Classics on the Western The Evolving Scholarly Vision

Many of us became interested in the study of the Western after reading Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land The American West as Symbol and Myth, first published by the Harvard University Press in 1950. As Smith explained in his preface to the twentieth-anniversary printing, I wanted to protest against the common usage of the term 'myth' to mean simply erroneous belief, and to insist that the relationship between the imaginative constructions I was dealing with and the history of the West in the...

Engaging Audiences through Genre and Themes

Randy Smith, a member of the Western Writers of America,1 states that some of the best recent Westerns have been totally the provenance of the cable television industry. He asserts that while the major motion picture studios are stymied by marketing conservatism, cable networks, like Turner Network Television (TNT), have been producing Westerns that are truly representative of the best qualities of the genre. Ted Mahar echoes Smith's claim by declaring that the network's Monte Walsh (2003) is...

The West Westerns and American Character

There is no more characteristic American art form than the Western film. Even when it is produced in Italy, Finland, East Germany, Hungary, Australia, or Japan, there is no mistaking the American institutions that are being represented or the distinctively American character types portrayed. Scholars have been interested in the wide variety of Western stories and representations of the West for generations. Consider The West of the Imagination, a 1986 PBS television series focusing on...

Cimarron as a Counterhistory

The film's next text insert occurs after the land rush as Yancey, Sabra (RKO's recent acquisition Irene Dunne), and son Cimarron arrive in Osage, Oklahoma. The title reads, The boomer town of Osage a population of 10,000 in six weeks. Again, a series of images follows which complicates the progress and optimism inherent in the town's population growth. A half-breed shoots a man in front of a saloon, a lawyer cheats his clients, and a pioneering husband and wife work through the night to erect...

The Drifter

Devil's Doorway tells the story of Broken Lance, or Lance Poole (Robert Taylor), a Shoshone Indian and decorated Civil War veteran who returns to his tribe's ancestral land, a valley called Sweet Meadows, only to find that unchecked prejudice and greed have come with Wyoming's territorial incorporation and the railroad. Under the Homestead Act, whites could file homestead claims but Indians could not as a result, Lance is unable to claim ownership of Sweet Meadows though he has worked the land...

Reflection of Post World War II Concerns

Many critics have discussed the role of genre films in exploring contemporary conflicts and concerns. The Hollywood-produced British Empire films of the 1930s explored America's concerns about its role in looming international struggles. Slotkin sums up the genre's function regarding America's self-image These movies mythologized popularized and made intelligible in traditional terms a major ideological shift in American politics, away from isolationism and toward preparedness for engagement in...

Deconstructing the Film Themes and Dialogue

Ferber's concern with the unjust treatment of minorities, combined with that of Stevens, is clearly visible in the motion picture Giant. What becomes evident from the moment the film begins is that the racist attitudes expressed by characters in the film are by no means shared by the film's creators (Griffith 19). Despite the watered-down nature of the script, the film maintained the book's viewpoint that anti-Mexican racism was a problem in Texas. Giant was intended as a social critique of...

The West as Myth and Symbol

Indeed, throughout its history, American culture would be almost unimaginable without the West as a touchstone of national identity. The novels of James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) identified the basic character types for the genre and stated for all time America's apprehensions about the loss of a natural frontier a fear embodied in the lectures of old Leatherstocking (Natty Bumppo) and most memorably stated in Cooper's third novel, The Pioneers (1823). At the same time Cooper was putting to...

Notes

For an exemplary critical analysis of Heaven's Gate, see Robin Wood, Two Films by Michael Cimino, in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond (New York Columbia University Press, 2003), 241-286. 2. Larry Ranney notes the incorrect use of firearms in several classical Westerns that was nevertheless legible both as a highly efficient internal system of codes and as a claim to historical authority. These inaccuracies also served a narrative purpose repeating rifles were used in stories...

Works Cited

We're in the Money Depression America and Its Films. New York Harper and Row, 1972. Blazing Saddles. Dir. Mel Brooks. Perf. Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, and Slim Pickens. Videocassette. Warner, 1974. CatBallou. Dir. Elliot Silverstein. Perf. Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, Tom Nardini, Nat King Cole, and Stubby Kaye. 1965. DVD. Columbia, 2000. Cawelti, John G. Chinatown and Generic Transformation in Recent...

