Movie Review: Lonesome Dove

“Lonesome Dove,” a television miniseries, is a four-part adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s 1985 book of the same name. It benefits greatly from the more than six hours afforded to a miniseries that would never happen with a theatrical movie.

Two former Texas Rangers, captains Augustus “Gus” McCrae and Woodrow F. Call, decide it’s time for one last great adventure and, along with a diverse crew, leave a little nothing town in Texas for the wilds and beauty of Montana, driving cattle, horses and even a couple of pigs along for the trip. Gus, who loves women almost as much as Call loves work, keeps life interesting for all concerned, while Call does his best to keep everyone in line and moving toward Montana. They run into Indians, outlaws, old loves — and new ones — fierce weather, snakes, disease and painful truths. Sadly, they don’t all make it to Montana, some turning back, some choosing to stay in locations along the way and some killed. But in the end, “Lonesome Dove” is about friendship, and that part of the story could have been set in any location at any time.

The supporting cast in “Lonesome Dove” is brilliant: Danny Glover, Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston, Robert Urich, Frederic Forrest, Chris Cooper, Ricky Schroder and Barry Corbin, to name a few. Tommy Lee Jones is one of the co-stars and is excellent as Captain Woodrow F. Call. But make no mistake, this is Robert Duvall’s movie. He plays Captain Augustus “Gus” McCrae brilliantly, in the role he has declared to be his favorite in a long and recognized career. Duvall has been quoted as saying, “Now I can retire. I’ve done something. Let the English play Hamlet. I’ll play Augustus McCrae.”

Before Tommy Lee Jones was selected to play Call, four others were considered and either couldn’t or wouldn’t do it: Charles Bronson, James Garner, Jon Voight and Robert Duvall, who declined and asked for the role of Gus. McMurtry originally intended to have James Stewart as Gus, John Wayne as Call and Henry Fonda as Spoon, but that fell apart when Wayne backed out.

“Lonesome Dove” was written by Larry McMurtry and William Wittliff. It was directed by Simon Wincer, with perfect casting by Lynn Kressel and beautiful cinematography by Douglas Milsome.

Larry McMurtry, along with Peter Bogdanovich, originally wrote “Lonesome Dove” as a screenplay and only later took that screenplay and turned it into a novel, also named “Lonesome Dove.” McMurtry won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. “Lonesome Dove” was actually, chronologically, the third book in a four-book series, with two prequels —“Dead Man’s Walk” and “Comanche Moon” — and a sequel, “Streets of Laredo.”

Full disclosure: “Lonesome Dove” is my all-time favorite movie. Not my favorite Western, or my favorite television miniseries, but my all-time favorite movie. Everything about it is excellent — the acting, the script, the cinematography, the sound. It is brilliantly done. It rivals “Casablanca” for memorable lines, and Duvall as Gus is just about as good of an acting job as has ever been filmed.

But perhaps my favorite thing about “Lonesome Dove” is that it is also my son’s favorite movie. We can sit and watch it in its entirety, in part, or just picking favorite scenes and watching them over and over. We quote the movie to each other often and are able to frequently find real-life situations that can be made better, or more fun, with a little “Lonesome Dove” wisdom. Give me a rainy Saturday, a cigar, bourbon, my son and “Lonesome Dove,” and it just doesn’t get any better.


Four horseshoes — and if you ever find a five-legged horse, this would be my five horseshoe movie!

2 Comments on “Movie Review: Lonesome Dove

Sally Miller
June 25, 2018 at 7:15 pm

I agree with you 1,000%! Lonesome Dove is my all time favorite film/mini-series of any type. The acting is superb, the casting is superb… well, you’ve said all that already. Also wanted you to know how cool I think it is about you and your son sharing this spectacular film! And now I’m going to have to watch it again… it’s been a little while. Thanks for the great review and reminder!

John Foley
April 2, 2020 at 8:59 pm

Great review. Just watched this for the first time in years since I have many free hours during the Coronavirus pandemic. Holds up really well. I can see why Robert Duvall enjoyed that role — McMurtry wrote one helluva character in Augustus McRae. All the actors were excellent, I thought; the surprise for me when I first saw it was Robert Urich as Jake, an okay but not really distinguished TV actor, who holds his own with the likes of Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Glover. You’re right about the length — they could honor the book and develop the characters. Deeply moving, adventurous and surprisingly funny. Some of the lines were hilarious, such as when Call reprimands Gus for his beloved sign, noting that the Latin phrase Gus doesn’t understand might invite folks to rob them. Not losing a beat, Gus notes that would be fine with him. “I’d like the chance to shoot at an educated man once in my life.” Brilliant! One of the very best book-to-movie success stories, and Lonesome Dove is right there with Ken Burns’ The Civil War on my all-time favorite movie list. Guess I’m a sucker for epics.


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