Monday, February 20, 2017



Matthew McConaughey and Jacob Lofland

One of the much-anticipated films of 2016, which disappeared far too quickly, THE FREE STATE 
OF JONES is a remarkable, though flawed, film about a largely unknown aspect of the Civil War.  ‘Based on actual events’ (how we dread those words), JONES is the story of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Confederate Army nurse who deserts, skins home to Mississippi, where he finds the Confederate home guard is using the cover of war taxes to rob and starve the poor folks who’ve stayed behind to keep the farms running.

Mahershala Ali and McConaughey

Playing cat-and-mouse with the Reb Army, Newt helps the farmers resist, and when he’s driven into the swamps to avoid capture, he allies himself with runaway slaves.  He fashions an alliance between the poor whites and blacks that becomes a ragtag army, and soon a force to be reckoned with, even offering assistance to Union General Sherman.  McConaughey’s performance is terrific.  He’s powerfully supported with several standout performances, including Mahershala Ali as the runaway slave Moses – currently Oscar-nominated for MOONLIGHT and co-starring in HIDDEN FIGURES, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Newton’s would-be wife Rachel, and Jacob Lofland as a boy pressed into military service before he’s ready – watch for Lofland in AMC’s upcoming THE SON. Keri Russell as Newton’s wife is fine, but one wishes she had more to do.

Keri Russell & Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Writer-director Gary Ross who wrote THE HUNGER GAMES (2012), and wrote and directed SEABISCUIT (2003) and PLEASANTVILLE (1998), writes and directs beautifully within scenes, but the overall vision is what probably brought the picture down.  Simply put, all of Newton’s heroic efforts are for naught.  There’s a stirring sequence where Newton and his men pounce on a military transport in the forest – in the best sense it recalls the great Errol Flynn adventure films, with Newton as a drawling Robin Hood.  But if the Sheriff of Nottingham is ultimately the winner of the tale, the letdown is great. 

The real Newton Knight

The story is repeatedly interrupted with a flash-forward sequence, either the 1950s or 1960s, where presumably a descendant of Newton’s is on trial, and the suggestion is, even almost a century later, things aren’t much better.  Here’s a spoiler if you haven’t seen THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963).  Do the POWs accomplish everything they want to?  No; some are killed, and almost all are recaptured.  But they know they’ve made great problems for the Nazis, and when Steve McQueen returns to solitary with his baseball, you know he’ll be busting out again.  FREE STATE OF JONES needed that kind of hope.  FREE STATE OF JONES is available on DVD and BluRay, on Amazon Video, and all manner of platforms.


Rebs tune up

Friday’s rains had been heavy, and sporadic rain was falling on Saturday, February 11th, turning some walkways into muddy creeks.  “Rain?” scoffed a Rebel sergeant?  “You should have been at Gettysburg!”  Good point.

The Strathearn Park and Museum, in Simi, just a couple of miles from the Reagan Presidential Library, is a 19th century oasis, which includes ranch and farm buildings, Ventura County’s first library building, a mansion, and some smaller homes. 

This weekend they were hosting Civil War Days – Union encampment to the left, Confederacy to the right, as you entered.  Unusually, there was an enlistment booth right in the middle.  Kids chose a side, and were issued a blue or grey kepi, a wooden rifle, and sent to boot camp.  I thought it was a terrific way to get the kids involved, to immerse them in the history. 

Choosing sides

The rain had slowed me down – I had missed both the 11 a.m. skirmish, and the Gettysburg Address, but caught up with President Lincoln, and had a nice chat. 

My great moment with Mr. Lincoln

I hurried to the barn in time to watch a square-dance class, where ladies in antebellum gowns and gents in uniforms of varying rank joined women in yoga pants, cavorting to the caller’s instructions.

Later, while enjoying a bowl of chili in the barn, I looked up at a souvenir display and spotted a pennant from one of the area’s bygone historical attractions, Corriganville. 

I was determined to catch the 2 p.m. skirmish, so I kept an eye on my timepiece while I checked out the encampments, historical buildings, and was in the gift shop/bookshop when a cloudburst trapped several of us for a quarter hour. I ended up buying a stack of TimeLife Civil War volumes.

Bailey-Denton Photography had a fascinating display of period photography, as well as their own, using the old processes; they make tintypes and ambrotypes – photos on blue glass. 

