Thursday, February 14, 2013
Film Review: Riders of the Purple Sage
In the 1990s (and a couple of years beyond), TNT was the “best little movie studio on television.” In other words, they produced some darn good original pictures, and in particular, some darn good Westerns. As a teenager in the ‘90s, I tried to catch as many of them as I could (this was in the days before the blessed invention known as the DVR, and my VCR recording skills weren’t particularly great). Somehow I missed Riders of the Purple Sage from 1996, and have been waiting to see it ever since. It has been on VHS for a number of years, but until recently was not on DVD. I would check for the DVD release several times a year (along with one of my favorites, The Avenging Angel) but was always disappointed to discover it was still not available…until now! Thanks to the Warner Brothers Archives, most of the TNT Originals are now on DVD, and I for one could not be happier. As a devoted and loyal Western fan, I recognized that TNT has given us some of the best modern films in the genre. Thankfully, they do not seem as much like a made-for-television movie as does, say, Hallmark Originals (this is not to say Hallmark doesn’t have some good Westerns, but even the best ones feel like long episodes of a television series, not necessarily a movie). TNT offered great casts, great stories, and some good action.
I say all of this to get around to my review of Riders. Based upon the Zane Grey novel from 1912, this version stars Ed Harris as Lassiter and Amy Madigan as Jane Withersteen. I will admit, I have never read the entire book, but only pieces here and there for a Western literature class I took in college. But, I did notice this filmed version has several differences from the novel. First of all, Zane Grey specifically identified the villains of his story as being Mormons. The 1996 movie does not actually mention Mormonism by name, and I am alright with this. I believe Grey unfairly characterized Latter-day Saints in his book, so I’m fine with that aspect being omitted. In the movie, it is simply a sect of some religious order that is not overtly identified.Secondly, the movie completely omits a side plot regarding the adoption by Jane Withersteen of a young girl. But, the book may be overly plot heavy, so some trimming was certainly needed in adapting the work for screen.
The movie moves along a bit slowly at times, but I actually never lost interest. In fact, the cinematography is great, and I almost got the feeling that I was actually in Southern Utah watching the storms roll in over the mesas. The beauty of the landscapes alone was enough to hold my interest. But the plot moves along at a fairly good pace, and there are some gunfights sprinkled throughout to keep things interesting. And speaking of gunfights…minor spoiler alert…the final gunfight taking place at the church is one of the best Western gunfights filmed in the last few decades. It had this fan of cowboy action shooting very happy!Overall, I give TNT’s Riders of the Purple Sage a rating of 4 out of 5. It is a beautifully filmed Western, with a strong story and great acting. The plot drags just a bit in the middle, keeping the film from scoring a perfect five. But, the action packed final twenty minutes makes for some great viewing.