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WESTERNS: why such a love 'em or hate 'em genre?


misswonderly3
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I'm putting this out on the "General Discussions" forum and not the "Westerns" forum because it is a given that those who go on the latter like Westerns. I'm interested in hearing from people who are positive, negative, and ambivalent about them. In other words, a general discussion.

 

I used to loathe Westerns before I knew any better, when I was young and foolish. Then I had to study them in a film course on genres, and realized what I'd been missing. They're still not my favourite type of movie, there are many that bore me or leave me cold, but when a Western is good, it rises above its genre and joins the ranks of films that have something to say, films that we always remember.

 

Any takers?

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3298573948_bd0c933b1b.jpg

 

- Guest Artists

Robert Wise, a master craftsman who works in all genres, does a bang-up job with TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN for MGM. James Cagney is the leading man of the picture, and he is not known for his work in this genre, either. Meanwhile, Lena Horne does a rare western in the late 60s with Richard Widmark called DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER.

- Resident Artists

The A-listers and B-listers. Put John Wayne at the head of the class. Also, add Randolph Scott and Alan Ladd to the A-crowd. B-western lists must include Tim Holt, George Montgomery and John Mack Brown, plus the poverty row artists like Buster Crabbe and Lash Larue.

- Crossover Artists

Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Eddie Dean were known as country singers who made the transition into this film genre rather easily. Nary a moment goes by without them bursting into song.

- Cowgirls

As modern artist George Strait croons in a hit song, how 'bout them cowgirls? Of course, Jennifer Holt (sister of Tim) and Dale Evans (wife of Roy) are the pre-eminent trailblazers here.

- Character Actors

Fuzzy Knight is one of the more beloved in this category. Also, we must mention Smiley Burnette, Pat Buttram and George 'Gaby' Hayes.

- Serials

Obviously helped pave the way for episodic westerns on television. Some were on radio concurrently, like The Lone Ranger.

 

I am just scratching the surface...others will have more to add.

 

Moore-LoneRanger.jpg

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Part of my problem with westerns is that A) they, like war films, seem to be a mostly male dominated genre, with no real women characters (and the few I like do have prominent females) and B)many show a complete lack of humor (again, of the few I like, most have humorous characters thrown in for comic relief).

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I mentioned Jennifer Holt and Dale Evans, but they were b-western females.

 

In the late 40s and 50s, Yvonne de Carlo was Universal's answer. They cast her in many A- and B-westerns with decent enough budgets and stories. She plays tough cowgirls as often as she plays gussied up madams.

 

Another one that worked frequently in the western genre, in A films, is Maureen O'Hara. Her work with John Ford and John Wayne aside, she has some of her own starring roles, notably in THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING, a moderately budgeted oater from Universal.

 

redheadfromwyoming.jpg

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Interesting topic.

 

I too used to loathe Westerns. I would think everyone was dirty, the sets looked cheap and like obvious back lots (in some), and I couldn't see past the horses and guns to see the real plot. Then one day several years ago I watched *The Cheyenne Social Club* and laughed my arse off. I know it was a western comedy, but I enjoyed it greatly. Right after they showed this other western with Dean Martin *Rough Night in Jericho* and I enjoyed it.

 

Following that, I watched *Rawhide* in my quest to watch and own every Tyrone Power film. It was like a western film noir and I loved it. Soon I caught *My Darling Clementine* and immediately fell in love with the black and white western, having already loved the main characters. Thanks to Encore Westerns and TCM I have watched many Westerns and have really enjoyed them. I love *The Shootist* and I even get a little teary eyed (I don't think the Duke would approve!). I think my appreciation for the work the actor helped me to watch them in westerns and appreciate the genre. I know this is definitely the case with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Now I appreciate a western with a decent storyline (fighting over land, money, a woman, against the Native Americans), a pretty leading lady, a funny or boozing sidekick, Monument Valley scenery, and the horses!

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You make a good point that when there are bad westerns they are bad but the really good ones match with good films from any genre.

 

They can be very basic. They are tales of good and evil and someone's ability to overcome it. A fight against the land, other people, circumstances. There is a certain bravery involved in the people just being in the land at that time. There is the adventure and action.

 

It is building a life. There is little easy about it. There is a code. Sometimes even among outlaws there is some sort of respect among them. Like other genres they are people we generally are not living a lifestyle we do not. In that way westerns can be as much fantasy as realistic.

