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SNARKY QUESTION ABOUT 1950's WESTERNS


AndyM108
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Why does seemingly *EVERY* Western film of the 1950's have to begin with the sappiest imaginable song? I'm watching Gunfight at the OK Corral for the first time tonight, and once again I got sucker punched by the opening soundtrack. Less singin' and more shootin', podners!

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I read something about this just a few weeks ago. The trend was suppsosed to have been started by the success of the High Noon theme song, which was pretty much the first of its kind, and it became a very popular song that sold a lot of phonograph records too, all during the 1950s, and even foreign-language records.

 

 

 

Ahh, here's where I heard it, on this NPR report:

 

 

 

And here is the full German version:

 

 

 

Edited by: FredCDobbs on Nov 13, 2013 6:46 PM

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If you think that's bad, check out THE MAN FROM LARAMIE. As much as I love the film, I have to mute the theme song when I watch it.

 

The ones on the web are a bit uptempo from the dreary song heard during the film's credits.

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*The Gunfight At The O K Corral* is one of my favorite films of all time. I love everything about this film; Burt and Kirk, the strong supporting cast, the fictional action packed storyline. This is just pure fun and entertainment for me. The story and the acting is a little over the top and the music score fits it well. Frankie Laine singing the title song sets the tone, and this performance got him the job for "Blazing Saddles" years later. If I could pick a handful of movies I could get to see on the big screen this one would be on that list.

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I read something about this just a few weeks ago. The trend was suppsosed to have been started by the success of the High Noon theme song,

 

I was going to suggest that possibility, but the truth is I've seen relatively so few Westerns that I was afraid someone might jump in and cite 50 before that.

 

And movieman, what dramas are you thinking about? I do seem to recall a few of them like Blackboard Jungle starting out with a song, but other than those godawful widescreen spectaculars I can't think of a lot of others. I can think of plenty of dramas with instrumental music that permeated the movie, but few which bopped you upside your head with the Happy Sappy Machine (vocal version) right at the start the way those Westerns did.

 

By far the best musical introduction I can think of is the "Walk on the Wild Side" introduction to the 1962 movie of that same name, accompanied by a black cat walking through the streets at night. The jazz organist Jimmy Smith had a two sided hit of the title tune, one side vocal and the other side instrumental, which got up to #21 on the Billboard charts later that same year.

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What mostly drives me up a wall with those musical intros to Westerns isn't the music, it's the words. Or put it this way: Most of the 1950's Westerns I've seen make me fear I'm about to be plunged into another version of Paint Your Wagon, and I react like Homer Simpson. It's more or less totally killed my appetite for the entire genre.

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Andy, I agree about that hokey theme song. Like the film *Gunfight at the OK Corral* , just fine (although even with a Oscar nom for editing, I think it's a little too long) Love Frankie Laine, but that theme song is so corney. Watching the film is enough to know the story, why is it always necessary to tell the viewer the story in song? But I do have to secretly admit, (even though it's another telling of the story) love Please don't forsake me oh my darling, as High Noon's theme song . (sometimes cornball stuff is ok) :)

 

As far as drama theme songs, AGREE with *Walk on the Wild Side* what a great song. I'd also add Thee I Love from Wyler's *Friendly Persuasion* I love that song. I also love A Certain Smile from the same titled film. Johnny Mathis, doesn't get much better.

 

Edited by: lavenderblue19 on Nov 14, 2013 9:19 AM

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I know exactly what you mean. 'Red River' has a big chorusy rah rah song sung early in the movie. Totally sappy smaltz that almost made me turn off the movie. I didn't and got to see a pretty decent act two before it turned to crapola in the third act.

 

So, yeah. Not a fan of those godawful songs, though High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) is an exception.

 

Another exception was over the end players credits (nice touch) of 'Stagecoach' (1966) - 'Stagecoach to Cheyenne' sung by Wayne Newton. Very cool.

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This was not restricted to movies. In the mid-50's to early 60's when westerns were as ubiquitous on tv as reality shows are today many had the opening theme song. Frankie Laine carrying on his prominence in this field sang the memorable theme for the Clint Eastwood show that gave him his first fame - "Rawhide" ( "Blazing Saddles" echoes it) But boomers can probably still sing today along with the opening themes from "Have Gun Will Travel". "Maverick" "Wyatt Earp" "Sugarfoot" "Cheyenne" "Bat Masterson" etc etc etc

 

 

Re: non-western opening themes - that 50's trend - "An Affair to Remember" and "Imitation of Life" had memorable theme songs along with the aforementioned "Friendly Persuasion" "A Certain Smile" and probably others not yet mentioned. Any others come to mind?

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> The trend was suppsosed to have been started by the success of the High Noon theme song,

 

 

That, and later in the decade, the theme to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Westerns of that period tried to copy one or the other or both.

 

But that doesn't bug me as much as the trend of some late '50's-early '60's westerns to have theme music( AND film scores) that featured ELECTRIC guitars!

 

Sepiatone

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"Red River" Crapola?? Wow!

 

Re westerns in general - i think maybe you like the western genre or you don't.

 

I have to admit though that even though "The Searchers" is one of my favorite movies I am annoyed by the song that closes the movie.

"Johnny Guitar" Is another story - I love the song (AND the movie) and enjoy Peggy Lee's singing of it every time I hear it.

Ditto "River of No Return".

