Tuesday, March 31, 2020


After picking a copy up in a used bookstore, I read Louis L’Amour’s 1979 novel, The Iron Marshal, for the first time earlier this year. Over the years, I’ve read almost all of L’Amour’s best known works and many of his others, but somehow The Iron Marshal slipped my notice. It was actually a real treat to be able to dive into a top notch, new to me, L’Amour tale—and The Iron Marshal did not disappoint.

I mentioned the novel in a post on the very active and knowledgeable Men’s Adventure Paperbacks of the 20th Century Facebook group, which is my home away from home. The response was immediate as the book was highly rated many in the group who were familiar with it. Other members found themselves intrigued enough to pick up a copy and reported back their agreement with the high praise the book generated in the group.

My wife is also a big L’Amour fan, so I downloaded her a copy of the audio book. She listened with rapt attention. Twice I heard her open the garage door and drive in, but didn’t immediately come into the house. When I went to look for her, she was sitting in the car unable to get out until the current chapter to which she was listening ended. She raved about the book and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been made into a movie. I agreed. She even made her own casting selections after disagreeing with my choice of Tom Berenger for the title role.

Imagine my surprise (the more I dig into the history of Westerns and Men’s adventure paperbacks, the more surprises there seem to be) when I came across a listing for a DVD copy of Shaughnessy: The Iron Marshal. I immediately purchased the DVD and began tracking down more information on its origin.

In 1996, Beau L’Amour took on the role of producer to turn his father’s novel, The Iron Marshal, into a made-for-TV movie. The result was Louis L'Amour's Shaughnessy. Written by the Emmy award winning William Blinn (creator of Starsky and Hutch, among many other films and TV shows), and directed by Michael Rhodes, the movie starred Matthew Settle (in his debut) as Shaughnessy, and featured co-starring roles for Linda Kozlowski, and Michael Jai White.

Like many made-for-TV movies of the time, Louis L'Amour's Shaughnessy was clearly designed to act as a pilot for a proposed TV series. However, the pilot did not get picked up by CBS, which left the standalone TV movie riddled with unresolved storylines. If the finished TV movie had run two hours instead of ninety minutes, many of these issues could have been resolved. Had this had been the case, the movie would have been far more compelling and, possibly, the best ever screen translation of a L’Amour book. As things remain, viewers are left wanting to turn the DVD over like an old LP looking for part two on the other side.

The first half of the original plot is truncated for the movie. However,  the story is still focused on young Irish immigrant Tommy Shaughnessy—a champion boxer with a reputation as a ne'er-do-well—who finds himself in the middle of battling Irish gangs in post-Civil War New York. After refusing to throw a fight backed by a crooked promoter, Shaughnessy takes a bullet in the back. Badly injured, he flees New York by hitching a ride in an empty train car like a common hobo. 

As he journeys West, a bizarre twist of fate lands him in Haven, Kansas. Further complications ensue—as they do—and he finds himself wearing a marshal’s star while standing between the  citizens and a gang of cowboys, fresh off a cattle drive, who are out for revenge and riding in to destroy the town. As if Shaughnessy's situation isn't tough enough, a murder and a deadly conspiracy complicate the scenario, forcing him to use all his wits and both of iron fists to stay alive.

Despite its drawbacks, Shaughnessy is a lighthearted, rip-roaring, and entertaining B-Western. L’Amour fanatics may not like the simplifying of the original novel, but for the rest of us who appreciate L’Amour at a less intense level, it’s worth viewing. 

Retitled Shaughnessy: The Iron Marshal for DVD, the movie supposedly pops up occasionally on the Western dedicated cable channels—although I have never seen a listing for it. Fortunately, for those interested, an excellent download is readily available on YouTube.

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