In the Visitor Center, we were treated to what was billed as a Civil War Era Clothing Demonstration. It was actually a slow-motion, and very lady-like, striptease, as a Southern belle removed layer after layer of petticoat, hoopskirt, corset, with a narrator describing each garment. 

Sadly, I don’t know how far the lady went, because it was suddenly 2 p.m., and I hurried outside for the skirmish, and like the others gathered there, I waited.  Having attended a few Civil War reenactments, I knew a few things. Principally I knew that the most available free standing room is by the cannon batteries, and for a very good reason: hearing loss.  But there were no cannon to avoid.  

A Confederate combo had been playing throughout the day, and now a Union band marched and played.  We waited. The field of battle was mud, and empty.  

Taking advantage of the delay, a squad of grade-school Union recruits took the field under their commander.  A Rebel troop soon did the same.  On command, they pointed their wooden rifles and yelled, “Bang!”  They ‘reloaded’ and did it again.  I checked my watch. “Bang!” Some kids were dropping in the mud.  I gave them credit for letting themselves be hit, instead of yelling, “Missed me!” like me and my friends always did.  

Rebs take the field

As I was checking my watch for the third time – 2:40 p.m. – it suddenly dawned on me: this, with the little kids and their wooden rifles, was the 2 p.m. skirmish!  I looked up; the Confederate sergeant was by my side.  “What were you expecting: Gettysburg?”

The 2 o'clock skirmish.


Barry Bostwick

Walter Huston

Happy Presidents’ Day!  I was going to list all of the movies on TV today that are about Washington and Lincoln, but as far as I can tell, there aren’t any.  There aren’t any about the other Presidents, either.   So, I don’t know where you can get it, but I’m recommending Barry Bostwick’s portrayal of Washington in the 1983 miniseries GEORGE WASHINGTON.  I checked for other portrayals on IMDB and sadly, almost all are comedy sketches.  And I’m recommending Walter Huston’s portrayal of Lincoln in D.W. Griffith’s 1930 film ABRAHAM LINCOLN.  I’m not saying Huston is better than Raymond Massey or Henry Fonda or Daniel Day Lewis; but he’s awfully good, and rarely seen – and it’s in public domain, so you can see it anywhere – I’ve posted a link to it on Youtube below.  You might also want to check out Bill Oberst Jr.’s Lincoln in ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES.  He does a particularly fine reading of the Gettysburg Address. 

Happy trails,

All Original Contents Copyright February 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 12, 2017


RUNNING WILD – A Film Review

What do you do when you’ve gone through all of your wife’s money, incurred tremendous debt, and still failed to save her family ranch?  One option is to drive your truck headlong into a tree at 80 miles an hour.  The young, sheltered and coddled socialite widow, Stella Davis (Dorian Brown Pham) is blissfully unaware of her dire situation until, with her husband’s death, she learns that she’ll lose everything she owns in ninety days.  Compounding her worries, several starving horses have wandered onto her property, and though she can barely afford to feed her own stock, she hasn’t the heart to push them out.

Stella gets more bad news

Desperate to create some income, she and her foreman Brannon (Jason Lewis) sign the ranch up for a prison program that prepares convicts for freedom by teaching them to train horses – the same program, Stella learns, that Brannon came out of.  Now Stella must contend with debts, surly and dangerous cons (including SONS OF ANARCHY’s Tommy Flanagan, Tom Williamson and Michael Girgenti), and ‘friends’ like Jennifer (Christina Moore) who say they want to help, but would love to acquire Stella’s ranch and stud horse at a fire-sale price.  But the biggest threat comes from Jennifer’s sister, Meredith Parish (Sharon Stone), a richer-than-Trump widowed animal-rights loony who thinks that all horses should be free – saddling one is tantamount to slavery!  And she’s a media darling with the meanness, savvy and power to destroy Stella.

The animal activists you love to hate!

Effectively written and acted, populated by interesting characters – particularly the cons – whose stake in the outcome grows as the story progresses, RUNNING WILD is an entertaining and enjoyably hopeful film.  French-born director Alex Ranarivelo has gone from zero to sixty practically overnight, from directing shorts to directing six or eight features back-to-back for ESX Entertainment, of which RUNNING WILD is the first to be released.  And he has a skill with both drama and action – no surprise with the latter, considering his background in street racing.
Interestingly, some of the on-screen talents are stretching their legs in unexpected sides of the production.  Sharon Stone, clearly willing to be beautifully detestable, is one of the producers.  And her screen sister, Christina Moore, co-wrote the screenplay with Brian Rudnick.

