Gus, earlier played by Robert Duvall and now limned by David Arquette, and Call, with Jonny Lee Miller wearing Tommy Lee Jones’ boots, are 1840s Rangers under the command of pronouncedly colorful Caleb Cobb (F. Murray Abraham), whose hand is firm but whose judgment’s shaky. Their mission: Take Santa Fe and make New Mexico part of the Texas republic.
Gus meets Clara (Jennifer Garner) in her father’s general store in Austin. An annoying tease, she delights in taunting Gus, who gobbles it up.
TX: TX:Filmed near the towns of Lajitas, Alpine, Brackettville and Del Rio, Texas, by Saria Co., de Passe Entertainment, Levinson Prods. and Hallmark Entertainment. Executive producers, Robert Halmi Jr., Larry Levinson, Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana, Suzanne de Passe; co-producer, Frank Q. Dobbs; director, Yves Simoneau; writers, McMurtry, Ossana; based on the novel by McMurtry; A Mexican Army detachment under Capt. Salazar (Edward James Olmos, reserved and at ease) captures the protagonists. French Maj. Laroche (Joaquim De Almeida) of the Mexican Army, arresting Salazar for his laxity, arranges several formal executions.
A black-veiled Lady Carey (Haviland Morris), one of McMurtry’s more uncanny characters, appears as a form of purification.
McMurtry’s creations leap into striking vignettes, amusing situations, grim developments. Director Simoneau guides the McMurtry-Diana Ossana teleplay with unfaltering skill during the first two hours. In part two, after negotiating circles of burning Comanche fire paths, the much-diminished group’s adventures turn dismally dry as the folks drag across the parched desert known as Dead Man’s Walk.
Cinematographer Edward Pei’s stunning compositions and ways with color are particularly effective in the diamond-clear Texas air. (His work under the opening credits is brilliant.) Events often surprise — sudden arrows, an execution, mysticism, suicides, leprosy — while courage and camaraderie logically turn up.
The forging of friendship between Call and Gus is the centerpiece, and, though Duvall and Jones toss a long shadow for the well-cast Arquette and Miller to step into, the younger actors make the men-to-be discernible and likable. Other thesping in “Walk” is first-rate. Childress is effective, Stanton’s Shadrach’s genuine, De Almeida’s French major controlling, and Garner’s Clara reflects an overly protected girl’s image of herself. Alastair Duncan’s superior Capt. Falconer and Morris’ fascinating, veiled Lady Carey are part of the heroic fabric.
Production designer Jerry Wanek reveals striking sites and has created appropriate sets. Jill O’Hanneson’s costume designs capture the essences of period and place. Michael Ornstein’s editing is cunning, and David Bell supplies a winning score.
As one of the men says on quitting the troops, “Rangers is a rare sport, but it’s not quite safe!” ABC’s as safe with this five-hour telepic as CBS was with “Lonesome Dove”: “Dead Man’s Walk” is a gripper.