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Aside from really good and great A-westerns, I am especially fond of well-made B-Westerns. Especially the Republic, RKO and Universal westerns. The elements of a good B-Western are:

 

1. Attractive, not-annoying leading lady (Laraine Johnson, nee Day)

2. Genuinely threatening, swarthy lead villain (Leroy Mason or Fred Kohler)

3. Healthy heaping of name character and bit players (Monte Montague, Tom London)

4. Fluid camerawork with at least one tracking shot during a horse chase

5. Good musical score (Salter, Sawtell, Feuer)

 

and, of course, the hero. My favorites are Tim Holt, George O'Brien, Johnny Mack Brown, Allan Lane. I also enjoy Autry's Republics. Not the Columbias.

 

Bill Boyd's HOPALONG CASSIDY films, especially the Paramounts, are exceptional examples of great B-Westerns.

 

To anyone who wants to dip into B westerns gingerly, I heartily recommend RKO's 1936 "Barnum & Bailey of Westerns" POWDERSMOKE RANGE. It stars Harry Carey, Guinn Williams and Hoot Gibson as the original Three Mesquiteers. A really terrific picture with a 3-D villain performance by Tom Tyler.

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Lots of really interesting comments and ideas here.

 

My own favourite kind of Western is the one where the hero is undergoing some kind of inner struggle, he's realizing for the first time maybe, that in between black and white, there's grey. (Kind of film noirish, actually.)

Most of Anthony Mann's Westerns fall into this category. I love the performances in these films, particularly James Stewarts' -who always seems cynical and impatient with b*s*, thinks he's only out for himself, but has some kind of moral epiphany before the end of the movie.

Just to name a few: *Winchester 73* (with Shelley Winters along for the ride), *The Man from Laramie* (moving performances from Arthur "I look like Van Hefflin" Kennedy and sweet Cathy O'Donnell), and, my favourite Mann/Stewart Western, *The Naked Spur*. Love Robert Ryan in this.All the characters in *The Naked Spur* (all four of 'em) are complex, intelligent, neither evil nor virtuous. I love the penultimate scene with Jimmy Stewart in such psychological turmoil and Janet Leigh looking both horrified and sympathetic.

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Feb 2, 2011 2:51 PM

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I think I can guarantee I will not be at the tribute to Roy Rogers at the Film Festival. Hopefully something appealing will be playing concurrently.

 

Those B westerns put me right to sleep in 10 minutes.

 

I have enjoyed MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, RIO BRAVO, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, ONCE UPON THE TIME IN THE WEST....but none of these are run-of-the-mill Saturday matinee stuff. I do need to catch up on my John Ford though.

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I am not the biggest Western fan. I don't usually seek out the lesser known ones like I might with musicals, screwball comedies or Noir for example but I wouldn't say I hate em.

 

My personal 5 Stars (in no particular order)

 

The Wind (1927)

Rio Bravo

Red River (although I don't like the Indian scenes one thing that does bother me about Westerns to some degree)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Western Noir?)

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

True Grit (2010)

 

Some 4 Stars

 

The Ox Bow Incident (except the end when Henry Fonda has to read the moral to us).

Stage Coach (I didn't like the notable attack on the stage coach scene but I did like the character interaction)

My Darling Clementine

The Iron Horse (1924)

 

Although I appreciate them I wasn't a big fan of the Searchers or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

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Great line, that. Kind of sums up a lot about all that killing that goes on in Westerns. Great film. I love *Unforgiven*, I consider it to be one of Eastwood's very best films.

 

However, I also think of it as almost a post-Western. It's kind of a like an elegy to the Western. Also, there's so much to say about it, it almost could use a thread of its own.

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Kinokima, if you like *Rio Bravo* you may want to see Hawks' own remake of it: *El Dorado*. This time the Dean Martin character is played by Robert Mitchum. Both versions drag a little around the half-way point, but it's the characters that make this Western story interesting. (I think Howard Hawks even made it a third time, but I can't remember its title.)

 

MyFavouriteFilms, thanks for the heads up about *The Furies*. I've never seen it. With a cast that includes Walter Huston ("Stumpy" from *Rio Bravo* by the way) and Barbara Stanwyk, and with Anthony Mann at the helm, I'm sure its worth checking out.

 

Aargh, I am so wrong. I don't know why I always get those two Walters mixed up. Of course it's Walter Brennon who plays Stumpy, not Walter Huston.

