Beyond the 'Lonesome Dove' miniseries: How to watch 9 Larry McMurtry movies

Paul Newman and Melvyn Douglas tangle as father and son in "Hud," the first Larry McMurtry work to be adapted into a movie.
Paul Newman and Melvyn Douglas tangle as father and son in "Hud," the first Larry McMurtry work to be adapted into a movie.
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Name your favorite Larry McMurtry movie.

Wait, don't say "Lonesome Dove." That was a TV miniseries, not a feature film.

So were three related "Lonesome Dove" miniseries that were based on novels by McMurtry, who also wrote the teleplays: "Streets of Laredo" (1995), "Dead Man's Walk" (1996) and "Comanche Moon" (2008).

Three more TV series, not penned by McMurtry, were based on the same fictional world: "Return to Lonesome Dove" (1993), "Lonesome Dove: The Series" (1994-1995) and "Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years" (1995-1996).

That's a lot of "Lonesome Dove."

After posting a Sept. 5 Think, Texas column about the new book, "Pastures of the Empty Page: Fellow Writers on the Life and Legacy of Larry McMurtry," I decided to binge on his movies that were first exhibited on the big screen. Some were adapted by other screenwriters. Two screenplays were completed with his writing partner Diana Ossana.

McMurtry's imprint is felt in all of them.

The angels and devils in the details

What follows are passing thoughts, some informed by "Pastures of the Empty Page," on the nine McMurtry movies that I watched earlier this month. After that, I share short reviews and viewing information. If you don't want any spoilers, skip the recaps of the films.

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  • New West, not Old South: McMurtry hoped that our regional literature would escape the tendrils of the Old South and head toward the horizons of the modern West. Only one of these movies, "Falling From Grace," is set primarily east of the Mississippi River. Eight of them are set in the 20th century. One, "Joe Bell," in the 21st century.

  • Passing of the Old West: Traces of this slow historical and cultural current can be found in all nine movies, most explicitly in "Hud," drawn from McMurtry's first novel, "Horseman, Pass By," set on a doomed ranch outside a forlorn Texas town.

  • Complicated women: Even today, McMurtry's women can take one's breath away. Aurora from "Terms of Endearment" and "The Evening Star" turns almost Shakespearean in the breadth of her emotions. Yet even McMurtry's smaller parts for women bear full histories in their behavior.

  • Less complicated men: McMurtry's men are certainly not one-dimensional, but they are often burdened with an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. At times, they depend on — and contend with — women and other men in destructive ways.

  • Unabashed sex: It's easy to make intimate behavior either romantic or explicit or both; it's harder to make it feel like the interactions of real human beings, which includes humor, surprise and companionship. McMurtry does all that.

  • Details, details, details: A master of research, McMurtry tried to make sure that every aspect of his novels rang true to a particular time and place. If he exercised significant control over the movie adaptations, those details tended to coalesce into a convincing rhetoric of reality.

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  • Oscar bait: McMurtry's movies were nominated, by my count, for 30 Academy Awards and won 13. One movie, "Terms of Endearment," earned the Oscar for best picture in 1984. By all that is right, "Brokeback Mountain" should have beaten "Crash" for the top prize in 2005.

  • As the days go by: Time tends to slow down in McMurtry movies. Daily life — with its microcosmic ups and downs — seems to be the point, along with periodic gestures of liberation or destruction. In the hands of the right director, however, this pace does not translate into boredom.

Four nearly perfect McMurtry movies

"Brokeback Mountain" (2005): McMurtry and Diana Ossana fine-tooled this screenplay based on a pitch-perfect short story by Annie Proulx. Two cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) carry on a periodic romantic and sexual relationship against the spectacular backdrop of the West from 1963 to 1983. Ledger, Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams give superb, deeply felt performances. All three received Oscar nods; Williams won for supporting actress. Director Ang Lee, also an Oscar winner for "Brokeback," and his creative team ensure that there's not a wasted moment during the movie's 134 minutes. (Roku, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Redbox, Apple TV)

"Hud" (1963): Like "Brokeback," this movie about a declining cattle ranch and the skirmishing family of men who run it arrives without an ounce of fat on it. Filmed in the Panhandle with extraordinary black-and-white cinematography, "Hud" produced three indelible performances from Patricia Neal, as the self-sufficient housekeeper, Melvyn Douglas, as the gruff ranch owner, and Paul Newman, at the height of his charisma, as his charming but criminally feckless son. Seemingly impervious to judgment, Newman loses his hold over the audience during an alarming scene of sexual violence. Neal and Douglas won acting Oscars. (Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV)

