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Johnson County War
     

Johnson County War

Director: Dave Cass, Tom Berenger, Luke Perry, Michelle Forbes

Cast: Dave Cass, Tom Berenger, Luke Perry, Michelle Forbes

 

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The backdrop for this epic Western, which aired in August 2002 on the Hallmark Channel, will be familiar to fans of the genre and students of Western history. The Johnson County War took place in northern Wyoming in April 1892, growing out of the familiar story of big-money ranchers who suspected homesteader neighbors of rustling. Screenwriters Larry McMurtry and

Overview

The backdrop for this epic Western, which aired in August 2002 on the Hallmark Channel, will be familiar to fans of the genre and students of Western history. The Johnson County War took place in northern Wyoming in April 1892, growing out of the familiar story of big-money ranchers who suspected homesteader neighbors of rustling. Screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana adapted Frederick Manfred's 1957 novel, Riders of Judgment, which used some of the events and people but changed the names, including the county (which becomes Bighorn) and the main town (from Buffalo to Antelope). Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1981) also employed elements of the Johnson County War in its story. Manfred's book and this film center on Cain Hammett (Tom Berenger), a lonesome cowboy who hankers for Rory (Michelle Forbes); she has married his younger brother Dale (Adam Storke) in spite of the fact that she really loves Cain. A third Hammett brother, Harry (Luke Perry), unlike his honest, homesteading siblings, is a rustler who runs afoul of Marshal Hunt Lawton (Burt Reynolds), who is in the employ of wealthy Lord Peter (Christopher Cazenove), an Englishman in cahoots with the owners of big ranches to exterminate all of the homesteaders, guilty or innocent. Cain Hammett's real-life counterpart, Nate Champion, was a prime target of mercenaries hired by the big cattlemen, and the siege of Cain's cabin, which was the opening salvo in the war, provides the film with its climax.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Tom Wiener
The Johnson County War is such a dramatically potent event that two films, both running well over three hours, have been made using its events as a backdrop. After the hash that Michael Cimino made of the war in Heaven's Gate (1981), one would hope that this second go-round might produce a more historically accurate and dramatically nuanced production. And with Frederick Manfred's well-regarded novel as the source and Larry McMurtry (of Lonesome Dove fame) as the co-writer, there was reason to believe that this film would get it right. It doesn't, and while it's not the unholy mess that Heaven's Gate was, its faults are not the overreaching ambitions of that film (which at least boasted spectacular cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and an evocative score by David Mansfield) so much as a serious outbreak of Western clichés. The script for this film demonstrates how thin the line is in this genre between quality writing (as in McMurtry's splendid novel Lonesome Dove and William Wittliff's brilliant adaptation for TV) and this festival of groaners. Aside from the by-the-numbers dramatics, the film fails to do much better with its history. Changing Manfred's title, Riders of Judgment, to the name of the actual backdrop event promises something the film doesn't care to deliver. None of the actual names of the Johnson Country War principals are employed, nor any real location names outside of Cheyenne (whose railroad station does not border a lake, as shown here). The lynching of the prostitute Queenie (Rachel Ward) and her companion Arthur (William Samples) have real-life counterparts in the murders of Cattle Kate and Jim Averill, but that episode happened several counties south of Johnson and the details of Kate's profession have recently been questioned by at least one historian. As for the bigger picture, the depiction of the county's leading cattle baron as an Englishman isn't entirely inaccurate but less likely than it would have been ten years before, and besides, Lord Peter's foppish ways aren't even good for a laugh, intended or not. The conversations among the cattle barons over how to handle the rustling problem seem forced and in dire need of context. (And in a film that runs well over three hours, that shouldn't be asking too much.) The climax, the siege of the cabin in which Cain Hammett (was this Manfred's sly tip of the ten-gallon hat to two great writers of crime fiction?) is holed up accurately reflects the details of Nate Champion's being able to hold off a small army for 12 hours. (Cimino filmed the same siege with Christopher Walken as Champion.) But the aftermath of the siege suggests that the mercenaries will pay for their crime; in truth they were not even brought to trial.

Product Details

Release Date:
09/24/2002
UPC:
0707729126775
Original Release:
2002
Rating:
R
Source:
HALLMARK

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Tom Berenger Cain Hammett
Luke Perry Harry Hammett
Michelle Forbes Rory Hammett
Adam Storke Dale Hammett
Burt Reynolds Marshal Hunt Lawton
Jack Conley Jesse Jacklin
Silas Weir Mitchell Mitch Slaughter
P. Adrien Dorval Timberline
Christopher Cazenove Lord Peter
Rachel Ward Queenie
William Samples Arthur
Kirk Jarrett Jim Albert
Thomas Heaton Sheriff Sine
Fay Masterson Clara Jager
Stephen Bridgewater Dencil Jager
Blu Mankuma Hambone
Tim Koetting Bat Waldy
Ken Pogue Wally Tascott
Jimmy Herman Sam the Wolfer
Henry Beckman Gov. Barb
Ron Hartmann Sen. Thorpe
Hal Kerbes Irv Hornsby
David LeReany Allen Stone
Paul Coeur Claybourne Rodney
Doug Lennox Texas Ike
Joe Shaw Bobby
John Dodds 2nd Horseman
Stevie Mitchell Joey
Bunk Duncan Butcherknife
Steven Warner Spade
Lyle St. Goddard Avery
John F. Parker Russell
Steve Shayler 1st Bad Cowboy
Billy Morton Ringbone
Tom Carey Texas Cowboy
Peter Strand Rumple Telegraph Operator
Shawn Orr Texas Gunman
Chris Ippolito Nightherder
J.C. Roberts Tom the Granger
Jerry Wills Skunker

Technical Credits
Dave Cass Director
Jennifer Jean Cacavas Editor
Mary Church Producer
Frank Q. Dobbs Producer
Glenn Farr Editor
Robert Halmi Executive Producer
Joanne Hansen Costumes/Costume Designer
Larry Levinson Executive Producer
Larry McMurtry Executive Producer,Screenwriter
Douglas Milsome Cinematographer
Andrew Moreau Art Director
Diana Ossana Executive Producer,Screenwriter
Ken Rempel Production Designer

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