Searching for runaway horses

While the plot is more than ample to hold your attention, this neo-Western has something on its mind beyond the conflict of its characters – exposing the plight of thousands of wild horses, overpopulating government land, left to starve, or rounded up and incarcerated (am I starting to sound like Sharon Stone’s character?).  A related approach to this problem is shown in the fine documentary WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE (read my review HERE ).

Convicts get to ride -- with the law right behind!

 RUNNING WILD is now available at selected theatres, and on demand, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 

Luckily Brannon has a way with horses.


Franco Nero with Joan Collins

One of the truly not-to-be-missed annual events in L.A., The Los Angeles-Italia Festival, under the auspices of the Consulate General of Italy, is a week of Italian culture and Italian films, and all of the screenings are free, on a first-come, first-seated basis.  In addition to many American premieres of Italian films, as well as some world premieres, there are many screenings honoring Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, and Italian-American actor Dean Martin.  Some years have included many Italian Westerns, but the pickings are pretty thin this go-round.  On Tuesday, Feb. 22nd at noon, RIO BRAVO, starring Dean Martin, will screen.  On Wednesday, at 10 p.m., a new Western short starring Franco Nero, ALONG THE RIVER, will screen, and Nero will be present.  To find out about all of the other screenings and events, go HERE. 


The second season of WGN’s UNDERGROUND will premiere on Wednesday, March 8th.  This is a very involving and exciting series about The Underground Railroad, which was smuggling escaped slaves from Southern states to the safety and freedom of the North.  If you missed season one, keep an eye on the WGN schedule, as my guess is that the previous episodes will be replayed prior to the new shows.  I had the opportunity to talk about the design and look of the show with UNDERGROUND’s Production Designer and Costume Designer – keep an eye out for that soon in True West.  In the meantime, here’s a trailer:


THE SON will premiere on AMC on Saturday, April 8th.  I’ve seen the first two episodes of THE SON, based on Philipp Meyer’s critically acclaimed bestselling novel, and I think it’s terrific, a worthy successor to the network’s HELL ON WHEELS.  The story of a Texas oil family, it’s told in two parallel storylines, both about Eli McCullough.  In 1849, as a teenager abducted by Comanche, he is played by Jacob Lofland.  As a turn-of-the-century oil magnate, he’s played by Pierce Brosnan.  Both story-lines are fascinating, and shockingly true to history.  I was able to speak not only to Meyer, but to producers and several members of the cast – again, coming soon to True West.  And here’s the first trailer --  


Sam Elliot stars as an aging Western actor coming to terms with his life in THE HERO, which The Orchard has picked up for theatrical release this fall.  His co-stars include his beautiful bride Katherine Ross, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, and Nick Offerman.  Director Brett Haley and writer Marc Basch had previously collaborated with Elliot, when he starred opposite Blythe Danner in I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (2015). 
While there’s not a trailer yet, here’s an interesting clip.

And here’s a clip from a TMZ show, where an unprepared reporter tries to interview Sam Elliot.


Travis Fimmel, who has a huge following from THE VIKINGS series and the WARCRAFT feature, is finally getting to do a Western.  A few years ago, when there was going to be a feature based on THE BIG VALLEY, he was cast as Heath – and Lee Majors was going to play his dad, the never-before seen Tom Barkley. Sadly, that project shut down when the director went to jail for scamming Massachusetts out of money on another film. But now Travis will be playing Wyatt Earp on a new anthology series for History Channel.  He also wrote the episode, and is producing the series.


One of the series’ fine behind-the-camera talents, Ron Honthaner, who worked for seven seasons on more than 150 episodes of GUNSMOKE, died on January 10, 2017, after a five-month battle with lung cancer.  After serving four years in the Navy, Ron studied film at U.S.C., and worked on independent features, including the drama THE EXILES (1961), famous for its look at the lives of American Indians in Los Angeles.  A man of many skills, his first job on a Western was on the animated feature THE MAN FROM BUTTON WILLOW (’65). Landing a position in post-production at Columbia—Screen Gems TV, he worked on THE ADDAMS FAMILY and THE WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY until, in 1967, he sold a script to GUNSMOKE.  He would eventually sell the series another script – his two episodes are NOWHERE TO RUN (’68) and BLIND MAN’S BUFF (’72) – and he became Post-production Supervisor and, later Associate Producer on the series.  

