I was ready to give this latest version of "The Virginian", one of my favorite novels of all time, a whirl when it aired.
I could not believe my ears, though, when in the first meeting by the black-haired man with his nemesis Trampas while playing "cyards" in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, the critical line that sets up the whole protagonist situation of the story was altered!
Owen Wister's novel reads as follows:
It was now the Virginian's turn to bet, or leave the game, and he did not speak at once.
Therefore Trampas spoke. "Your bet, you son-of-a ----,"
The Virginian's pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: --
"When you call me that, SMILE!" And he looked at Trampas across the table.
Yes, the voice was gentle. But in my ears it seemed as if somewhere the bell of death was ringing; and silence, like a stroke, fell on the large room. All men present, as if by some magnetic current, had become aware of this crisis. In my ignorance, and total stoppage of my thoughts, I stood stock-still, and noticed various people crouching, or shifting their positions.
"Sit quiet," said the dealer, scornfully, to the man near me. "Can't you see he don't want to push trouble? He has handed Trampas the choice to back down or draw his steel."
Then, with equal suddenness and ease, the room came out of its strangeness. Voices and cards, the click of chips, the puff of tobacco, glasses lifted to drink, - this level of smooth relaxation hinted no more plainly of what lay beneath than does the surface tell the depth of the sea.
For Trampas had made his choice. And that choice was not to "draw his steel."
In the Pullman production, the critical line becomes, "When you call me that - smile, so I'll know we're still friends.
EGAD!! This is both fiction - the two men had never before crossed paths, and it completely undercuts the whole tone of the exchange!
At this, I gave up on the project and turned it off. Hollywood probably thinks it can improve on the balcony scene in "Romeo and Juliet", as well!