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I love a good western and I think that the 1950s was undoubtedly Hollywood's most remarkable decade for producing films of noteworthy quality in that genre.

 

However, I would have to agree that in many cases the ballad songs in '50s westerns initiated by the success of Dimitri Tiomkin's "Do Not Forsake Me" hit for High Noon became a corny, tiresome western cliche in many of those films. Frankie Laine seemed to sing half of those songs.

 

There are exceptions, however. Here's a link to a YouTube rendition of one of the best ballad songs of any western made in that decade, in my opinion. This is the Jay Livingston-Mack David theme for 1959's The Hanging Tree, sing by Marty Robbins.

 

I love this song. Gary Cooper appeared to have better luck than some other westerns stars in this respect, because the theme from High Noon is also a strong winner, in my opinion, too.

 

Anyway, take a listen to the theme from The Hanging Tree and just try to tell me that it's not good:

 

 

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I said it turns into crapola. Perhaps a little harsher word than I should've used.

 

I watched it on July 9, 2011 and immediately posted my thoughts in a thread titled 'Red River Walks' started by slaytonf. This is exactly what I said then:

 

I have a problem with old westerns that feature too much music - especially when its all that rah rah singing. I barely made it through the first half hour because of all that cheese. Then, the singing stopped, the music became a little more sparse and plot-sensitive, the visuals were excellent, the episodes were gripping with a nice dramatic story winding upward.

 

But what a crappy ending! All that dread only to find them lovey-doveying each other like nothing had happened and poor John Ireland shot for no reason (and while everyone is smiling and making up nobody even mentions it! - a thoroughly likeable and fairly significant character shot by the psychotic bully Wayne and everyone's happy?).

 

And the constantly yapping woman being brought into the story for the purpose (apparently) of resolving everything with her yapping. All that tension for nothing. Nice realistic cattle drive and dramatic mutiny completely undermined by phony hollywood contrivances.

 

This is why the golden age is anything but to me.

 

I liked Clift and Ireland - well all the male actors really, including John Wayne (much better than his usual). Take the singing out of the first part of the movie, eliminate the woman from the story, and re-shoot an ending that is actually conducive (realistic) to the drama and you'd probably have a true classic there.

 

I haven't changed my mind since - still feel the same way.

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You make a good point about RED RIVER. It's a good movie, but:

 

================SPOILER ALERT=====================

 

John Wayne is seen to be implacable in his desire for vengeance, but when he's about to exact it, Joanne Dru fires a gun in the air and yells, "Stop it!" -- and suddenly the Duke calms down, just like that. Unbelievable.

 

And Clift and Ireland were headed for a showdown all through the movie, and it never happened.

 

Two glaring weaknesses in a good film that could have been a great one.

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I have to admit that "Don't Forsake Me" at the start of High Noon is every bit as grating on my ears as any other song that leads into a Western. In another context I can bear it, but why start an allegedly serious drama with *any* song, especially a hokey one? It just kind of hangs there in the air for no apparent reason. And it's just plain stupid.

 

Contrast all those Western openings with the one from Walk On The Wild Side, which is the gold standard of long introductions:

 

 

No words, just a slowly building *instrumental* theme accompanied by the sight of a black cat stalking his prey. Total understatement until it explodes into a catfight that leads into the plot. The Brook Benton vocal comes on only at the end of the movie, when it's in context with the denouement of the plot.

 

Another film that uses a musical introduction to maximum effect is the "Dragnet" theme at the start of The Killers, which provides the perfect lead to William Conrad's and Charles McGraw's nighttime approach to the small town diner with a contract murder on their agenda. But movies that start out with a vocal are just. . . well, they're just trying too hard, that's all. They're like Ali La Pointe in The Battle of Algiers, who's told to shoot a French policeman in the back, but instead spins him around and makes a speech before he discovers that there aren't any bullets in his gun. The moral of that incident, and of the music in Walk on the Wild Side, is a good one: Shoot First, Talk Later.

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I remember liking some of Frankie Laine's songs BITD, "Moonlight Gambler" in particular. But IMO the movies in the 40's got it right when they wanted to introduce music: They simply showed a singer performing in a night club. Totally believable in a real world context, and not in the least bit annoying. For me Westerns and music just don't mix.

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It isn't the gal and her gun that gets Wayne to calm down. It is the fact Monty punched Wayne. That he was willing to fight back physically and stand up to the bully.

 

This is made clear when Brennan says all will be OK after Monty punches Wayne. That comment is made before the gals gets her gun.

 

It has been explained in other threads why the Ireland character wasn't misused. The main reason being that Grant was to be cast in the role and it would have been a lot bigger role. But when he refused Hawks downplayed the part. But yea, it does stick out as being unfulfilled.

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John Ireland's part as Cherry in Red River got largely chopped by Howard Hawks for reasons of personal vendatta on the part of the director since Ireland got into an affair with leading lady Joanne Dru, for whom Hawks had had his own sexual designs.

 

Red River has too many virtues to not be proclaimed an outstanding western. However, it also has serious flaws, and the final resolution, with Dru's character there to fire a gun in the air, thus halting the fist fight between Wayne and Clift, has always reeked to me of Hollywood contrivance for a tagged on happy ending.

 

The film's Dimitri Tiomkin musical score, however, I regard as a strong virtue, along with some stunning phtography and a great Wayne performance.

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