Sunday, 31 January 2010

Cowboys and Indians

Melissa (of Melissa's Meanderings), in a very recent post, touched on the film The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I like it too. It's a bit long, but certainly a film I'm prepared to sit through. For A Few Dollars More is another favourite.

A pity that the Western genre has had its day. I think it died with John Wayne. I really loved the many old TV westerns, whether they were at kiddy level, like Hopalong Cassidy, Champion the Wonder Horse, and The Lone Ranger, or something more sophisticated (?) like Boots and Saddles, Davy Crockett, Rawhide, Bronco, Cheyenne, Bonanza, Maverick, Gunslinger, Branded, The Rifleman, Cimarron Strip, or High Chaparral. Even spoof series like Alias Smith and Jones. I'm ashamed to say even films like Blazing Saddles. They all in their way captured something about the Wild West that strongly appealed and they felt heroic, or at least dealt forthrightly with simple issues in an uncomplicated way, and had good endings. And they quite rightly put emphasis on self-dependence and the love you can feel for your horse. ELO's track Wild West Hero evokes it all quite well.

Alas, the world has changed. Conflicts can't really be settled by Randolph Scott riding into town. The nice guy doesn't automatically get the sweetheart. Bitter rivals don't just shake hands and agree to share the waterhole. And if the old Westerns celebrated pride, fortitude, honour and principle, they also celebrated gambling, robbery, hard drinking, gunplay, casual killing, and the mass slaughter of native Americans.

I don't agree that the Star War films and their imitations are the same thing. The emptiness of space or the confines of a spaceship are too sterile. In the background of every Western was the land, the rock and dust, and weather that could kill you. Over and above any threat from being shot in a saloon or ambushed by outraged braves fighting a doomed battle against the rise of modern American culture, was the challenge of survival on the vast prairie. That frontier feeling was well depicted, so special, and had so much appeal. Where can you realistically have such adventures now?

Perhaps the Western will come back, when we are tired of computer games and want to return to a simpler life.


  1. I to miss the old westerns, the spagetti ones were ofcourse enhanced by the fabulous music score, I have them all on DVD, just wonderful, I think the last classic in my opinion was 'The Unforgiven', that film is just so cold with the odd touch of warmth, just brilliant, I remember being a teenager(just) the sunday matinee was always a western or warfilm, there are ofcourse always new and wonderful films being made, but I do know what you mean, lets hope they come back.

  2. I miss the Westerns too. I remember being taken to the cinema by my aunt to watch the latest western, though I was very upset when they threw the Indian off a cliff (I wonder which film that was.

    I had a hard time trying to decide who was my favourite in The Magnificent 7. They don't make tham like that anymore.

  3. How coincidental that this post should pop up in my dashboard just after 3:10 to Yuma has been broadcast.

    Have you ever seen the sadly-canned Joss Wheedon series Firefly? Who says the Western's dead?

  4. I've never thought that it was a coincidence that westerns died out around the same time that US involvement in Vietnam did.

    Might have been a loss of innocence thing, with popular entertainment reflecting the more complicated world view that Americans found they needed to adopt after wards.

  5. I wouldn't say that the western genre has died out. It's just not as prevalent as it once used to be. There have been some really good ones. Some of the newer westerns that I thought were very good were the recent 3:10 To Yuma, with Russel Crow and Christian Bale, Dances With Wolves, Open Range with Robert Duval, Kevin Costner, and Annette Bening, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, The TV mini series, Lonesome Dove, Silverado, and even though it's been a while ago, the mini series Centennial, based on James Michener's novel.

    Melissa XX


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