This Is Sort of How It Really Happened Tombstone and Paracinematic Verification

Tombstone offers yet another strategy and sense of historical discourse in Westerns by using what I call paracinematic verification. This is the use of passages from other actual fictional narratives as if they were documentary film footage to construct a field of reference internal to the viewer's experience of the film, but not necessarily to the film's story. It can also be seen in John Wayne's last film, Don Siegel's The Shootist (1976), and in Philip Borsos's The Grey Fox (1982) and...

Broken Arrows Clear Talk

In Broken Arrow, Tom Jeffords (Jimmy Stewart) befriends Cochise (Jeff Chandler) and negotiates a peace between the Apaches and settlers in the 1870s. The film depicts a mixed-race couple (Jeffords and his Apache child bride, Sonseeahray, played by Debra Paget) attempting to heal social rifts through their union, but peace comes only when the bond is broken and the Native American partner is sacrificed. Although the film's successful peace talks allude to the possibility of both assimilation and...

From Comedy to Cowboys

Jed Buell began his career in the movie industry in the early 1900s, as manager of the Orpheum Theater in Denver. Seeking relief from Colorado's altitude, he moved to Hollywood in his twenties and landed a job with Mack Sennett, the King of Comedy. Over time, Buell advanced from unit publicist to publicity director for Sennett's popular Keystone Studios known for the antics of the Keystone Cops, risqu bathing beauties, lions on leashes, and the master of silent comedy, Charlie Chaplin. When the...

Terms of Circulation

In contrast to Broken Arrow's self-consciously talky style, Devil's Doorway tells its story primarily through visual composition, noir stylistics, and costume. Jeanine Basinger calls Devil's Doorway and The Furies (1950) Anthony Mann's transitional films as he moved from his noir period (T-Men 1947 , Raw Deal 1948 ) of the late 1940s to his Western genre decade of the 1950s. Mann directed a series of films in the late 1940s and early 1950s with startlingly similar themes involving illegal or...

Jed Buells Unconventional West

In the 1930s, a different kind ofWest appeared on Hollywood's Poverty Row. It was a West animated by little people brawling in barrooms, a black hero singing his way into the heart of the rancher's daughter, an opera singer-turned-cowboy, and a penguin. It was Jed Buell's West. Little recognition is given to Buell for leaving his imprint on the Western musical as a genre. Credited with producing only about a dozen singing cowboy films, all released between 1936 and 1940, he was undoubtedly not...

Facts versus Meaning The Historiographical Potential of Westerns

But to what extent does it matter if Tom Mix did or did not weep, if Wyatt Earp did or did not write a book about Doc Holliday, or if Earp did or did not save a particular person from an angry lynch mob Here it is important to clarify the different levels on which accuracy must be considered specific to the Western factual, or material, accuracy and discursive accuracy. First, material accuracy it will be true or not true that Wyatt Earp used a particular kind of pistol at the O.K. Corral...

Dancing versus Walking The Nostalgic the Radical and the Corrective Western

Three films succinctly illustrate the range of historicity in Westerns since the waning Reagan years Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, Alex Cox's Walker, and Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp. Dances with Wolves is not a movie about a real person, but it aspires to be far more than a period or genre piece. Walker describes the antics of real-life nineteenth-century Manifest Destiny poster boy William Walker (Ed Harris). Tombstone claims to rehistoricize an American story so...

Disintegrating Indian Nations

In Devil's Doorway, the successfully assimilated Indian is rejected by whites in power, and those Indians who have gone to the reservation are driven in desperation to leave it, saying, We will die, but we will never go back to the reservation. This is the double bind that Devil's Doorway presents Indians cannot assimilate and cannot be contained, but instead are forced into a hopeless and violent conflict with the settler community. In the film, prejudicial laws and attitudes bar Lance from...

Fred Scott The Silvery Voiced Buckaroo

The first voice to be heard in Jed Buell's West was that of Fred Scott. In the mid-1930s, the popularity of the B Western was waning, until Nat Levine's Mascot studios produced a song-infUsed serial, The Phantom Empire (1935), starring former WLS Barn Dance radio performer Gene Autry. Autry's success as a cowboy crooner, first in Empire (1935), then, in rapid succession that same year, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Melody Trail, The Sagebrush Troubadour, and Singing Vagabond, sent rival studios rushing...

