Movie review, Monte Walsh starring Tom Selleck

By MILT GROSS | Apr 06, 2014

This 2003 119-minute western covers a theme I’ve never seen or read about in any detail -- the demise of the cowboy.

Tom Sellect performs his usual “best” as he portrays ranch hand Monte Walsh, who fights the ending of the cowboy era -- and of his making a living being a cowboy.

I don’t know which character -- or actor -- summed it up, but one of them told Selleck that he could ride to Canada, then to Texas, and back to the plains of Wyoming (I think) just like he used to do as a cowboy. Only in these days with the ranches disappearing, he would no longer be paid for the trip.

That is the dilemma Walsh faces along with the other cowboys, many of whom he’s known for years, as a large corporation takes over the ranches of the area and driving cattle becomes shipping cattle on the railroad.

According to Wikipedia, “Cattle drives were a major economic activity in the American west, particularly between 1866 and 1886, when 20 million cattle were herded from Texas to railheads in Kansas for shipments to stockyards in Chicago and points east. The long distances covered, the need for periodic rests by riders and animals, and the establishment of railheads led to the development of "cow towns" across the American West. Because of extensive treatment of cattle drives in fiction and film, the cowboy became the worldwide iconic image of the American. Cattle drives still occur in the American west.

“Cattle drives had to strike a balance between speed and the weight of the cattle. While cattle could be driven as far as 25 miles (40 km) in a single day, they would lose so much weight that they would be hard to sell when they reached the end of the trail. Usually they were taken shorter distances each day, allowed periods to rest and graze both at midday and at night. On average, a herd could maintain a healthy weight moving about 15 miles (24 km) per day. Such a pace meant that it would take as long as two months to travel from a home ranch to a railhead. The Chisholm trail, for example, was 1,000 miles (1,600 km) long

“On average, a single herd of cattle on a long drive (for example, Texas to Kansas railheads) numbered about 3,000 head. To herd the cattle, a crew of at least 10 cowboys was needed, with three horses per cowboy. Cowboys worked in shifts to watch the cattle 24 hours a day, herding them in the proper direction in the daytime and watching them at night to prevent stampedes and deter theft. The crew also included a cook, who drove a chuck wagon, usually pulled by oxen, and a horse wrangler to take charge of the remuda, or spare horses. The wrangler on a cattle drive was often a very young cowboy or one of lower social status, but the cook was a particularly well-respected member of the crew, as not only was he in charge of the food, he also was in charge of medical supplies and had a working knowledge of practical medicine.”

Monte Walsh takes place toward the end of this short era. A corporate representative, wearing, of course, a black suit and black hat along with eyeglasses, appears and announces that the large corporation for which he works is buying all the land in the area.

While the general tenure of the movie is sad, that is, the end of an era and of jobs for all those cowboys, there is romance too, as all good westerns must have to be good westerns. Tragedy strikes Walsh when his girlfriend, played by Isabella Rossallini dies, and he spends a night by the side of the bed on which she is laid out under a sheet.

The shortened version, mine, is when the corporate employee and his girlfriend are driving their horseless carriage down a road in a town, and the corporate employee demands that Walsh move his horse aside so they can pass. He does.

But at the very end, when Walsh is riding west to nowhere because there is no more work, he meets the horseless carriage once more, this time stuck in the mud. The corporate employee demands that Walsh to pull them out of the mud with his horse.

Walsh races his horse toward the mud-stuck horseless carriage, then jumps over it, and races off into the sunset. The blond girlfriend of the employee turns and looks at Walsh with smiling amazement.

Amazon.com sells the DVD for $15. Ours showed up from Netflix.

Wherever you find your copy, I’d highly recommend it as a good western with a never-portrayed theme.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@roadrunner.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2014


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