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Sam Elliott Stands Out in 'You Know My Name'

Television Review

August 21, 1999|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long, lean, gruff and tough, Sam Elliott has a leisurely drawl and laser-like stare that is ideal for a figure of the Old West. In the mighty fine TNT biopic "You Know My Name," the appealing actor again stands tall in one of the choice roles of his career.

Elliott, a star of such made-for-TV sagas as "The Sacketts" and "The Shadow Riders," portrays Marshal Bill Tilghman, one of the most respected lawmen in Oklahoma history who rode with the Earps, partnered with Bat Masterson and brought the Wild Bunch to justice.

In 1924 Oklahoma, the proud protagonist has hung up his six-shooter and taken to documenting his exciting exploits for silent films.

However, having "never seen a town I couldn't handle," the retired Tilghman agrees to clean up Cromwell, a disreputable oil town brimming with liquor, dice joints and prostitutes.

That fateful decision puts him at odds with Wiley Lynn (Arliss Howard), a homicidal Prohibition agent in cahoots with local galoots.

If the film has a flaw, it revolves around Howard, who gives his crooked, cackling, drug-addled bad guy such broad strokes, he seems out of sync with the picture's otherwise gritty, low-key tone.

No such problem with Elliott, who turns in a top-drawer performance as Tilghman, an honorable hero who evidently was never above a bit of self-promotion.

In standout supporting roles, Carolyn McCormick is steely yet sensitive as his devoted wife, while James Gammon deserves an appreciative nod for his wry work as crusty Arkansas Tom, a repentant outlaw who readily concedes his lack of integrity.

As writer and director, John Kent Harrison (who helmed 1998's wonderful "What the Deaf Man Heard") creates a credible milieu with his captivating words and images.

Harrison gives an especially memorable flourish to one of his film's final scenes. If that sequence doesn't hammer your heartstrings, it's time to check your ticker.

* "You Know My Name" can be seen Sunday at 8 , 10 p.m. and midnight on TNT. The network has rated it TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under 14, with special advisories for coarse language and violence).

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