Sunday, February 6, 2011


My husband and I have been ailing for about a week and during that time we’ve spent a lot of time napping in front of TV and watching old movies. Westerns, if we can find them, are usually our faves and we’ve seen several this past week, among them “Broken Trail” and “The Long Riders” with Robert Duval. Seeing him in those movies set me to thinking about all the great movies I’ve watched and enjoyed featuring this fine actor, going all the way back to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
IMHO, Duval is just about one of the best cowboy actors I can think of. Many have had more star power. John Wayne comes to mind. Many of the popular older western actors played themselves within the confines of the movie story. But with Robert Duval, the character he plays *is* the story.
I know little about acting and even less about movie-making, but it seems to me that the mark of a fine actor is one who can make you forget who *he* is for a moment and instead, concern yourself with the character he plays. In “Broken Trail,” I could feel his character’s inability to say the words that were in his heart.  In “Tender Mercies,” again, I felt his pain.
And who could ever forget him in “Lonesome Dove?” He owned the character of Gus. When I first heard who had been cast in that movie, my first thought was “Oh, no, that’s all wrong.” Now, after watching the movie more times than I can count, I can’t imagine any other actor in that role. When I’ve re-read the book, I picture Duval as Gus. If I were an actor, I think it would be a great inner satisfaction to have had so long a career portraying and branding so many great, unforgettable characters.


  1. ANNA--you've hit on one of my favorite authors. Here at Texas State University on the 8th floor, the Whittig Gallery has a permanent display of Lonesome Dove things, including the original script, and clothes some of the characters wore. I visited again about two years ago because in the photo gallery, they'd hung black and white photos of all the characters in certain scenes. I picked up a large postcard to take home. Why? The back had a big photo of Robert Duvall in costume--those old high boots, battered hat, longjohn top with suspenders holding up his pants. He sat on a nail keg.I kept it propped up on my desk for a year.
    He's one of my all time favorites. The newer one--Open Range with Kevin Costner--is wonderful. I have the sound track--love the music.
    Thanks for reminding us of this wonderful actor--he has that charisma one cannot identify--he's not tall, he's not handsome, he's not suave--but he has a sensual quality that shines through.

  2. Anna, Robert Duval is one of my favorite actors, too. I loved Lonesome Dove--we lived in a neighborhood in Dallas years back called Lonesome Dove Estates and all the streets had western names. Too bad there weren't any "real" cowboys who lived there :-)

  3. Hi Caroline:

    I think Robert Duval is my favorite cowboy actor. But then Duval can play any part well.

    I think Sam Elliott is the perfect cowboy but he always plays the same character. I love it anyway. I think Clint Eastwood made a perfect Josey Wales but he was still Clint Eastwood playing a cowboy. Sam Elliott probably could have done Josey Wales just as well.

    I think it is hard to play a cowboy realistically. I never believed John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, or the four characters on Bonanza were anything but actors playing a part. I did believe Richard Boone in “Have Gun Will Travel”.

    In a way, it is hard to think of the great cowboy actors because we tend not to remember great character actors.


  4. Anna, Duvall is one of my favorite actors, too. I love to see an actor and have a moment before I can identify him because of his ability to immerse himself in his role. When I saw Tony Shalub from "Monk" as a villain, I was amazed at the difference, for instance. The same is true of David Suchet, who's famed for playing Hercule Poirot.

    Others of my favorite actors are, as you mentioned, the same in each role. Great post, Anna.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.