Louis L’Amour has been synonymous with the modern Western novel for decades. His stylized depictions of the Old West are always populated with colorful characters. Foremost of these characters would have to be The Sackett Brothers. Two of L’Amour’s Sackett adventures contributed to this 1979 mini-series. “The Daybreakers” and “Sackett” combine to form this 3 hour presentation.
Fresh off the enormous success of such Western shows as Bonanza and Gunsmoke, his mini-series has all the earmarks of that traditional television western. But by 1979 the genre had pretty much run out of steam. The Sacketts feels a lot like a wonderful swan song to a bygone era both in American history and entertainment. A pre-Magnum Tom Selleck leads this dynamic cast as Orin Sackett. Sam Elliott and Jeff Osterhage play the remaining two brothers. Elliott’s portrayal is particularly inspired. Add to the mix Western veterans Glenn Ford and Ben Johnson and you have a mighty fine cast. Louis L’Amour introduces the piece.
The first installment takes its time in allowing us to get to know these characters. Two of the brothers are running cattle while Elliott’s character is prospecting for gold. The story isn’t quite as action packed as most Westerns, but the pacing is solid. The story is compelling enough without the need for a gunfight just for a gunfight’s sake. We’re left at the end of Part One on the outskirts of political unrest and past sins fixin’ to catch up with one Sackett boy.
In Part Two, lessons in literacy turn into a career in law for two brothers who attempt to bring peace to the newly acquired New Mexico Territory. John Vernon once again plays a great western baddie. The film loses some of its earlier charm as the action heats up. Still, the time we spent earlier getting to know these people is paid off handsomely in the end. It certainly leaves one wanting more.
The Sacketts is presented in its original full frame broadcast format. I’m more than a little surprised at the video quality here. Colors are usually saturated and typical of the genre here. What is outstanding is the color detail. Skies in particular are amazing in the depth of blue and the contrasting white of passing clouds. Of course there is often a lot of grain, but the amount of detail here is worth applauding. Black levels are often outstanding when you consider the source material. Either this print was kept in remarkable condition or a lot of restoration effort was made on this transfer. Whatever the reason, this image will startle you in its quality.
The Dolby Digital mono track is not an asset to this fine piece. There is no depth at all to the sound field, and I felt forever trapped in the middle. The typical western score reveals itself as exactly what it is: standard fare. Dialogue is at times lost in the mix. The film also appears to suffer from some atrocious looping. Unfortunately the audio is nowhere near the impressive presentation the image gives.
“The Sacketts Go West” is a short 12 minute look at some of the casting choices as well as the difficulty transforming L’Amour’s work to the small screen. Worth the short time it takes to check it out.
I enjoyed this show far more than I expected to. It’s a rather pretty film to see. The wonderfully traditional Western characters will come alive as you pass this little more than 3 hours over 2 discs. While not necessarily unique in any way, this film has all of the requisite elements in just the right combinations to make this a fitting farewell to one of television’s glory eras. A classically told story with believable folks: “One doesn’t mean much without the other”.