Filmed in Utah by Rosemont Prods. Intl. in association with Zeke Prods. and Amer Prods. Executive producers, David Rosemont, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan; producer, Thomas Kane; associate producer, Stella Theodoulou; director, Charles Haid; writer, Gill Dennis; based on the novel by Zane Grey; Ed Harris stars as a stranger who rides into town to save a fair damsel in latest version of oft-filmed 1912 Zane Grey novel “Riders of the Purple Sage.” It’s a moody Western, with frequent pauses to display thrilling Utah scenery.
Plot reflects Grey’s novel more closely than 1925 or ’41 versions do. Here, Lassiter (Harris), a mysterious figure with shoulder-length hair and a “Miami Vice” stubble arrives on the scene just in time to save youngish Bern (Henry Thomas) from a beating; apparently it’s because the town is an enclave of an unspecified conservative religion (in Grey’s novel, they’re Mormons), and nonmember Bern has been befriended by Jane Withersteen (Amy Madigan). Even though he’s much younger than Jane, Bern has aroused the ire of Deacon Tull (Norbert Weisser), who has his own designs on Jane and her considerable real estate and cattle holdings.
Soon Jane asks Lassiter — who is in town for his own reasons — to fill in for her passel of cowboys, who have disappeared on church’s orders, and Bern takes up with one of the gang of rustlers who have attempted to run off with Jane’s cattle (this all makes more sense in the telling than on paper). Resolution is uncertain, leaving plenty of room for a sequel that could be at least as interesting as the original.
Charles Haid directs efficiently, with occasional moments of artiness — including filming a falling horse from several angles and cross-editing them, and action in a genuinely spooky thunderstorm.
This is sort of a feminist Western, with Jane especially spunky. “I might be led,” she tells one character, “but I won’t be driven.”
Gill Dennis’ script is much scaled-down from Grey’s novel, but occasionally excerpts the author’s original dialogue. And action here is more luxuriously paced than in the book.