Kate Connery. The Confederate troopers, led by one Major Cooper Ashbury, hope to raise enough money or “merchandise” to trade for guns and ammunition from a notorious local gunrunner named “Colonel” Holiday Hammondin order to continue the fight against the Federal government.

Upon learning what happened, Dal and Mac discover that the local lawman, Miles Gillette, seem incapable of going after the raiders. And once the Traverns recruit their jailbird uncle “Black Jack” from prison to help them, Gillette becomes more obsessed with capturing the latter. With no law to help them, Dal and Mac set out to rescue their family with the help of their Uncle Jack; Jesse, who managed to escape from the raiders; and Kate, whom they managed to rescue halfway through the story.

It seemed rather odd that a story about family kidnapping would have a comic tone. I have read other reviews of the movie and some L’Amour fans seemed put off by this tone. Personally, I have no problems with it. Yes, I have read the novel and it was pretty good . . . and somewhat grim. But I thought director Andrew V. McLaglen and screenwriter Jim Byrnes did a pretty damn good job in mixing the grim nature of the story with a strong comic element. The screenplay did not shy away from the horror of Major Ashbury’s actions or how they affected the Travern family – especially Sissy and Heather. More importantly, most of the comedy came from the family interactions between members of the Travern family – especially Dal and Mac’s reunion at a local tavern right after the war, the three brothers’ reaction to Jack Travern’s criminal past and the emotional reunion between Dal and Kate, who had become engaged to another man after hearing about Dal’s erroneous death.

“THE SHADOW RIDERS” also featured some outstanding action sequences. My favorites include Jesse’s escape from Ashbury’s raiders, the three brothers’ rescue of Kate, and the family’s main rescue of the Travern sisters and their neighbors from Holliday Hammond’s camp in Mexico. Being a veteran of many movies and television productions set in the 19th century, it seemed obvious that McLeglen was in his element with “THE SHADOW RIDERS”. The action featured in the film struck me as very exciting, without any of the excess that seemed to mar a good number of action films and television shows, these days.

I only have few complaints about “THE SHADOW RIDERS”. Despite its comic element, the main narrative focused a good deal of situations that involved family reunions between the Travern family. I certainly had no problems with most of them. But I had a problem one – namely the Travern brothers’ reunion with their Uncle Jack, who was serving time at a local jail. I found it . . . rather lackluster. A bit too laconic and understated for my tastes. I understand that this scene featured mid 19th century American men, who may have been conditioned to keep their emotions in check. Yet, other reunion scenes – whether it was between Dal and Mac, or the pair’s reunion with Jesse or their parents – seemed to feature some element of emotion. Is it because the brothers were dealing with the slightly larcenous “Black Jack” Travern? Who knows. I also had a problem with Mac’s war background. The movie made it clear that he was a Union cavalry officer, who was in Georgia at the time the war ended in April-May 1865. I just do not understand why he was in Georgia at that time. He must have entered the state with William Sherman’s forces in 1864. So . . . why did he remain in Georgia and not accompany Sherman into South Carolina?

If anyone would ask me, I believe the shining virtue of “THE SHADOW RIDERS” was the cast. They were outstanding. All of them – from the four leads to the numerous characters that appeared in this movie – were first-rate. They all seemed very comfortable in their roles, while at the same time, managed to provide a good deal of edge to their performances. In“THE SHADOW RIDERS”; Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage renew the screen chemistry they had created in“THE SACKETTS” with great ease. However, I was a little disappointed that Osterhage’s role in this film seemed slightly diminished in compare to his role in the 1979 production. Katherine Ross made an excellent addition as the classy, yet strong-willed Kate Connery, who had been Dal’s former sweetheart. This also gave Ross an excellent opportunity to share some rather funny and romantic scenes with her off-screen husband, Elliot. Hell, she even managed to work well with Selleck, Osterhage, Geoffrey Lewis and Gene Evans.

Ben Johnson was a hoot as the Traverns’ laid-back, yet larcenous uncle, “Black Jack” Travern. I could also say the same about Gene Evans, who portrayed the very charming and very cold-blooded gunrunner, Holliday Hammond. On the other hand, Geoffrey Lewis made a very intense Cooper Ashbury, the Confederate cavalry officer who is determined to continue the War Between the States with only a company of men. “THE SHADOW RIDERS” also featured first-rate performances from veterans such as Jane Greer, Harry Carey Jr., and R.G. Armstrong; along with Dominique Dunne and Natalie May.

I may have had a problem with one or two scenes with “THE SHADOW RIDERS”. And yes, I found the Civil War background for one of the major characters a bit confusing. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed it when I first saw it as a kid, many years ago on television. And my recent viewing only confirmed that my feelings about the production has not really changed one whit. Director Andrew V. McLeglen, screenwriter Jim Byrnes and a cast led by Sam Elliot and Tom Selleck continued to make this movie a joy to watch.

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