Out West, When Men Were Quiet And Heroic
The New York Times
By JOHN J. O’CONNOR
Published: Friday, January 17, 1997
Before he became an author of best-selling crime novels like ‘‘Get Shorty,’’ Elmore Leonard wrote westerns, developing early on his favorite theme, that ‘‘we don’t control our lives.’’ ‘‘Last Stand at Saber River,’’ one of the best, has now been given a rich and sensitive television production, which can be seen Sunday on TNT. Tom Selleck, who at times seems as attractively embarrassed as Clark Gable used to be about being in the suspicious business of acting, plays Paul Cable, returning in the waning days of the Civil War to his wary family and a world still filled with violence.
Cable volunteered three years earlier, in 1862, to fight on the side of the Confederacy. He returns chastened after a bloodcurdling incident that he doesn’t want to talk about. His wife, Martha (Suzy Amis), is still bitter about his joining up in the first place and leaving her to cope with the rearing of two children and the death of a third. She insists that Cable move the family from Texas back to Arizona Territory (filming was done in New Mexico), only to find that their valley home has been confiscated by two Union-sympathizing brothers (played by real-life brothers, David and Keith Carradine). Lurking ominously on the periphery is Edward Janroe (David Dukes), a seriously disturbed gunrunner who insists the South is winning the war.
This is an old-fashioned western, lean and mean. The landscape is a major character. There are stylistic echoes of the 1929 film ‘‘The Virginian,’’ which starred a new actor named Gary Cooper. The cast of ‘‘Saber River’’ includes Harry Carey Jr., a veteran of such John Ford classics as ‘‘Red River’’ and ‘‘Rio Bravo.’’ There are shootouts, with Martha blowing away more than her share of nasty varmints, and, for a grand finale, there is a hair-raising chase to save a little girl. Mr. Selleck’s taciturn Cable is almost wordlessly eloquent, and Ms. Amis’s Martha is one of the most formidable women you’ll find on a screen nowadays.