He also worked on the GUNSMOKE spin-off series DIRTY SALLY (1974).
He worked as an editor on several series, and directed the feature THE HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN in 1974.  When James Arness returned to the west in the HOW THE WEST WAS WON series in 1976, Ron was Post-production Coordinator, as well as being one of the editors on ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE (1976).  He even did a little acting in the Western comedy HOT LEAD AND COLD FEET (1978). 

Lately Ron had turned to prose and written the excellent Western novel THE SHADOW OF THE HAWK (you can read my review HERE ), and you can order it from Amazon HERE .

Ron is survived by his wife Eve, son Jed, daughter-in-law Jackie, sister Joan Campbell, and many nieces and nephews.  Donations in his memory can be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund ( or to Hospice Charities of America, c/o Sanctuary Hospice – 150 Paularino Ave., Suite C-125 – Costa Mesa, CA 92626.


Please check out my article in the February True West Magazine, featuring actress Constance Towers’ memories of working for John Ford on THE HORSE SOLDIERS, with John Wayne and William Holden.  In the next Round-up, I’ll talk about the red carpet at the RUNNING WILD premiere, review the largely over-looked Civil War picture from last year, FREE STATE OF JONES, talk to stunt ace Walter Scott about his work on THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and THE COWBOYS, and look in on this weekend’s Civil War Days at Strathearn Park in Simi.  Have a great week!

Happy trails,


All Original Contents Copyright February 2017 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 17, 2017



Tuesday, January 17th, at eleven a.m. sharp – don’t make him wait! – the man who faced down Matt Dillon nineteen times, and was killed my Matt in nearly all of them, will be joining Rob Word in the Wells Fargo Theatre of The Autry Museum for a look at WESTERN BAD GUYS in the newest edition of ‘A Word on Westerns.’  Other sinister visitors will include Jerry Potter from GUNSMOKE, THE WILD WILD WEST MOVIE, and THE ALAMO: THIRTEEN DAYS OF GLORY.  Also Patrick Kilpatrick from THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, LAST STAND AT SABRE RIVER and LAZARUS MAN, and Tara Gordon, daughter of Leo Gordon, of MCCLINTOCK!, MAVERICK and GUNSMOKE fame!  It’s a free event, always entertaining and informative. Don’t miss it!   


As part of the Autry’s long-running ‘What is a Western?’ film series, on Saturday, January 21st, at 1:30 pm in the Wells Fargo Theatre, see Sam Peckinpah’s charming and surprisingly gentle THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970), starring Jason Robards Jr. and the dazzling Stella Stevens, and screened in glorious 35MM! 


This year’s annual Old West Auction in Mesa, Arizona will feature a compendium of beautiful and fascinating art and artifacts from American history.  They always have wonderful posters, paintings, Cowboy art, American Indian Art, guns, saddles, Edward Bohlin silver. Among the most fascinating items, seen on the catalog cover above, is a Sharps rifle scientifically proven to have been used by an Indian at The Little Bighorn – it’s expected to fetch from $300,000 to half a million.  And there are costume items from John Wayne, Buck Jones, and Gene Autry, Roy Rogers’ watch, Tom Mix’s chaps, letters written by Buffalo Bill Cody, a gold watch given by Will Rogers to Charlie Russell, and much more.  The link to learn more is HERE.


The story of two volunteer nurses on opposing sides of the Civil War, working together at a military hospital, PBS’s MERCY STREET is back for another season starting this Sunday.  As schedules for PBS vary from station to station, check for times, and also check to see if they’re doing any kind of recap from season one.  The one criticism I heard last year was that the show was a little claustrophobic, but the producers have promised to open it up more for season two, as the trailer indicates.


Feeling a need to get out of town, film executive, casting agent and author Judy Belshe-Toernblom visited the town of Boonville, in Northern California, learned about the locals’ unique dialect, ‘boontling,’ and the seed of a story took root in her imagination. In time it grew into a screenplay, and now a movie, BOONVILLE REDEMPTION (to read about my visit to the set, go HERE and HERE), and a prequel novel, BOONVILLE REDEMPTION: THE END OF THE BEGINNING. 

