TCM have recently released The Virginian (1946) starring Joel McCrea as part of a DVD set. The Paramount film, based on the Owen Wister novel, is a simple tale of romance, friendship, duty and justice. There are few shades of grey. Brian Donlevy, suitably dressed in black, plays the evil Trampas who serves as a bad and ultimately tragic influence on The Virginian’s friend Steve Andrews (Sonny Tufts) who turns to cattle rustling.
Joel McCrea is effective as The Virginian but the film belongs to a very effective Sonny Tufts as Steve and the beautiful Barbara Britton as Molly Wood. She provides the centrepiece of the film and the contrast between East and West. Her disgust at the brutality of the Old West is tempered by her love for The Virginian. The film benefits from excellent technicolor cinematography by Harry Hallenberger and an uplifting, optimistic atmosphere from director Stuart Gilmore. Although it lacks depth in places it is still preferable to the bleak, dismal 2000 TNT production.
Text copyright Paul Green 2012
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.
For those interested in The Virginian episode “Duel at Shiloh” (1:15) you may be interested to know it’s an adaptation of the 1955 Universal-International Western film Man Without A Star starring Kirk Douglas as Dempsey Rae. William Campbell plays the tenderfoot Jeff Jimson. Borden Chase and D.D. Beauchamp provided the screenplay based on the novel by Dee Linford.
Brian Keith subtitutes for Kirk Douglas and Gary Clarke for William Campbell in “Duel at Shiloh.” The parallels are interesting to watch, with similar scenes and locations. including the shooting scene above. Man Without A Star is recommended viewing. Campbell tries a little too hard to be convincing as a “green” youth but Douglas is on top form
The story was adapted yet again in 1968 as A Man Called Gannon featuring Tony Franciosa in the Douglas/Keith role and Michael Sarrazin in the Campbell/Clarke role. James Goldstone directed this inferior remake.
Interesting to watch this scene from the 1929 film adaptation of Owen Wister’s novel. Gary Cooper plays the Virginian and Walter Huston plays Trampas in a manner more in keeping with Wister’s original vision.
Unfortunately in this scene Huston comes across as a pantomime villain – lacking depth with his swaggering delivery. A legacy from the silent era when body movement was over emphasized to convey emotion. By contrast Gary Cooper manages to convey emotion with less effort. A skill in itself and more in synch with the new era of sound.