Monday, May 21, 2012


TV Series Review – LONGMIRE

With the success of TRUE GRIT and HELL ON WHEELS, and the anticipation for Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED, every network, and many cable outlets, announced pilots for Western series.  In the recently posted TV schedules, however, these new Westerns are conspicuously absent with one exception, and that is LONGMIRE, a present-day Western which premieres on Sunday, June 3rd, for a ten episode first season on the A&E Network. 

Craig Johnson has written eight Walt Longmire mystery novels since he began with the critically acclaimed THE COLD DISH in 2004, and he set the stories in modern-day Wyoming.  This is a familiar world to Johnson, whose ranch borders both Crow and Cheyenne reservations.  The TV series is likewise set in Absaroka County, Wyoming, where Walt Longmire is sheriff.  Australian actor Robert Taylor plays Longmire, and he’s fine casting as the easy-going-until-you-cross-him sheriff.  He seems like an amalgam of all the young guys who populated 1960s Warner Brothers Western series – CHEYENNE, BRONCO, LAWMAN, LARAMIE – but now he’s in his late forties, with joys and sorrows in his past.   His wife died a year ago, and he still has her outgoing message on the answer-machine.  His daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman) can’t even get him to give up her mom’s ashes so they can be buried.  She worries about him.  Everyone worries about him, especially after a car wreck: is he drinking too much?  Is he cracking up?

Longmire is assisted by three deputies.  Blonde Katee Sackhoff, lately of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, plays Vic Moretti, who is doing her best, but would be much more comfortable back in a big city police department.   Adam Bartley plays ‘the Ferg,’ young and soft and inexperienced, and looking for a chance to work in the field.  Handsome and ripped Bailey Chase, whose career got kick-started by BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, plays Branch Connally, the kind of co-worker you’d only learn was gunning for your job if you spotted a campaign poster.

The pilot episode centers on a sheep-killing that leads to a man-killing, prostitution on the res, a runaway Indian girl, and an old Sharps rifle.  It’s a tight and logical mystery, and populated with the kind of rural characters not found in cop shows.  It’s not a cop show, after all, but a sheriff show, even more so than JUSTIFIED is. 

Lou Diamond Phillips

Among the people Longmire turns to for help is friend and saloon owner Henry Standing Bear, played by YOUNG GUNS’ Lou Diamond Phillips.  Happily, he’s a continuing character.  The guest cast includes the lovely Irene Bedard from SMOKE SIGNALS, and Zahn McClarnon as Mathias, a res cop who has no patience when Longmire steps onto the res and out of his jurisdiction. 

If the pilot is a fair indication, LONGMIRE successfully balances having satisfying and thought-provoking mysteries, and characters worth thinking about after the end-titles have rolled.  I’m setting my DVR for the series now.


Before you try to correct me, no, I don’t mean ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER.  That Tim Burton-produced movie, which opens on June 22nd, is reportedly budgeted at $85 million.  ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES, which will be available on video May 29th, reportedly cost $150,000.  I watched it last night, and found it morbidly delightful.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES is a production of The Asylum Film Company, which is currently celebrating its 15th year and 100th movie.  If you are not familiar with The Asylum, they’ve created a kind of movie called ‘The Mockbuster,’ a movie that follows on the publicity coattails of big budget movies, either making fun of them, or frankly trying to confuse the consumer into renting the wrong one.  Their ALMIGHTY THOR is based on the Norse myth rather than the comic books; their SHERLOCK HOLMES, while lacking Robert Downey Jr., was shot in Ireland and featured a tyrannosaurus rampaging through London; their JOHN CARTER OF MARS is based on the same public domain Edgar Rice Burroughs novel as JOHN CARTER; and yes, they produced TITANIC 2.  They’ve also made 6 GUNS, a very low-budget but very watchable western starring Barry Van Dyke.

I cannot say how close the ZOMBIES version is to Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling novel, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, because I haven’t read it, and my impression (possibly wrong) is that few people have.  It’s the sort of book you buy not to read, but to give to your history teacher to amuse or upset her.  But the story in this one is by Karl T. Hirsch and J. Lauren Proctor, and it’s scripted and directed by Richard Schenkman, who first made a splash when he wrote and directed THE POMPATUS OF LOVE.  As someone says in the ‘making of’ featurette, it’s not historically accurate so much as an alternative to historical accuracy.

As the movie begins, we first see the future Great Emancipator killing a zombie as a child.  Then later, now president, in the midst of Civil War, while calming Mary Todd Lincoln’s fears about his safety as he prepares his Gettysburg Address, what stuns the viewer is the absolute seriousness with which the filmmakers attack their story.  While the premise is obviously nutty, this movie is a comedy with not one spoken joke, with not a wink to the audience in the entire film.  Bill Oberst Jr., who plays Lincoln, is not a familiar actor to me – no one in the entire cast is – and yet he brings a seriousness, dignity and heart to his performance that moves you, and compares well with Royal Dano (Disneyland’s GREAT MOMENTS WITH MR. LINCOLN) or any of the hundreds of previous Lincoln portrayals.    

