Thursday, November 8, 2012


JOHNNY CHAZZ: We speak of genre in film and there are so many directions to turn: Drama, Foreign, Thriller / Suspense, Fantasy, Comedy, etc. This week however, we go West........

There is little doubt that Film Westerns have been a dying art over the years, and the appreciation by audiences for this genre is fading rapidly.

Westerns typically reflect American ideology more than any other genre. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) just shows how that's changed, and perhaps there and the changes that our culture is going through in respect to more of a ‘feminist world’, per se. Are Westerns simply becoming, well…..melodramas?

Heck, just take a close look at one of John Wayne's last two westerns: “Rooster Cogburn” and “The Shootist”, where giant portions of the plot revolved around his character trying to figure out how to fit in a world that includes strong women he wants to settle down and possibly have a relationship with.
Let’s drop some names now: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Gary Cooper serve as the classic Western icons in American film. Nobody fits the bill like Wayne, a towering presence both on and off his horse. These are the icons – and the whole world once knew it well.

John Wayne, when teamed up with the likes of the brilliant John Ford or even Director Howard Hawks, delivered movie after movie, playing an idealized version of himself. Starting with the classic “Red River,” and continuing through the late 1950’s release of “The Searchers,” both the cinematography and the performances were second to none. While the “Duke” would play a variety of roles in different types of movies, it was the western for which he became an icon. In films such as “Rio Bravo,” and “El Dorado,” Wayne’s roles took on an air of humor, as the movies became a bit lighter-hearted.
Here now is a great tribute to JOHN WAYNE: "THE DUKE"

Gary Cooper starred in 1952’s “High Noon.” Directed by Fred Zinnemann, “High Noon” played out as a story of a solitary man standing up to a gang of red-neck criminals. Here is a film that changed the Western genre by itself. The score to the film, as well as both the camera shots and editing made it so revolutionary.

It was during the 1950's that the genre found its rhythm, as rough-neck cowboys like Wayne, Cooper, Henry Fonda, and perhaps the not-so-tough Jimmy Stewart rode their horses, battled Indians (funny enough: they were usually played by white men in make-up) and rode into one-horse towns with an air of sheer overconfidence.

These films were decidedly different star- making turns than the westerns of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. While most of Clint Eastwood’s characters in the 1970’s were memorable and distinctive, his best known Western may have been “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976). Here, Eastwood would play in the role of a revenge story moving the genre back into the mainstream for film-going audiences. 
Enjoy the original trailer for THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES

As the decade wore on, the western basically began to fall-apart – and virtually vanish. Steve McQueen’s last western was “Tom Horn,” released in 1980, as he died months later. Eastwood would wait until 1985’s release of “Pale Rider” before people could enjoy his style on screen again. In the same year, we must also offer kudos to “Silverado”.

It has been almost 20 years since the release of Academy Award winning “Unforgiven,” and today the western has all but disappeared. The early 1990s saw two dueling variations of Wyatt Earp, the somber (and painfully slow) “Wyatt Earp” with Kevin Costner along with “Tombstone,” starring Kurt Russell.

The flops? Just take one look at the disastrous and utterly ridiculous “Waterworld” (1995) or “Treasure Planet” (2002) directed by Ron Clements. These were utter disappointments.

“No Country for Old Men,” could easily be classified as a Western – and quite a good one at that. Still, is what we call westerns today really just “Thriller / Crime Genres”? The point being, it seems that today’s Western can fit into any sub-genre category including everything from fantasy, to science-fiction and most often than not, the crime-genre. 

Perhaps audiences are just bored and need every genre to fit into another sub-genre. Is this another topic for the future on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT? The possibilities, therefore, might be considered endless without a doubt!

Your thoughts Jer?

JER: Kudos on another interesting topic brought up by the ever- resourceful JOHNNY CHAZZ! An interesting topic and summarized ‘short and sweet’ by the size of your entry. My dad was a cowboy, of sorts. He loved the outdoors as he walked about in his cowboy boots and wore his traditional hat… he even owned a horse. I recall many rides on that mare as a youngster before my dad went on to that great big corral in the sky. I miss you, dad and this one’s dedicated to you, Fernando!

Westerns marked the earliest of films leaving behind a legacy of actors known specifically for the genre. Here are but a few legends that shot- up the silver screen and left a lasting impression upon this particular critic.

