Western Legends: Robert Duvall

(Emma's thoughts in brown and Olivia's thoughts in blue.)

So, you may know that Emma and I are very fond of a certain actor. We kind of talk about him a lot. In fact, this mutual interest was one of the reasons we got to know each other in the first place.  We discovered, through Emma's review of The Stars Fell on Henrietta, that we both really quite adored the man.  We tend to swoon a bit at the mention of his name, so we'll try not to get too fangirly (but we will likely fail).

Yeah, you could say we really like him.

Oh yes, and he has a name. It's Robert Duvall.

His co-stars call him Bobby, so we do too. :-D

One director who's worked with him termed him, "a first-class actor…an American institution," and Emma and I definitely agree with that!  (Well, as must anyone in full possession of their mental faculties.)

I'm trying to think of what the first movie I ever saw Robert Duvall in was....I guess it must have been Lonesome Dove. I saw the first part of LD when I was...thirteen, maybe? At the time I didn't like it at all, believe it or not! I wasn't into westerns at that point in my young life, and the depth of the story and the characters went right over my head. Then I watched The Great Santini, which did not help matters at all. ;-P I thought Robert Duvall was annoying. I resolved to dislike him forever.

Well, time happened. I saw Gods and Generals, in which he plays Robert E. Lee, and realized that...wow, this guy is actually a REALLY good actor. He's enjoyable to watch. I watched Lonesome Dove again -- all the way through, this time -- and the rest is history. :-)

As I've said before, you just can't not like Robert Duvall. I've tried it. It just doesn't work. Now I've seen him in about eight films, read interviews, watched special features, and he's one of my very favorite actors. I admire the way he carries himself, how he's always genuine and has a deep feeling for each one of his characters. And of course, I love his unique sense of humor. :-)

I'm fairly sure that I first saw Robert Duvall in Secondhand Lions--that's a popular movie in our household, and it was one of our "staple watches" when we kids were younger:)  Anyway, I always loved Uncle Hub (because, I mean, like Emma said, you can't not), but I didn't really know who he was.  Then a number of years later, I watched Seven Days in Utopia, and I think, strangely enough, that was when I started to realize my love for Bobby.  I knew going into it that it was the same guy who played Hub, and then I started to realize, "Hey, this actor is pretty cool.  He seems like 'a good ol' country boy.'"  And I think he is:)

I appreciate how Bobby has dedicated himself to quality movies--movies with high morals, high values.  Movies parents and kids can watch together and enjoy without discomfort or embarrassment on either side.  Discuss-able movies.  I guess what I mean is, all of his movies, that I've seen or heard of, have a higher point.  They're not movies for the sake of blood 'n' guts, action, romance, etc.  I feel like you can come away from his films having learned something.

I also love that you sense real humility from him as an actor.  I love his sense of humor.  I love how you get the idea that he doesn't really take himself too seriously;-P

Mack Sledge in Tender Mercies (1983)

This movie isn't a western, but Robert Duvall wears a cowboy hat, so we're counting it. :-) Plus it's really good, in a simple, down-to-earth sort of way. Mack Sledge is a down-on-his-luck country singer who takes a job working at a gas station run by a nice lady named Rosa Lee. What's really neat about this role is that he actually sings in the movie, and almost every song on the soundtrack. I didn't know that until the credits rolled by, and I realized the guy singing that song that kept playing throughout was actually Robert Duvall! It gained him even more points in my book. :-)

I honestly don't remember much of anything about this movie, but I'm sure I'd love it if I watched it again:)

Print Ritter in Broken Trail (2006)

Oh, yes.  THIS I know;)  Okay.  Prentice Ritter, or Print, is absolutely AMAZING.  I love him.  I love how he cares for the girls, and his special relationship with "li'l number five" is even more precious.  Print is anxious to repair and preserve his relationship with his guarded nephew, Tom, and that's admirable.  It can be so very hard to preserve familial connections where there is pain, misunderstanding, and emotional walls.  And his courage in the face of Ed Bywaters--"Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name!"  Ohhhh myyyy worrrrd;-P  It's wonderful.  "Don't hurt the children"--and then, when Tom had saved the day--"You will not hurt these children.  No, sir."    Another great thing is how open Print is about his weaknesses and/or failures.  He knows himself, and he accepts himself, even while admitting that he lacks courage in some areas.  That's really inspiring--to see a character who acknowledges that he isn't perfect, but refuses to wallow in self-condemnation or regret.

This is one of my very favorite of Bobby's roles. (But hey, I say that about almost every single one. ;-P) Print is an aging cowboy, much like Gus in Lonesome Dove, except he's more...oh, I don't know...morally upstanding? than Gus is. While Gus is a genuinely good guy, Print is more of a polished gentleman. (He's also a very snazzy dresser -- I mean, for a cowboy out on the trail, those are some fancy duds.) The way he talks to the five Chinese girls in his care is SO adorable, doing everything he can to make them feel safe and naming them 'Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, Number 4, and Number 5'.

