Thursday, August 14, 2008

Action Girls: The Women of Lonesome Dove, Part Three – Clara Allen

Lonesome Dove is a classic for a reason. Even though the titles of these posts say that I’m concentrating on the women of the saga, you can’t really talk about any of the mini-series without looking closely at Gus and Call. And I’m not convinced that that’s just because they’re the main characters. I think it has as least as much to do with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of them.

Robert Duvall gives Gus such charm and humor that both David Arquette and Steve Zahn thought it best to just imitate him when they took their turns at the character. Gus is a lazy, womanizing old coot, but you can’t help but love him for his gentleness and respect of other people. He can be damn tough when he needs to be, but most of the time you just want to hang out and listen to him talk. Unfortunately, a lot of that charm was lost in Dead Man’s Walk and Comanche Moon, but I blame the writing for that more than I do the actors. Gus was more annoying than charismatic as a youth, but maybe that’s the way it needed to be. A person’s most irritating traits can become endearing once they’ve mellowed out a little with age and had a chance to work on you.

Call is even harder to get right. Tommy Lee Jones makes it look easy to balance Call’s gloomy orneriness with his obvious affection for Gus and the rest of his friends. Even while he’s cursing Gus out for not helping around the ranch, you never doubt that he loves him. Jonny Lee Miller never did manage to get that right. His Call always seemed to be barely tolerating Gus. Karl Urban did a better job, but there’s still some uneasiness between his Call and Zahn’s Gus that isn’t there with Jones and Duvall. Again, that might be because the characters themselves have grown more comfortable with and fond of each other over the years.

But even if that’s true – even if the parts I don’t like from the two prequels are necessary to show character development – I think it illustrates a point about the relationship of those two mini-series to the original. Lonesome Dove is so good and so winning that Dead Man’s Walk and Comanche Moon only have value as they relate to it. They don’t stand on their own. We don’t like the characters enough and as I’ve said before, certain parts of them just don’t make sense unless you also know the Lonesome Dove story.

The one exception to that is the character of Clara. I didn’t care much for her in Dead Man’s Walk, but I grew to admire her in Comanche Moon. In Lonesome Dove, she’s moved away from Texas with her husband and kids to live in Nebraska, so she doesn’t appear onscreen until about halfway through the mini-series. Her presence is felt the entire mini-series though. She’s still the great love of Gus’ life and he can’t wait to see her again on the way to Montana. And we can’t either.

Anjelica Huston’s Clara doesn’t disappoint. Her husband has been kicked in the head by a horse and is in a coma, but Clara and her girls stand faithfully by him and take care of his needs. But having lost two boys to illness and now this with her husband, Clara’s weakening by the time Gus shows up. The effect his visit has on her – especially since he’s traveling with a prostitute who’s obviously in love with him – is spectacular.

In contrast, the prostitute Lorie (Diane Lane) is so very weak. She has a record of trusting untrustworthy men while ignoring people who genuinely care about her. When that leads her to hook up with Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), he deserts her on the way to California and she’s abducted by Blue Duck, Buffalo Hump's son who was starting to cause trouble in Comanche Moon. Fortunately, Gus learns about the kidnapping quickly and immediately sets out to rescue her. Unfortunately, by the time he gets there she’s already been raped – possibly numerous times.

That brings up something I’ve forgotten to talk about before now. There’s a lot of rape in the Lonesome Dove saga and it’s not always handled very well. Lorie’s rape is a powerful event in Lonesome Dove, so I wonder if that’s why we get other rapes in the prequels. Are they trying to recapture that impact? If so, it doesn’t work.

In Dead Man’s Walk, it’s used just to show us how evil Buffalo Hump and his men are. In Comanche Moon, the rape of a Ranger’s wife is all about its effect on him. She hates that it happened to her, but her main fear is that he won’t love her anymore when he finds out. And when he does eventually find out about it, the story’s focus once again goes right on him and how he responds.

At least in Lonesome Dove, Lorie’s rape is all about her. We learn something about Gus by watching him help her through it, but it’s always Lorie’s story. Unfortunately, the event reveals her to be as weak as she’s always appeared to be. She’s always liked Gus, but has never shown an interest in him until he rescues her and nurses her back to both physical and emotional health. After that though, she’s suddenly truly madly deeply in love with him. I’m not qualified to comment on the appropriateness of a woman’s reaction to being raped, but I certainly wish that Lorie had been made stronger by the experience.

Eventually Lorie does become stronger, but it’s all due to Clara and it mostly happens off-camera in between Lonesome Dove and Return to Lonesome Dove, where - like Matty in Comanche Moon - we don't see her, but get an update in dialogue that she's doing okay for herself further West. We’ll look more at Return to Lonesome Dove at tomorrow.

Four out of five water moccasin attacks.

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