A group of soldiers have been sent by the White House on a secret mission down south.  Only one comes back, and he has become a zombie.  The president, fearing a zombie outbreak could decimate the country’s population, assembles a dozen of his best men and, as the only one with first-hand zombie-fighting experience, leads them into the deep South, to the fort where the outbreak began, and there he must fight not only zombies but Confederate General Stonewall Jackson (Don McGraw).  The fort is where most of the film occurs, and it was shot in Savannah, Georgia, at Ft. Pulaski National Monument, the site of an early battle of the Civil War, and the first post of Robert E. Lee after he left West Point. 

From this point on, the story resembles Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, except that the small group being attacked by zombies is the president and his team in a fort, rather than a group of random people in a Pittsburgh farmhouse.  If your suspension of disbelief lets you accept that people can be menaced by zombies in the first place, it’s no more of a stretch to have the president in that situation than anyone else.  And the cast members, while not familiar, are uniformly convincing in their performances. 

Cinematographer Tim Gill makes excellent use of the Georgia locations, and the color has been adjusted to frequently make the images nearly black and white, which lends a nice subconscious Matthew Brady effect.  The art direction, costumes and props all feel correct for the period, and the make-up, zombie as well as normal, is convincing.  My only criticism of the look of the film is that, while two of the female leads, played by Baby Norman and Hannah Bryan, are quite beautiful, their hair is much too modern for the period.

While you don’t need to be an expert on Lincoln to enjoy the movie, the writers have utilized enough of his words to give the savvy viewer a wry grin, especially in the speech by another character that inspires what will become the Gettysburg Address.  There are also some great cameos by real historical figures,  some that are funny for their logic and some for their arbitrariness. 

While I doubt it will replace our memories of Henry Fonda in YOUNG MR. LINCOLN or Raymond Massey in ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS, it’s entertaining in its silly earnestness, and certainly worth what Redbox will charge you.  Mr. Oberst’s performance of the Gettysburg Address near the end is beautiful in its delivery and simplicity.  And the audacity of the very end of the movie – once you get it – will make your jaw drop.


Back in February, I reviewed THE LEGEND OF HELL’S GATE (you can see it HERE ), and offered readers a discounted on-line screening of the movie.  I’m very happy to report that HELL’S GATE has been picked up by for distribution by LIGHTNING ENTERTAINMENT, and will be released on DVD on June 19th.  I’ll be featuring my interview with writer/director/costar Tanner Beard here in the Round-up within the next couple of weeks!


More and more, classic TV Westerns are available all over the TV universe, but they tend to be on small networks that are easy to miss. Of course, ENCORE WESTERNSis the best continuous source of such programming, and has been for years. Currently they run LAWMAN, WAGON TRAIN, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, LAREDO, RAWHIDE, GUNSMOKE, THE REBEL, and MARSHALL DILLON, which is the syndication title for the original half-hour GUNSMOKE.

RFD-TV is currently showing THE ROY ROGERS SHOW, first at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Pacific Time, then repeated several times a week. They show a Royfeature every Tuesday as well, with repeats -- check your local listings.

INSP-TVshows THE BIG VALLEY Monday through Saturday,LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE seven days a week, DR. QUINN: MEDICINE WOMANon weekdays, and BONANZA on Saturdays.

WHT runs DANIEL BOONE on weekdays from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m., Pacific Time, but they’ve just stopped showing BAT MASTERSON. They often show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.

TVLAND has dropped GUNSMOKEafter all these years, but still shows four episodes of BONANZAevery weekday.

For those of you who watch TV with an antenna, there are at least a couple of channels that exist between the standard numbers – largely unavailable on cable or satellite systems – that provide Western fare. ANTENNA TV is currently running RIN TIN TIN, HERE COME THE BRIDES, and IRON HORSE.


Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.


Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave.,L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.


This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street,L.A. CA.

That's it for now, pardners!  Next week I'll have my review of the HATFIELDS & MCCOYS miniseries, and all about the Spaghetti Western Festival at FILM FORUM in New York.

Happy Trails!


All Original Contents Copyright May 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved


  1. Henry, Just posted on your Facebook page but had to comment here as well to say thank you for the very kind words regarding my portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. To be mentioned in the same breath as Royal Dano is truly an honor. I grew up loving Disney's "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" so you just made my week and my year. I know my turn as Lincoln was in a film with an outlandish premise, but I did try to think of Mr. Dano and of Abe Lincoln as he the hero of my youth as I said the lines.

  2. My pleasure, Bill. For my money, Royal Dano is the Lincoln by whom all others are measured, and you measured up very well indeed!

  3. I saw an early online screening of Legends of Hell's Gate and i loved it.

    Summer Glau did a great job as usual.