Written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
Directed by Joseph Sargent
The original mini-series Lonesome Dove was so successful that CBS almost immediately wanted a sequel. Depending on who you listen to, author Larry McMurtry was either hesitant to continue on with the story or was just too slow to suit the powers that be at the network. Once Return to Lonesome Dove was put in production without his input or approval, he managed to open his own sequel Streets of Laredo. A mini-series of this novel was also subsequently made.
In Streets of Laredo, Captain Woodrow Call (portrayed by James Garner) is older and has left his Montana ranch to be a bounty hunter. No real explanation is given for this, he’s just there. Lorena (portrayed by Sissy Spacek) is now married to Pea Eye (portrayed by Sam Shepard) and raising a passel of children on the plains of northern Texas. The rest of the cast is gone, with no mention of what became of them (the novel does give more information).
Call finds himself pursuing an outlaw and murderer, Joey Garza (portrayed by Alexis Cruz). When he asks Pea for help, initially Pea wants to go until Lorena has a fit about being left alone with the children. Later on, she relents and he leaves. After he’s gone, she’s learned that a murderous Indian who was with Blue Duck when she was kidnapped in Lonesome Dove is on a rampage once again. Mox Mox (portrayed by Kevin Conway) is known for burning people alive, including children. Fearing for their safety, she sends her children off and goes off in search of her husband.
For the most part, these two situations run parallel to each other as the pursuit of both men is documented, although the character of Joey Garza is fleshed out more. We meet his family and siblings, but never learn what really made him turn bad. His mother, Maria (portrayed by Sonia Braga) still cares for him and tries to protect him when she knows Call is after him. The fact that he is her son blinds her to all his faults as she vilifies Call for both his pursuit of Joey and the death of others in her family at his hands when he was a Ranger.
While Streets of Laredo might stand up well on its own, as a sequel to Lonesome Dove it falls short. There are a lot of things that don’t make sense, such as why Call is now a bounty hunter and not on the ranch in Montana. Where is Newt? What happened to Dish? Clara? July Johnson? Why are Pea and Lorena together?
My gut on viewing just the mini-series is that McMurtry confused some of the characters and Pea was actually supposed to be Dish. This might not be true, it’s just the way it felt to me. In Lonesome Dove, Pea was much older than Lorena and the two really had no contact with each other. Here the two characters are closer in age; at the most ten years apart.
However, I liked the take on Pea much better in Streets of Laredo than what they did with the character in Return to Lonesome Dove. He’s not “simple” or depicted like that in any way as he was portrayed in that “unofficial” sequel. Instead, he’s depicted as soft-spoken but strong and thoughtful. However, based on history I found it hard to accept him and Lorena as a couple. Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek do fine with the characters. Lorena has grown away from the wilting violet she was and grown more of a backbone which shows what was inside of her to help her survive all that she suffered earlier.
James Garner’s take on Call is sort of a more curmudgeonly character than the original if that’s possible. They say personality traits harden with age and if you were a little bit grumpy when younger it gets worse as you get older. That is how he portrays Call. I liked his take on the situation.
A few legends of the west make cameo appearances. Judge Roy Bean (portrayed by Ned Beatty) is here and has some great scenes with Call, although his death is changed for the sensation factor. John Wesley Hardin (portrayed by Randy Quaid) also makes an appearance.
Probably the most startling though is the character of Billy Williams (portrayed by George Carlin). I was expecting a character who cut up a lot when I saw Carlin, but he does a fine job with a wide range of emotions as the friend and potential (former?) lover of Maria Garza.
The violence in Streets of Laredo is brutal. There’s no romance of the old west here. The violence is necessary though to strip away many of the audience’s preconceived notions bolstered by what Hollywood has depicted in the past.
While Streets of Laredo might have been decent standing on its own as a western, as a sequel to Lonesome Dove it misses the mark. It’s definitely not a bad mini-series. The acting is good, the story is well-written, and the setting is believable. The problem is what viewers of the series know about characters that just don’t come together. If the book brings it together more, that’s one thing, but I shouldn’t be required to read the book to learn this information. Either McMurtry was way off or the Producers and/or Director of Streets of Laredo jettisoned too much material as “filler” that should have been left in.