Charting Unfamiliar Cinematic Terrain

John Sayles was particularly well positioned to take on a rewriting of the Western story. Early successes with Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980), The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Matewan (1987), Eight Men Out (1988), and City of Hope (1991) earned Sayles a reputation as a writer and director of thought-provoking films in an industry dominated by formulas.4 Passion Fish (1992) and The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), the two works that immediately preceded Lone Star, served to cement that...

The Novel Beginnings and Controversy

The product of thirteen years of research, including several excursions to the region, Ferber's Giant evolved from the writer's interest in the larger-than-life aura of everything Texan and the lore of the West (Hendler 115-16). During one of her trips Ferber accompanied a Corpus Christi, Texas, doctor named Hector P. Garcia on his rounds. Primarily a physician for the Mexican community, Garcia allowed Ferber to communicate with his patients about their lives and experiences. Through such...

High Noon and Its Legacy

The law-and-order film, of which High Noon is the progenitor, consists of several key elements. A central character is the town, the name of which provides the title for two of these films. Hadleyville's abandonment of Marshal Will Kane Gary Cooper in High Noon provides the central moral conflict. While several perspectives are given for the town's failure to support the marshal, including the disability of his mentor, the pacifism of his Quaker wife, and the fear of the judge who sentenced...

Women and the Role of the Feminine in Howard Hawkss Red River

The films of Howard Hawks have long presented feminist critics with a paradox they are famous for their recurrent staging of the social rituals of male bonding and camaraderie, and yet then frequently offer images of strong, independent women who undercut the authority of the male group and call its self-sufficiency into question. His action-adventure and Western films such as The Dawn Patrol 1930 , Only Angels Have Wings 1939 , and Red River 1948 are intensely masculine dramas in which...

Women and Westerns

That women are often treated badly or not at all is a particular stereotype of the Western, and a glance at a number of Westerns illustrates why this stereotype has come to be. In Once upon a Time in the West 1968 , an innocent young woman is gunned down along with her father and brothers. An older and more experienced woman Claudia Cardinale is used sexually and threatened with death until she agrees to sell her land to one of the villains. she may come out the winner in the final few frames,...

Generic Conventions and Gender

It should be observed at this point that Millay's intervention in the conflict between Dunson and Matt and the comedic resolution that it makes possible the film's ending in the promise of marriage are clearly inappropriate in terms of the conventions of the Western genre, according to which one of the two men should be killed. Nor is this ending in any way commensurate with the depth of the conflict established between the two characters over the course of the film. More than one critic has...

Works Cited Film Lone Star

Newsweek, June 24, 2002, 16. Beale, Lewis. He's the Lone Wolf behind Lone Star. Daily News, June 19, 1996, 38. Buscombe, Edward, and Roberta E. Pearson, eds. Back in the Saddle Again New Essays on the Western. London British Film Institute, 1998. Cawelti, John G. The Six-Gun Mystique Sequel. Bowling Green, Ohio Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. Howell, Peter. Gunning for an Audience, John Sayles Famous for Not Doing Things the Hollywood...

Stock Characters Reinforce Cultural

Several film techniques augment the story line. The use of stock characters was particularly effective. Reviewers criticized Giant's creators for casting similar-looking individuals in the roles of Mexican servants. However, these characters provided a compellingly different image from that of the Anglo characters of the Benedict family. Dark-skinned and dressed in traditional apparel, the Mexicans in Giant contrasted sharply with the characters with light skin and modern clothing, a contrast...

Westerns and Americas Future

Popular culture in the United States presents an apparent chaos, but scholars who have taken films seriously know that movie Westerns are a touchstone to understanding the nation's concerns. At the mythic level, Westerns explore America's self-image as unique because of a proximity to nature, what Harvard scholar Perry Miller called an identity as Nature's Nation. Contemporary politics clearly affect the construction of Westerns witness the testimony in this collection to the pervasive...

