The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

James A. Michener's Texas

Well, it's that time of the year again. Time for Alamo and Texas independence-themed reviews! Today's entry is a 1994 TV movie that aired over two nights. I remember watching it, just in that fun stage as I was really getting into history for the first time. Loved it then, liked it years later when I re-visited it, and here we sit, watching it some 21 years since I first watched it. Now I'm 29 and have everything figured out. Right? Right?!? Here's 1994's Texas.

It's 1821 and Stephen F. Austin (Patrick Duffy) is leading several hundred American settlers into the Mexican province of Texas. The settlers will help tame this wild territory that is as wild as they come, all the while doing so as Mexican citizens. The years pass though and tensions begin to rise between the Mexican government down in Mexico City and the ever-increasing number of Americans flowing into the territory. Among the settlers are a widowed mother, Mattie (Chelsea Field), trying to create a new life, a Scottish farmer, MacNab (Daragh O'Malley), who's son, Otto (Rick Schroder), will play a huge role in Texas' future, and a Mexican landowner and vaquero, Benito Garza (Benjamin Bratt), who sees the trouble coming on the horizon. As the 1820s turn into the 1830s, the tensions heat up to the point where war looks more and more likely. The war for Texas Independence is fast approaching.

From the time I saw Disney's Davy Crockett and then John Wayne's The Alamo, I was immediately intrigued by the story of the Alamo. I still am. I'll read, watch, look into anything about the subject so growing up, this ABC miniseries was right up my alley. In the years, I expanded my horizons some to include the entire Texas Revolution. So where do we start? Nine-year old me wasn't quite so harsh on what he watched. 29-year old me? Eek. I still like it because of the subject matter, but my goodness, this miniseries just isn't very good. Sure, condensing 15 years of story into a 3-hour miniseries is a daunting task....but still. The miniseries is based off an immense, humongous, if you hit someone with it you'd knock them out book from author James Michener. Well worth checking out for a good read and a good workout.

The Texas Revolution packed a ton of action into about seven months, something History's Texas Rising will hopefully bring to life come Memorial Day. What do we get here? A love triangle between politically-minded Austin, independent Mattie and fiery Benito. For real? A love triangle? Gag me. That's the crux of the first half of the running time with a surprising payoff in the second half. Come on though, Texas history and we get two guys fighting over the same woman? The budget is somewhat limited, borrowing footage liberally from previous Alamo/Texas movies like 1955's The Last Command and another TV movie, Gone for Texas. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that a movie made 39 years before doesn't exactly fit in with a 1994 TV movie. The attempt and effort is impressive overall, but ultimately it falls short.

Going for that big miniseries feel, we get some familiar faces in the cast but no HUGE stars. Schroder, Bratt and Duffy are the most memorable characters, bringing them to life where others remain mostly cliches or cardboard cutouts of real individuals. The relationship between Schroeder's young Otto and Bratt's Benito is a high-point, a brotherly relationship developing between the American teenager and the Mexican cowboy. That relationship takes some surprising twists as the war approaches, the two men deciding what's most important to them. Duffy too is strong as Austin, the father of Texas who's left out of the history books far too often. Field's character is interesting but is handed no favors by the screenplay that has love tearing at her from both sides. Oh, the horror!

As far as instantly recognizable Texas personalities go, we also get to meet Stacy Keach as Sam Houston, sneering and growling throughout, and our Alamo trio of Jim Bowie (an excellent if somewhat over the top David Keith), William Travis (Grant Show), and Davy Crockett (John Schneider in a small part). I also liked country singer Randy Travis as Captain Sam Garner, a Texas Ranger commander, and Frederick Coffin as Zeve Campbell, a fellow settler and friend of MacNab's. Anthony Michael Hall feels out of place and forced as the cowardly, big-talking Yancey Quimper. There's also a small part for Maria Conchita Alonso. Oh, and someone named Charlton Heston -- whoever that is -- provides the narration.

While I was still entertained overall, that entertainment came as more of a guilty pleasure this time around. The music is okay, but overdone at times, and the acting ranges from good to acceptable to hysterically overdone. Without a doubt the second half is the stronger half as Texas is plunged into the revolution, but even that's limited. The entire Alamo battle sequence is lifted from Last Command, and the Battle of San Jacinto is about 15 minutes straight of slow motion, blood-squibbed garbage. Probably best suited for history, Texas and Alamo buffs.

Texas (1994): ** 1/2 /**** 


  1. Patrick Duffy just wanted to one-up his resume. "I was in DALLAS. Better yet, I was in TEXAS!"

  2. Haha nice connection. He was excellent here, and it was cool to see Stephen F. Austin get some attention in a Texas Revolution/Alamo-related movie.