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Feb 2, 2011 8:01 PM

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Feb 2, 2011 8:02 PM

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The biggest problem with westerns is they tend to bore me. Boring plots, boring characters, boring sets. And John Wayne is an icon of conservative machismo. I like the George O'Brien Bs because he has a sense of humor. I also like the Republic Zorro serials. And I like THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

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> {quote:title=ChorusGirl wrote:}{quote}

> I think I can guarantee I will not be at the tribute to Roy Rogers at the Film Festival. Hopefully something appealing will be playing concurrently.

>

> Those B westerns put me right to sleep in 10 minutes.

>

> I have enjoyed MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, RIO BRAVO, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, ONCE UPON THE TIME IN THE WEST....but none of these are run-of-the-mill Saturday matinee stuff. I do need to catch up on my John Ford though.

 

I like those too (except Rio Bravo, which I haven't yet seen) All of them have prominent female characters and/or humorous moments (or in the case of Once Upon a Time, interesting casting--Fonda as villain). Add Johnny Guitar, Fort Apache, The Shootist and Rancho Notorious and that pretty uch sums up my list of "watchable" westerns.

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I can't say I love or hate the genre. Not sure that I love or hate any genre, per se. Although, horror comes close (love) and comedy comes close (hate). If a Western is to my taste, then I like it. No different from any other film. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is, easily, my favorite, with RIO BRAVO and HUD, also among the ones I really like. I like many others, but absolutely nothing with Henry Fonda.

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Funny thing is, I understand why many people, especially women, don't like them. They think they're boring, with unsophisticated dialogue, overly simple plots, one-dimensional characters, and not enough female characters -or, if there are female characters, they're even more stereotypical than the males.

 

I have found this to be the case with many of the older Westerns, pre-1939 ( *Stagecoach* was a turning point), and a lot of the "B' Westerns. But there are a lot, especially from the 50s, that are much deeper and more interesting than that.

*Destry Rides Again* is not only a refreshingly different take on the whole "gun slinger" theme -imagine Jimmy Stewart refusing to carry a gun - it's quite funny, and it's got a meaty role for a female character. Marlene Dietrich is quite fun in this. It's one Western that even many women enjoy.

 

There are also some crossover "noir" Westerns ; *Rancho Notorious* (Marlene again ! ), *Johnny Guitar*

(Sterling Hayden and Joan Crawford in a Western/noir/Joan-o-drama ), and *Pursued*,Robert Mitchum with a little drama of his own.

All of the above, including *Stagecoach,* feature strong female characters, memorable dialogue, and psychological depth. Not what some people associate with Westerns.

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I am a huge fan of westerns, but I have to say there are way more bad westerns than there are good westerns, and that is probably why so many don't like them. I thought that Forgiven was only average as far as a western goes, some of the earlier ones by Clint Eastwood were much better [a fistfull of dollars, tgtbatu]. John Wayne is at his best in The Searchers, there is a little comedy in it, also a surprise ending. Shane is a great western, a good example of the stranger coming into town and beating out the regulars.

 

3:10 to Yuma (1957) is great one, with another surprise ending.

 

Will Penny and The man who shot Liberty valence are a couple of others.

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I don't know if there is more of a love it or hate it feeling about westerns than

there is about other genres. Maybe, maybe not. I like a good, well done western.

I'm not too interested in the slew of B westerns. Like any genre, they can get rather

repetitive and routine. But I wouldn't use either the term love or hate. In general,

I enjoy westerns.

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You are right about "Unforgiven", a great western. I wished I remembered to mentioned it in the "Revenge* thread. Those women don't take being abused like that. I won't list "Unforgiven" now on it, still ouching from it.

 

They still make great westerns but they are very few and far between.

 

Far as bad ones go, still remember the "Heavens Gate" turkey?

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Since I'm a real life cowgirl & Cinefile, people are always surprised I generally don't care for westerns. (Generally) I find the plots basic, the charactors are kind of one dimensional as others here have said.

 

I've tried really hard to like John Ford, but in retrospect, his are probably the worst to start with in "westerns" genre. The depiction of Indians is deplorable and sadly, often the only perspective modern people have of them.

 

I do love LONELY ARE THE BRAVE, but is that considered a western? I love the lead charactor and especially his relationship with his horse Whiskey. I'm currently reading Chuck Roberson's autobiography of his stunt riding career. Amazing he used his own horse, Cocaine. Guess it's traditional to name your after your favorite intoxicant, heh.

 

I've noted the few lovefilmnoir said he enjoyed and I'll give those a try whenever TCM broadcasts them.

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