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"The Last Picture Show" (1971): One of the indie movie success stories of all time, director Peter Bogdanovich's treatment of McMurtry's third novel set in Thalia, Texas, uses the author's hometown as a bleak backdrop for small-town disappointments and scarce miracles. Just get these highlights from an ensemble cast: Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Cybill Shepherd and Timothy Bottoms. Johnson and Leachman won acting Oscars. (Apple TV, Amazon Prime)

"Terms of Endearment" (1975) Few movies mix comedy and drama with such deftness as this extended family story set mainly in Houston. A good portion of the credit goes to director James L. Brooks, who does not let a scene pass without landing some emotional punch, however soft. Shirley MacLaine is unforgettable as Aurora, a River Oaks matron and controlling mother, who reveals far more depth than at first is obvious. Debra Winger and Jack Nicholson prove her near-equals as Aurora's idiosyncratic daughter and her rollicking astronaut neighbor. The show teeters on the edge of soap opera, without toppling over the cliff. Nicholson and MacLaine won acting Oscars. (Max, Vudu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video)

Three flawed McMurty movies worth watching anyway

"The Evening Star" (1996): A decent sequel to "Terms of Endearment," it's set about 20 years after the first story. Most of the same characters are played by many of the same actors, as Aurora now interferes in the lives of her adult grandchildren, whom she raised. The movie benefits from Miranda Richardson as Aurora's rival, Patsy, and Marion Ross in an expanded role as Aurora's housekeeper, but we miss Winger as an emotional counterweight. Adapted and directed by Robert Harling ("Steel Magnolias"), it fails to avoid bathos trap. Three deaths devalue the power of the original's one. Still, I cried. (Amazon Prime, Vudu, Apple TV)

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"Falling From Grace" (1992): This directorial debut from country rock star John Mellencamp is surprisingly good. Fairly autobiographical, it follows a celebrity, played winningly by Mellencamp, who returns to his Indiana small town to find old tensions never went away and wounds never healed. Kay Lenz steals every scene as his former girlfriend, with whom he fires up an extramarital affair. While the final scene of Mellencamp being dragged down a road in a metal cage leans hard into the symbolic, it is terrifyingly effective. How did McMurtry come up with that? (Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)

"Joe Bell" (2020): Based on a true story about a man who embarks on a cross-country hike to call attention to the brutality of homophobic bullying, the screenplay by McMurtry and Ossana splices together different timelines and the lead character's exhausted delusions. Shot against the stunning backdrop of Utah scenery, the weight of the movie falls on the sturdy shoulders of star Mark Wahlberg, who gives every scene his all. Connie Britton as his emotionally available wife, Reid Miller as his gay son who commits suicide and Gary Sinese as a clear-headed sheriff who takes care of the hiker at a critical moment in the plot provide critical support. I reject the early criticism that that story arrives decades too late. Abusive bullying never went away. (Roku, Amazon Prime)

Two McMurtry movies to avoid (one is easy)

"Lovin' Molly" (1974): Directed by Sidney Lumet, this slight treatment of a multi-decade love triangle — that's really a love quadrangle — demonstrates that inattention to detail can doom a movie from the start. It is the subject of a scathing essay, "The Film That Set the Standard on How Not to Portray Texas," written by Sean O'Neal and published in Texas Monthly in 2022. Lumet, who directed several film classics, could not be bothered to get anything right, including the costumes. To start, the locations around Bastrop do not remotely match McMurtry's Thalia (Archer City) in the novel "Leaving Cheyenne." How do you ruin a movie that stars Anthony Perkins, Beau Bridges, Blythe Danner and Susan Sarandon? (Prime Video Vudu or Apple TV, but don't bother)

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"Texasville" (1990): Apparently so bad, you can't watch it. At least not easily. Nobody streams it. Undaunted, I scanned YouTube to discover some extant scenes and trailers. Filmed in Archer City, this sequel to "The Last Picture Show" appears to be bright, boisterous and everything that its predecessor was not. Many of the original actors returned to their roles. Several of them, who had become big stars in the interim, were paid as much as the original budget for "The Last Picture Show." Nevertheless, I understand that the citizens of Archer City liked its portrayal of their town better this time around. (No way, thankfully)

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at Sign up for the free weekly digital newsletter, Think, Texas, at, or the newsletter page of your USA Today Network paper.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: From 'Hud' to 'Brokeback Mountain,' Larry McMurtry's 9 movies to watch