Directed by Don Schroeder, the faith-based film set in 1906 boasts an impressive supporting cast, including Pat Boone as the town doctor and story narrator, Diane Ladd as the grandmother, Robert Hays as a pastor, and Ed Anser as the judge. 

Pat Boone and Emily Hoffman between scenes

But the film truly rises and falls on the shoulders of the very young and very talented Emily Hoffman at the story’s center.  She plays Melinda, a child who has always known she was looked down upon, but only recently learned the reason; that she was born out of wedlock.  She lives with her mother Alice (Shari Rigby), half-brother (Callder Griffith), and stepfather, a man named Maddox (Richard Tyson), who is the most wealthy, and feared, man in town.  He considers himself to have ‘saved’ her mother by marrying her, and he hates Melinda as a living reminder of his wife’s history, and shame.
When Alice’s mother (Diane Ladd) is ailing physically and mentally, Maddox seizes the opportunity, and sends Melinda away to care for the old lady.  Through the old lady, who drifts in and out of rationality and the boontling language, Melinda starts to uncover the truth about her true father, his disappearance, and crimes that include murder.  She’s helped in her efforts by an eccentric young boy nicknamed Shakespeare (Nicholas Neve). 

I’m not going to say ‘spoiler alert’, but it is 1906 in Northern California, and true history does intrude in this fictional tale.  A Western only in terms of its setting, it is in many ways a mystery, though without the urgent pacing we identify with that genre.  But whether in several genres or none exactly, it’s a well-acted, attractively filmed story of an endearing girl’s search for the truth about her own existence, and how her revelations turn a seemingly sleepy and highly secretive community on its head. 

BOONVILLE REDEMPTION is available on, and in stores on DVD.


Early in the story, spoiled playboy Cary Culver (William Boyd) is asked by a society lady if he is ‘that’ Culver, whose scandals are always in the paper.  He laughs it off – that’s his cousin, he fabricates, who makes it hard for folks who share his name.  Ironically, less than two years later Boyd would be in precisely the same position, with no fabricating.  In 1931 another actor named William Boyd would be arrested in a brothel, and when newspapers ran a picture of the wrong man, the white haired DeMille star would be ruined for years, until he was hired to play the role that would change his life and make his career, Hopalong Cassidy.

In the 1929 service comedy HIS FIRST COMMAND (Pathe), Boyd’s character is so determined to prove to Col. Gaylord’s smug but lovely daughter Judy (Dorothy Sebastian) that he can be more than a dilettante, that he enlists in the cavalry, and unexpectedly (okay, very expectedly) has a chance to prove himself a hero.  

Originally promoted as “All Music, Color and Dialogue” (the color sequences presumably no longer exist), this early talkie shares many of the traits common to films in the transition from the silents – pacing problems, some stilted performances, with most scenes done in one shot, because it was so difficult to edit.  But it’s amusing, and novel to see Boyd playing a character so different from his trademark role.  And Boyd’s naturalness and ease with sound is years ahead of its time.  The film was important in Boyd’s life as well as career, since he subsequently divorced his second wife, Elinor Fair, and married leading lady Dorothy Sebastian.  She was well-known for starring opposite Buster Keaton in SPITE MARRIAGE (1929) and other films, and they were said to have been lovers at one time.   

It’s directed by Gregory LaCava, whose 1936 comedy hit MY MAN GODFREY would find William Powell and Carole Lombard examining many of the issues raised by COMMAND. LaCava co-wrote COMMAND with actor/writer James Gleason and Jack Jungmeyer.  The audio quality is good, and the grey scale and condition of the print is good, although the focus is fuzzy throughout.  But odds are it’s the best, quite possibly the only, copy available of this entertaining little film.  It’s available from Alpha Video HERE


It’s a pity that after 146 years, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus is, or soon will be no more.  I loved it as a kid, and I loved it as an adult who likes to feel like a kid once in a while. While I was often dubious about the treatment animals received at the tiny fleabag circuses, most of the complaints about abuse at Ringling Brothers didn’t ring true.  Sorry, kids of coming generations. You’ll never experience the Greatest Show on Earth!


