The Virginian (2000) starring Bill Pullman

I’ve just watched the TNT production of The Virginian (2000) on the GMC cable network. This is the first time I’ve watched it for many years. I still find it a melancholy, gloomy and slightly depressing film totally lacking in humor or any sense of camaraderie. For those about to watch this film for the first time place everything you love about The Virginian TV series to one side. As we all know the TV show took liberties with Owen Wister’s original novel. Trampas was transformed from being the villain and the Virginian’s love interest Molly sidelined midway through the first season.

The TNT TV Movie is more faithful to Wister’s novel but is deficient in many areas. Bill Pullman is a pleasing Virginian but lacks any sense of being a Southerner. He comes across as an educated northerner despite telling us he’s from Virginia and had little education. James Drury makes a brief token appearance late into the film as “Rider” but is wasted. John Savage has little to do but is effective as the tragic figure of Steve. Trampas isn’t explored in depth and Colm Feore never comes to grips with the character. Diane Lane as Molly Stark gives the standout performance and is one of the few characters who displays warmth and kindness in the hostile environment she reluctantly finds herself a part of.

Filmed in Canada, the overcast leaden skies and Pacific Northwest landscape doubling for Wyoming fails to convince as an authentic Western setting.  I know this film has many fans but I’m not one of them. Mainly because of the inauthentic location work, choppy editing and slow-paced direction by Pullman. Medicine Bow is not the kind of place you’d ever want to visit in Pullman’s vision.

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13 thoughts on “The Virginian (2000) starring Bill Pullman”

  1. I agree with your comments. They also chose to not have any of the humor of Wister’s novel. I missed that aspect of the story.

    Barb

  2. I’ve never cared much for most westerns that have been filmed in Canada. No disrespect to our neighbors to the north, but the locales just don’t have the authenticity and the weather contributes to a feeling of bleakness. I guess Hollywood finds it cheaper to shoot westerns up there and will continue to do so in the future.

  3. I agree Jim. The American West landscape is a vital part of any Western. Even if most TV Westerns were made in Southern California. 🙂 Filming Westerns in Canada has the same inauthentic feel to the landscape as the Spanish or Italian Westerns from the 1960s.

  4. I’m glad I read this so I won’t be disappointed if I see this movie. I loved the book and the TV show but sure can’t find any movie (or actors except the tv show) that ever did that book the justice it deserves. By the way, I saw on the James Drury website that Encore Westerns is ending its run of the Virginian December 2011. There is a connection that you can comment on it. Also with Netflix having problems negotiating contracts wtih Starz it may go away on the Netflix streaming come March. Makes me sad!

  5. Paul, I saw the film about 10 years ago. I was very disappointed. James Drury’s token appearance was almost an insult to the memory of the very fine performances he gave throughout the run of the series. In comparison, Pullman, like the film itself, was deadly dull. I couldn’t understand why they had bothered making the film, at all.

    I don’t entirely agree with the negative comments about filming Westerns in Canada. It depends on the locations chosen. Certainly a lot of films made on Canadian prairies, pretending to be, for example Kansas – as in some of the GUNSMOKE tv movies – are not convincing. But I think a Western set against a snowy, forested background, and filmed in Canada can realistically double for similar locations south of the border.

  6. It was so frustrating to see James Drury pushed to one side Richard. Yes Canada can provide the snow scenes sadly lacking in so many Southern California westerns. That was a weaknesss of “The Virginian” TV series. But as you know the only reason westerns are filmed in Canada (along with so many series) is because of lower costs. I guess if they could figure a way of making TV shows in China they would. 😦

  7. I have a couple of complaints about THE VIRGINIAN series. I love the show & watch 5 days a week on Encore.They must have bought up everything colored green that they could find, banisters, wall coverings, dresses, chairs, beds, buildings, etc. I’ve never gotten so tired of any color.
    What ruined tv westerns was too many love (soap opera) stories. It started with BONANZA; one week Hoss would be in love, the next Adam, the next little Joe, the next Lorne Greene. True western fans don’t want soaps. A love interest is ok. The VIRGINIAN had too many as far as I’m concerned. Was extremely glad Gulager became a regular. I also feel the changing of so many of the characters was bad for the show. Drury was asked by a fan at a festival, which I never would have done, how much he made on the show. He responded that he would say what Cobb made= $10,000 per episode. Clark, Boone, & Shore about dropped out of their seats because they were making but about less than a tenth of that.

    1. Funny you should mention about the color Joe – when I interviewed Frank Price for my book he mentioned this same fact. Green was favored by Universal in their productions for many years until Frank Price challenged it later in the 1960s.

  8. So Jim got about the same as Lee J., I wonder what Doug got? I don’t suppose it matters much as most of it went on alimony, but I like to think he got something approaching what Jim and Lee J. got, considering his contribution to the show over 9 years. He did joke about getting a raise after every divorce. Gary, Roberta and Randy must have got a shock to learn they didn’t get as much, although Roberta did say in your book, Paul, that she was aware of Jim and Doug getting more than she did, but not as much as Lee J.

  9. I have viewed the movie in its original run and was determined to see it again in case I just missed something, but alas I did not. Having read the novel before I actually saw the TV series, I was disappointed in the series in that it was not more faithful to the book. This TV movie was a disappointment in many respects. I hope others may be done, but I do not think they will be. I must be content to watch the reruns as they are shown.

  10. It is a good movie. The opening scenes excellent and capture the literal and figurative wildness of the country at that time after the Civil War. The Virginian is authentic as a time period character if one knows about Virginians. Many “common soldiers” were very literate. He, like Kain in High Noon, is “torn by love and duty”. The final scene when the Virginian seeks his love “back East” is very good.

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