One of the things I love about this movie is how much the characters come to know each other and depend on each other without even speaking the same language. (Especially with Tom and Sung Fu...but we won't go into that now or else I might morph into a puddle of sentimental fluff.)

Short version: I love Uncle Print. :-)

Hub McCann in Secondhand Lions (2003)

Bobby is so much fun as a grumpy old man! :-) Hub is such a great character, the more aggressive and charismatic of the two crazy uncles. That hat he wears is a classic. And he's so quotable! "You live to be a hundred." "You old ladies want to get in, I'll drive you home." Oh, and of course his "What Every Boy Needs To Know About Being a Man" speech is a bit of epicness itself. It's fun to see Robert Duvall in something on the silly side for a change. :-)

Oh, Hub McCann.  Where to start?  I feel like the character of Hub is iconic--which is strange, since (and more's the pity) few people talk about this movie much.  But is it not great?  While Hub isn't exactly lovey-dovey towards Walter (or, really, anybody), you can tell that he cares.  Life hasn't always treated him kindly, and he can tend to be grumpy at times, but boy, oh boy, when he gets going:  "I'm Hub McCann…"  I just love this movie, especially Hub's character, and his relationship with Garth is particularly amusing.  "To h*** with that!  *tosses rake away*  You live to be a hundred!"

Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove (1989)

Although I've only seen this once, it's certainly not an easy story to forget.  Robert Duvall, as always, lends even more epic-ness to the tale.  His character, Gus McCrae,  did take a little while to grow on me, I admit.  However, by the end, I was wholly won over.  Did he have issues?  Yes--but everyone does, and don't we appreciate realism in a story more than picture-perfect characters like Elsie Dinsmore?  Anyway, let's just say that some tears squeezed past my eyelids in Certain Scenes...  Oh, to heck with spoilers--people, the pain!  "Been quite a party, ain't it?"  Too much.  Just couldn't.  Really, he has some of the best quotes.  I even have an awesome bookmark with one of his great one-liners, made by dear Emma herself!:D

When they finished filming Lonesome Dove, Robert Duvall said, "I can retire now. I've done something I can be proud of." He's also said the role of Gus McCrae may be his favorite, and I'm inclined to agree that this is definitely some of Bobby's best acting. In fact, it's some of THE best acting ever. Having read the book (*blushes and waves proudly*) I can say that absolutely no one could have done it better. Robert Duvall IS Gus. Charming, irritating, lovable, loyal, with a quick tongue and a lazy sense of fun. He's also extremely brave, when he has to be, but he'd rather be sitting on the porch drinking whiskey and kicking the rear end of a pig every now and then. :-)

And now, here are some of our personal favorite words of wisdom from this amazing actor!

"A young actor once asked me, What do you do between jobs? I said, Hobbies, hobbies, and more hobbies. It keeps you off dope."

"I just have a feel for this [for Westerns]. And maybe if I hadn't been an actor I would've become a rancher."

"A friend is someone who many years ago offered you his last $300 when you broke your pelvis. A friend is Gene Hackman."

"I like the good feeling movies."

"I think I nailed a very specific individual guy who represents something important in our history of the western movement. After that, I felt I could retire, that'd I'd done something."

"We either accept weaknesses in good people, or we have to tear pages out of the Bible." 

"I'm not perceived as a traditional leading man, but I never aimed at that sort of thing either. I never straightened my front teeth, or whatever. I wan't cut out for that. Even if I did a 'big' movie, I'd still want to make it a real character."

"Stripping away artific--it's the constant standard I aim for in acting, to approximate life. People talk about being bigger than life--but there's nothing bigger than life."

So yes, we really admire this fella.  We love his humor, his down-to-earth personality, and his effortlessly natural performances.  He's a strong actor, an inspiring personality, and has earned his place as an American classic.

"The English have Shakespeare, the French have Moliere, the Russians have Chekov, the Argentines, have Borges, but the Western is ours--from Canada down to the Mexican border."
~ Robert Duvall


  1. I love that quote at the end. And it's so true--the Western is OUR uniquely "American" art form, and we should all cherish it (yes, I realize I'm preaching to the choir here :) )

  2. I do think he's a very fine actor, and I have never seen him turn in an unworthy performance, but Duvall just isn't one of my favorites. However, he did guest star in three (!) episodes of my favorite TV show, Combat!, so if you ever want to see him in a WWII setting, try "The Enemy", "Cry for Help", or "The Partisan." (Those links take you to the eps on YouTube -- I think "The Enemy" is the best of the bunch.)

    1. It's cool how we all have our unique preferences when it comes to actors, isn't it? Oooh! I should check out those episodes sometime soon!

    2. Thanks for the links. I Robert Duvall is one of my favorite actors. I love his westerns. He always seems dedicated to revealing the character.


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