Happy Trails,

All Original Contents Copyright January 2017 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


Saturday, December 24, 2016



Three of our favorite networks – INSP, ME-TV and GET-TV – are celebrating Christmas by airing Christmas-themed Western episodes.  Here’s the list, and all the times are Western, so adjust your viewing accordingly. 
Christmas Eve, December 24th, at
7 a.m. – INSP -  EBENEZER – a 1997 TV-movie Western version of Dicken’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL, starring Jack Palance as Scrooge, co-starring Ricky Schroder
9:15 a.m. – GET-TV – THE TALL MAN – BILLY’S BABY (1960), starring Clu Gulager as Billy the kid, and Barry Sullivan as Pat Garrett
9:55 a.m. – GET-TV – YANCY DERRINGER – OLD DIXIE (1958), starring Jock Mahoney and X Brands.
10:30 a.m. – GET-TV – RESTLESS GUN – THE CHILD (1957), starring John Payne
11:10 a.m. – GET-TV – RESTLESS GUN – A BELL FOR SANTO DOMINGO (1958) starring John Payne
11:45 a.m. – GET-TV – CIMARRON CITY – CIMARRON HOLIDAY (1958) starring George Montgomery
1:00 p.m. – ME-TV – GUNSMOKE – P.S. – MURRY CHRISTMAS (1971)
2:00 p.m. – ME-TV – BONANZA – GABRIELLE (1961) 
3:00 p.m. – ME-TV – RAWHIDE – 25 SANTA CLAUSES (1961), guest-starring Ed Wynn
4:00 p.m. – ME-TV – WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE – 8 CENT REWARD (1958), guest-starring Jay North
4:00 p.m. – GET-TV – MIRACLE IN THE WILDERNESS (1991), TV-movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Kim Cattrall
4:30 p.m.  – ME-TV – WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE – NO TRAIL BACK (1959)
6:00 p.m. – GET-TV – THE CHRISTMAS STALLION (1992) contemporary Western TV-movie, set in Wales, starring Daniel J. Travanti and Lynette Davies
10:20 p.m. – GET-TV – MIRACLE IN THE WILDERNESS (1991), TV-movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Kim Cattrall
December 25th – Christmas Day
5:00 p.m. – INSP - EBENEZER – a 1997 TV-movie Western version of Dicken’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL, starring Jack Palance as Scrooge, co-starring Ricky Schroder
7:00 p.m. – INSP – 3 GODFATHERS (1948) – the John Ford Classic, starring John Wayne, Pedro Amendariz, and Harry Carey Jr. (obviously not a TV episode, but a great Christmas movie)
AMC will be showing some great, non-Christmas John Wayne and Clint Eastwood Westerns all-day Christmas Day.


After years of quietly refining his acting skills laboring in cinema’s boondocks, taking small roles in big shows, and big parts in films that go largely unseen, with STAGECOACH : THE TEXAS JACK STORY, Trace Adkins emerges as something we haven’t seen in more than twenty years: a genuine new B-Western star.  Despite his Country Music stardom, Trace would not have been a leading man in the days of the original crossover stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.  His grim countenance would have earned him the parts played by Glenn Strange.   As scruffy as Willy Nelson, and as massively menacing as Ron Perlman, Adkins seems to have stepped out of a Matthew Brady photograph and onto the screen.  But his gruff, quiet, shoot-from-the-hip confidence and camera appeal is the stuff of movie stardom.

In STAGECOACH he plays genuine highwayman Nathaniel Reed, alias ‘Texas Jack’ Reed, whose gang robbed many a stagecoach and train in the Indian Territory during the 1880s and ‘90s, and who lived longer than any of his contemporaries, surviving halfway into the 20th century, dying an evangelist in 1950.

Making their getaway

The story begins with a stage hold-up pulled by Reed and his partners, including Sid Dalton (Judd Nelson, of ‘Brat Pack’ fame) and Frank Bell (Claude Duhamel, the demonic Anton Stice in last year’s WESTERN RELIGION). All goes efficiently, and no one gets hurt.  That is, until shotgun guard Calhoun (Kim Coates of SONS OF ANARCHY) takes shots at the fleeing bandits.  Reed returns fire, and Calhoun goes down.

Abruptly six years have passed.  The gang members have parted ways, and Reed, no longer an outlaw,  is now happily married to Laura Lee (Michelle Harrison), and facing more mundane concerns like paying his mortgage when his livery business has slowed down.  Without warning or welcome, Frank Bell appears to tip Reed that a deadly man is on their trail: Calhoun, the shotgun guard who lost an eye in the earlier robbery, is now a U.S. Marshall, with a personal vendetta against Reed and his gang: he’s already killed one of their accomplices, and is on Reed’s trail.