Adult Legacies of a Juvenile Western

Lone Ranger Tonto, from this day on I'm going to devote my life to establishing law and order, to make the West a decent place to live. Enter the Lone Ranger, TV genesis episode of 1949 Born at Detroit radio station WXYZ in 1933, the Lone Ranger became a great twentieth-century mythmaking franchise. His trajectory ascended out of radio, comics, pulp novels, advertising endorsements, licensed merchandise, and fan clubs into the sphere of serialized television and the B Western. As the Ranger's...

The Simultaneous Deconstruction and Reinforcement of Generic Conventions in the

Almost as long as the Western has existed as a genre in film there has been a subgenre ofWestern parodies from as far back as the 1920s with Buster Keaton, continuing down to the present with Jackie Chan, the Western has been a target of parody and a rich source for comedy. Comedy relies, to a large extent, on the reversal of expectations because of the familiarity of the highly codified conventions of the Western, it becomes a prime target. Parodies subvert the conventions of the Western in...

Nation Building and Sexual Politics

From the very beginning of Red River, with its framing device of the expository titles and the manuscript called Early Tales of Texas, Hawks announces a much larger historical and cultural frame for this film than is typical of his work. Red River, as Robert Sklar has shown, is a film about empire, . . . about the territorial expansion of one society by the usurpation of land from others 169 clearly, this is a theme with social and political implications. At the center of this great enterprise...

Contents

The West, Westerns, and American Character John E. O'Connor and Peter C. Rollins 1 Part One. Early Sound Era Westerns, 1931-1939 Chapter 1. The New Western History in 1931 RKO and the Challenge of Cimarron Chapter 2. Tradition, Parody, and Adaptation Jed Buell's Unconventional West Chapter 3. The Lone Ranger Adult Legacies of a Juvenile Western Part Two. The Post-World War II Western, 1945-1956 Chapter 4. Wee Willie Winkie Goes West The Influence of the British Empire Genre on...

Origins of Western Parody

A parody is a comical imitation of a genre that uses its existing codes to examine the subject in a humorous way. Parody often exists simultaneously with satire, but it can be distinguished from satire, which is designed more specifically to point out vices, follies, or problems with conventional beliefs, whereas parody is generally more lighthearted. Despite the tendency of Western parodies to undermine or spoof the codes of the more traditional Western, they are still situated within the...

The Return of the Repressed

The key to both men's emotional self-discovery is Tess Millay. In her character, the repressed feminine principle that Dunson rejects at the beginning of the film and which remains completely banished throughout the ensuing two-thirds of the story suddenly erupts back into the narrative. The character of Millay in Borden Chase's original Saturday Evening Post serial, The Chisholm Trail, was a prostitute and a gambler, but Motion Picture Production Code officials demanded that she be softened...

Riding Off into the Sunset

Typically, these films end with the hero or heroes riding off into the sunset and, therefore, farther west into the frontier, the traditional exodus of the cowboy. In Shanghai Noon, Roy and Chon ride off into the setting sun, although there is no plot- or theme-mandated reason for this exit. The ending of Cat Ballou is played for its comic possibilities. Cat and her love interest, Clay Michael Callan , snuggle together in the back of a hearse as they ride into the distance. Rex calls attention...

TNT Westerns and Contemporary Audiences

Poker Western Cinema

This study found two main themes in four popular TNT Westerns Last Stand at Saber River, The Good Old Boys, The Virginian, Crossfire Trail those of nostalgia and a cynicism regarding social institutions. These themes are effective in engaging audiences primarily because they are already part of their everyday lives. For example, a nostalgia for Western myths and heroes is prevalent in Western novels, Hollywood films, paintings, country-and-western songs, and other popular cultural forms. These...

Keystone Comedy Meets the West in The Terror of Tiny Town

Terror Tiny Town

With high culture nowhere in sight, The Terror of Tiny Town, Buell's best-known, most controversial, and most baffling musical Western, was released in 1938. As with all Buell's musical Westerns, Tiny Town follows a standard format a hero, a villain, two feuding families, cattle, lots of songs, and a girl. The Preston and Lawson ranches are feuding, each blaming the other for mysterious cattle disappearances. Of course, the villain, Bat Haines Little Billy Rhodes , is behind the disappearances...

The Concept of Frontera in John SaylesS Lone Star

The idea of the frontier is extremely well established as cultural common property. If the idea of la frontera had anywhere near the standing of the idea of the frontier, we would be well launched toward self-understanding, directed toward a realistic view of this nation's position in the hemisphere and in the world. Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Adventures of the Frontier in the My feeling, basically, is that i've made a lot of movies about American culture and, as far as i'm concerned, it is...

Women In Western Films The Civilizer The Saloon Singer And Their Modern Sister Sandra Kay Schackel -

There Must Be a Lone Ranger. London Hamish Hamilton, 1974. Carroll, No l. The Professional Western South of the Border. In Back in the Saddle Again New Essays on the Western, edited by Edward Buscombe and Roberta E. Pearson, 46-62. London British Film Institute, 1998. Cawelti, John G. The Six-Gun Mystique Sequel. Bowling Green, Ohio Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999. Coyne, Michael. The Crowded Prairie American National Identity in the Hollywood Western. London...

The Western Parody as a Subgenre

Rustlers Rhapsody Outfits

Ironically, the Western parodies exhibit their own recycled conventions and clich s. An examination of Go West Edward Buzzell, 1940 , Cat Ballou Elliot Silverstein, 1965 , Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks, 1974 , Rustlers' Rhapsody Hugh Wilson, 1985 , and Shanghai Noon Tom Dey, 2000 will illustrate the variety of Western parodies and their similarities. When these parodies are examined together, patterns begin to emerge. These patterns indicate that the Western parody is in itself a generic form....

RRKO and the Challenge of Cimarron

In early 1931, RKO Pictures released Cimarron, a history of an Oklahoma pioneering couple's marriage from the opening of the territory to white settlement in 1889 to the film's 1930 production year. Even before the film's completion, the Hollywood motion picture community anticipated Cimarron as innovative American historical cinema, and following its premiere, the studio and the trade papers presented the film as both an authoritative historical document and a landmark of American cinematic...

Genre Markers in TNT Westerns

Harris Riders The Purple Sage

Because TNT Westerns' core audience consists of genre fans, the network takes great pains to identify its movies through publicity, promotional trailers, and press kits. This study found six genre markers used by the network to attract its audience. The first genre marker is basing its Westerns on the works of well-known Western writers. Many of TNT's movies are adaptations of popular novels written by Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, and Elmore Leonard. TNT has even produced a cable film adaptation...

Bringing Harlem to the Prairie with Herb Jeffries The Bronze Buckaroo

Directly following The Terror of Tiny Town was another film that garnered Buell further criticism for exploitation, along with a few comments of praise for advancing the role of blacks in the cinematic West Harlem on the Prairie 1937 . The film brought the rich musical voice of Herb Jeffries to the frontier, along with a cast of black faces usually absent from the genre. The issue of black images in the early years of film is a complex one. More than thirteen hundred African American films were...

Reliance on Established Western Conventions

Slim Pickens Campfire

One of the most immediately obvious references to earlier Westerns is found in the titles of the parodies. Each of the films considered here somehow refers to an earlier Western film, often in a comedic way. Go West, as mentioned earlier, takes the same title as a Buster Keaton film and notably refers to Horace Greeley's famous injunction of 1853, Go West, young man. The title Cat Ballou came from the book on which the film was based The Ballad of Cat Ballou. Blazing Saddles, in addition to its...

Conventions of the Western Parody

Western parodies sometimes go a great deal further than borrowing conventions from the traditional Western. To ensure authenticity or tie themselves more tightly to the genre, they often use sets, costumes, and even actors from recognizable Western films. Parts of Cat Ballou, for instance, were filmed on the same set as High Noon. Rustlers' Rhapsody employed a similar technique to associate the film with its Western antecedents. The film made use of one of the frontier sets built in Almeria,...

TNT and the Production of Western Films

Westerns Films

Turner Broadcasting System introduced the TNT cable network in 1988 after achieving profitability with superstation WTBS and CNN Cable News Network . Created as a venue for Turner's vast library of films, TNT consisted almost exclusively of theatrical and television releases. Indeed, the network's MGM UA film library includes twenty-two hundred MGM titles, along with older Warner Bros. and RKO films. TNT debuted on October 3 in 17 million cable homes by far the largest network launch to date in...