THE EARLY WEST: One of the true pioneers of the Western world of acting has me immediately giving recognition to Tom Mix, who started off in many genre ‘shorts’ as early as 1909. Mix was hired by Selig Pictures to provide and handle horses before making his screen debut in 1910. Along with acting, Mix was also beginning to write and direct films as well. His popularity made for an astounding 289 appearances in films until 1935, churning out almost five films a year.

Another star that comes to mind is Gene Autry, better known as “The Singing Cowboy”, because of his talented crooning performances in radio before becoming an actor. He began singing on a local radio station in 1928 and found himself starring in his own radio show and recording albums almost three years later in 1931. Three was the magic number again for Autry when he made his debut film appearance, IN OLD SANTA FE, in 1934. He is best known for singing the western anthem “Back In the Saddle Again.”
"Back In The Saddle Again" tribute by Gene Autry

Will Rogers is considered to be an American icon. Debuting in 1918, Rogers was a humorist and a vaudeville actor well before standing in front of a camera. Although he wasn’t a fully- dedicated actor of the Western genre, Rogers still made an impressive amount of films relying on talents that would help define the characters he portrayed. While living in Johannesburg, he appeared in a Wild West show where he learned to ride a horse and use the lasso. Returning back to America, Rogers’ skills landed him into vaudeville and, in 1917, landed him a starring spot in the Ziegfeld follies!

All this talk about the great western actors, one name fails to be mentioned and one that deserves much recognition is “The Queen of the West”… Miss Dale Evans, who was best remembered as the Leading Lady of Country- Western musicals of the 1940s. Making her screen debut in 1942, Evans originally began her career as a singer. She would marry rising western star Roy Rogers in 1947, only having worked with him in several films prior to their marriage. Rogers was already creating quite the name for himself and becoming widely known for his trusty and faithful companion… his horse, Trigger. Both Rogers and Trigger’s footprints are immortalized at the courtyard in front of Grumman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood!
 With the introduction of the new media known as television, Westerns could now be brought right into your living room as well! Some of the long- running shows debuting between the 1940s and 1950s were GUNSMOKE, THE BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, THE LONE RANGER and MAVERICK. Following thereafter between the 1960s through the 1980s were other memorable shows like THE WILD WILD WEST, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, McCLOUD and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS. Other shows were still débuting within the 1990s on throughout the early 2000s included the ever- popular DR. QUINN: MEDICINE WOMAN, WALKER: TEXAS RANGER and the cult favorite THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR. starring Bruce Campbell!

It goes without saying that JC remembers and mentions such giants of the genre like John Wayne, Gary Cooper and even Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, both of whom have had their saddle days as well.

CLINT EASTWOOD: JC also mentions one of the more contemporary ‘cowboys’ to cross the silver screen in the latter 20th century: Mr. Clint Eastwood. His career began in 1955, starring in bit parts and almost giving up on acting before getting his big break on TV co- starring in RAWHIDE in 1959 for six years. During his television hiatus from the show, Eastwood would make an historical decision by starring in a trilogy of low- budget Italian westerns directed by Sergio Leone: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). Leone brought a whole new ‘realistic’ look of dirty outfits and stubble faces that would forever change the previous neat and pressed clean- cut look of the cowboy from yesterday.

HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968) was made and released in America and was followed by other westerns like PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA in 1970. By the mid to late 1970s, a new wave of westerns were cropping up known as the American revisionist westerns that included Eastwood starring in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) and THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976).

It would be almost nine years later before Eastwood would return back to the saddle in 1985’s PALE RIDER but it wasn’t until just a few years later that he would strike gold in Hollywood. That gold came in the form of an Academy Award for his double- duty turn as actor and director for the Best Picture winner UNFORGIVEN. Although keeping him extremely busy these days, with his focus mainly as a director, Eastwood would seem to have finally hung up his hat as a cowboy…for now.

1960s WESTERNS: Although the 60s paid closer attention to the Vietnam War than to a slowly- changing genre, a few memorable films were still released and recognized during this turbulent decade.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese film THE SEVEN SAMURAI, the western- remake consisted of an all- star cast including Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, James Colburn, Eli Wallach and Robert Vaughn.  The film’s plot is now the considered the cliché setting of a small village threatened and terrorized by a group of bandits who hire a band of seven American gunmen to protect the village and dispose of the villains. The film’s success spawned three sequels…none of which equaled the same financial returns. 
The original 1960 trailer for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962) was an epic Western that follows four generations of a family as they move westward in different stages of their lives. Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, John Wayne and Richard Widmark head up the fabulous cast.

Other films worth mentioning within the decade are: THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962), ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) and 1969’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.

SAM PECKINPAH: Director Sam Peckinpah was an influential western craftsman in helping continue where Leone left off. Having been a continued director of western television shows including BROKEN ARROW, THE WESTERNER and THE RIFLEMEN, Peckinpah was ready to bring forth one of the biggest influences of modern western appearances that changed the genre forever: the year was 1969, the film was THE WILD BUNCH! Dirty, grimy and just straight- up bad-asses, THE WILD BUNCH rode in on a blaze of hellfire that introduced gunplay violence as never seen before. Using his signature slow- motion sequences, Peckinpah allowed the audience to really experience every flying bullet that either missed its target or made a direct hit. The film continues to be plagued by a series of controversial criticism. Some believe the film overly glorifies violence while others consider it a modern American classic. 
Sam Peckinpah submitted a number of Western- genre entries with other films like RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962), THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970), Steve McQueen in JUNIOR BONNER (1972), 1973’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID starring James Colburn and Kris Kristofferson and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974).

1970s WESTERNS: Hollywood took note of what directors like Leone and Peckinpah had done with the Western genre… as if they had taken it off the shelf and added a whole new layer of dust rather than cleaning it up! Because of the new look to the Western film, the 1970s embraced the rugged appearances and produced a number of well recognized movies.

LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) Starred Dustin Hoffman as a Caucasian boy raised by Cheyenne Indians during the 19th century. The film largely focuses on the behaviors of the early American pioneers and their interaction with Native Americans.

A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970) is the story of the life and times of an English aristocrat named John Morgan (Richard Harris) who is captured by a Sioux tribe. The film depicts a gruesome initiation never seen before and the rise of Morgan’s beginnings as a capture and finally gaining the respect of the tribe and rising to becoming a leader. The film inspired two sequels: RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE (1976) and TRIUMPHS OF A MAN CALLED HORSE (1983) both of which had Harris reprising his role. 
A wonderful tribute to A MAN CALLED HORSE

Other films that deserve honorable mention include: THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1971), JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972), THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (1972), WESTWORLD (1973), BLAZING SADDLES (1974), THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG (1975), THE WHITE BUFFALO (1977) and GOIN’ SOUTH (1978).

1980s WESTERNS: Even in the center of the music television revolution, westerns still survived and thrived in the decade that brought us Madonna and Reagan-omics! Here are but a few highlighted films worth mentioning:

HEAVEN’S GATE (1980) was a heavily controversial film directed by Michael Cimino (THE DEER HUNTER). The publicized events were not centered around the plot: an epic storyline that focused on the dispute between rich cattle owners and poor European immigrants during the 1890s, but rather on the over- budget production cost in making the film. The estimated budget was at a ghastly $44 million and only drew in about $3 million at the box office during its release. This is the film that allegedly broke United Artists (the film studio) which filed for bankruptcy. The film has since gained much respect and has been highlighted at many film festivals today.

THE LONG RIDERS (1980) recalls the detailed accounts of the James- Younger gang directed by Walter Hill (48 HRS, THE WARRIORS). As a personal favorite of mine, this film is a cinematic gift in many shapes and forms. The film centers on Jesse James and his brother along with Cole Younger and his brothers as they robbed banks shortly after the Civil War. The treats begin with the cast alone, which consisted of real- life brothers: The Keaches: James as Jesse James and Stacy as Frank James. The Carradines: David as Cole Younger, Keith as Jim Younger and Robert as Bob Younger. The Quaids: Dennis as Ed Miller and Randy as Clell Miller and finally The Guests: Christopher as Charley Ford and Nicholas as Robert Ford. Hill tributes his method of directing to that of Sam Peckinpah, using only the most realistic locations, seeing and feeling the grime on the characters’ faces and an intense slow- motion shootout as the finale. A high recommendation to any fan of the genre! 
The fantastic trailer to Walter Hill's THE LONG RIDERS

Others that deserve recognition include: TOM HORN (1980), URBAN COWBOY (1980), THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (1981), SILVERADO (1985), THE THREE AMIGOS (1986) and YOUNG GUNS (1988).


KEVIN COSTNER: Another contemporary actor, whose roots have stayed true in the fields of the Western world is Kevin Costner. After a series of ups and downs in the acting community, Costner finally landed a role in the highly- publicized western SILVERADO, opposite such acting greats including Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline and Danny Glover. A few years later, Costner would star in, what was considered an “urban western” by director Brian DePalma, THE UNTOUCHABLES. The truly defined western would come along in 1990 as Costner made his directorial debut in the Academy Award winning Best Picture: DANCES WITH WOLVES. Others that followed included WYATT EARP (1994), THE POSTMAN (1997) and OPEN RANGE (2003). More recently, Costner was awarded a Primetime Emmy for his portrayal of “Devil” Anse Hatfield in the televised miniseries THE HATFIELDS AND THE McCOYS.

(left) Russell in TOMBSTONE/ (right) Costner in WYATT EARP
1990s WESTERNS: As previously mentioned by JC, the decade brought us the rivalry of Wyatt Earp films! In one corner, TOMBSTONE (1993) stood proud with Kurt Russell portraying the handle-bar mustached lawman with Val Kilmer’s memorable and scene- stealing performance as Doc Holiday. On the other corner we have WYATT EARP (1994) directed by SILVERADO’s Lawrence Kasdan. Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid take on the roles of Earp and Holiday, respectfully. So, who was left standing during this gunfight at the O.K. Corral? I guess it just depends on who you talk with. (My opinion? TOMESTONE!)

Other films worth mentioning during this decade include: BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990), FAR AND AWAY (1992), POSSE (1993), MAVERICK (1994) and THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (1995).

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST: In short, the Western is a genre like many others: it follows a string of continuous films, and then it dissipates and continues to come back in short revivals. Consider the more temporary films of the recent and the ones coming soon.

Jeff Bridges in TRUE GRIT (2010)
Leave to it the skilled craftsmanship of the Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) to re-make the classic John Wayne film TRUE GRIT in 2010 and still allow the film to be its own version without relying on remake values. Jeff Bridges played the one-eyed drunken U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn with a unique style and attention to character without stepping into the territory created by Wayne’s interpretation. Acknowledgements are paid towards directors John Ford, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah in the presentation of the film, cinematography and set designs.

(left) Craig and (right) Ford: COWBOYS AND ALIENS
Director Jon Favreau (IRONMAN) took westerns in a whole new direction with the graphic novel- inspired COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011) fusing science fiction with the Old West. Starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, a spaceship arrives in Arizona: 1873 and it is up to a posse of cowboys to try to stop them by any means necessary. The film kept true to the natural appearance and feel of the Wild West while keeping it exciting by introducing alien spacecrafts and modern weapons!

Upcoming films to help keep the Western alive will be the highly anticipated Quentin Tarantino entry entitled DJANGO UNCHAINED starring Jamie Foxx. Loosely based on a series of spaghetti westerns released throughout Europe on the mid 1960s, Tarantino definitely puts his signature spin on the tale of a slave- turned- bounty hunter who is freed and sent off to rescue his wife from the hands of a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. This film is set to open on December 25th, 2012.
Official trailer for Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED

THE LONE RANGER will also be bringing the spirit of the West to life in its projected July 3rd 2013 release. Produced by uber-successful Jerry Bruckheimer (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, THE ROCK) and directed by Academy Award winning director Gore Verbinski (Best Director for an Animated Film: RANGO). The story follows Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounting the untold stories of the origins of how the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) became a man of justice. 
Official trailer for THE LONE RANGER due out July 2013

Overall, Westerns have yet to have the sun set on the genre just yet. Imagination and creativity will always draw an audience to a time long forgotten when the West was wild and the law was settled by a six shooter.

We ask you, the reader, to share your thoughts… what do you think of Westerns? Do you have a favorite and why? We always look forward to your comments and all submissions will be relied. Make sure you head- on back here again on Wednesday November the 28th, as we observe the Thanksgiving holiday and JER comes back with a great dish of a topic to be served up piping hot!
 Until then, enjoy the THANKSGIVING holiday with family and friends from yours here at CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT!

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  1. Stagecoach and High Noon rank as some of the top movie westerns that were ever made. I still like some of the westerns on the theaters today, but they really do not compare to the classic westerns. (Dennis, MO).

  2. Hi Dennis and thank you for sharing two very important and classic titles with us! We totally agree with the fact that today's westerns, although good, can never compare to the classics! Well said!

    Thanks for dropping in and come back and comment as often as you'd like!