Claude Duhamel

Moments later, Calhoun arrives and all Hell breaks loose, in an exciting room-to-room gun battle that leaves Reed alive, but with nothing to live for.  Soon he’s back in business with Frank and Sid, robbing stages and staying a step ahead of the dementedly driven Calhoun, although a showdown is, of course, inevitable.  There’s plenty of action when called for, but it’s the real kind, not the CGI’d nonsense – the gunshots frequently sound like actual gunshots.  Director Terry Miles, who previously helmed the Westerns THE DAWN RIDER (2012) and LONESOME DOVE CHURCH (2014), brings a genuineness from his actors, and a sense of brooding, panic and sometimes despair, which one doesn’t usually get in a Western, but is highly appropriate to the story. 

The dialogue in the script by Dan Benamor and Matt Williams has a naturalness that helps us buy the characters, and unusually, allows what would normally be throw-away characters to shine.  When was the last time you saw a likable young banker in a Western?   The one sour note in the film is the character of psychopathic female bounty hunter Bonnie Mudd (Helena Marie), who works for the U.S. Marshall (!), and despite Ms. Marie’s best efforts, seems to have stepped into the wrong movie.  

Judd Nelson

Produced by Jack, Jacob and Joseph Nasser, STAGECOACH, like their DAWN RIDER and LONESOME DOVE CHURCH, and their surprisingly effective version of THE VIRGINIAN (2014), in which Adkins also had the title role, is filmed in Canada, and takes full advantage of the lush greenery and other visual values.   Their films are low-budget, but rather than being threadbare, they are self-contained and intimate, avoiding busy towns and containing few extraneous characters.  The art direction and costuming is not self-consciously elaborate, but is correct and attractively photographed. 

The strong performances by the criminal triad of Adkins, Nelson, and Duhamel, and their nemesis, Coates, are the core of this action-packed but thoughtful Western.  STAGECOACH – THE TEXAS JACK STORY is from Cinedigm, who brought you TRADED, starring Michael Pere, Kris Kristofferson and Trace Adkins earlier this year.  STAGECOACH – THE TEXAS JACK STORY is available on Amazon, iTunes, and other streaming services, as well as DVD.


It's the start of the dreaded 'Award Season' in 'The Industry', and the good news is, WESTWORLD and HELL OR HIGH WATER are getting the attention they deserve.   The Critics Choice Awards were already announced, honoring WESTWORLD's Evan Rachel Wood as Best Actress in a Drama Series, and Thandie Newton as Best Supporting Actress.  The Writers Guild announced their TV nominations, and WESTWORLD was nominated for Best Drama and Best New Series.  

Evan Rachel Wood

The Foreign Press Association announced their Golden Globe nominations, HELL OR HIGH WATER is nominated for Best Motion Picture - Drama.  Jeff Bridges is nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and Taylor Sheridan is nominated for Best Screenplay.  Bridges has been Oscar and Globe nominated six times each, and won both in 2009 for CRAZY AT HEART.  WESTWORLD is nominated for Best Television Seris - Drama.  Evan Rachel Wood is nominated for Best Actress, and Thandie Newton for Best Supporting.  

Thandie Newton

The SCREEN ACTORS GUILD has nominated Thandie Newton not for supporting, but for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor for WESTWORLD.  Jeff Bridges is nominated for his HELL OR HIGH WATER supporting. Additionally, WESTWORLD is nominated for a S.A.G. Award for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble.  And WESTWORLD’s entire featured cast is nominated for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.  In case you’re wondering who some of them are, here are the names:   

ED HARRIS / Man in Black
LUKE HEMSWORTH / Ashley Stubbs
RODRIGO SANTORO / Hector Escaton
ANGELA SARAFYAN / Clementine Pennyfeather
EVAN RACHEL WOOD / Dolores Abernathy


It's been officially Christmas Eve and the first day of Chanukah  Eve for an hour and a half, and I'm setting the DVR, then hitting the hay.  I hope you find what you want in your stocking, and I hope 2017 is an improvement on your 2016.  And I thank you for your continued support of my writing in The Round-up and True West,  

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright December 2016 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved