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Published: Friday, 1/17/2003

Selleck gets back in the saddle

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In an interview with Turner Network Television, Tom Selleck bemoaned the fact that there aren't a whole lot of people doing westerns these days.

“I would bring up my friend Sam Elliott as another who has done a lot of westerns,” he said. “But after we're gone, well, I'm not sure” [who will step into the genre].

But Selleck's not gone yet, and he continues to make westerns, if not for the big screen, then for the small. His Louis L'Amour's Crossfire Trail attracted 12.5 million viewers last season, making it the most-watched basic-cable movie of the year.

TNT will reprise Crossfire Trail at 6 tonight, following it with the premiere of Monte Walsh, in which Selleck stars and executive-produces.

Monte Walsh reteams Selleck, producer Michael Brandman, and director Simon Wincer, the trio behind Crossfire Trail. And if that's not enough of a pedigree to bring western fans to the television set, Wincer is also the guy responsible for what is often considered the best TV western ever made: Lonesome Dove.

Monte Walsh is central to TNT's Western Weekend, a marathon of movies that starts at noon today and runs through 5 a.m. Monday.

It's enough to force videocassette recorders into a nervous breakdown.

Monte Walsh is a remake of a 1970 Lee Marvin-Jack Palance movie. It's about changing times, a vanishing way of life, and how cowboys are forced to adapt.

Selleck plays Walsh, a cowboy who revels in being able to “ride from Canada to Mexico and be paid for the privilege.”

Walsh and his closest friend, Chet Rollins (Keith Carradine), take jobs where they want, when they want. But after one particularly hard winter spent tending cattle in the high country, Monte and Chet return to town to learn that the ranch for which they work has been sold, like many others, to an eastern consortium that is run by accountants.

Small company sold to big conglomerate: Who says westerns aren't relevant?

Cal Brennan (William Devane) is the new range manager for the consortium, and he hires Monte and Chet for his crew. But a lot of other cowboys, close friends, are out of work, and more are being fired every day.

Some turn to cattle rustling to survive, others decide to embrace the changes and give up being cowboys.

This is a move Monte cannot comprehend, let alone embrace.

The movie, based on a novel by Jack Schaefer, the author of Shane, is filled with beautiful country and a solid story. There is humor and poignancy, such as a scene in the bunkhouse after one of their number dies. The cowboys called him “Fightin' Joe” and are stunned to learn that his name was Albert. They realize how little they know about each other.

And there is action in Monte Walsh, but it's reserved for those times when it seems credible. The movie is more of a character study than anything else.

This suits Selleck just fine.

“There's nothing wrong with the western genre,” Selleck said in the TNT interview. “It's just that Hollywood doesn't know how to make them anymore. You don't need to gimmick it up.”



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