I blame it all on John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson–may as well throw in Jason Robards Jr, Clint Eastwood and Jimmy Stewart too. All these super Hollywood stars played memorable roles in the Old West tales.
Hubby and I are avid Western fans. The setting has to be the the Old West with the cavalry, cattlemen and train robbers. Throw in a few gun-runners, Commancheros, Apaches or Commanches plus a wagon train guided by Ward Bond with one of the feisty new settlers being character actor Edgar Buchanan, who is either a doctor or a dentist or saloon keeper. We don’t like modern Westerns–too much convoluted angst. The old West had it but it was much more fun fighting cattle rustlers and gunfighters among all that tension.
We have been watching a lot of movies during the period of self-isolation and staying safe. Two of our fave movie channels, Turner’s Classics and Silver Screen have been tossing out old Westerns like they were cleaning Granny’s attic. Hubby and I have been watching so many that we know our character actors and like the old stars who play the leading roles.. We had already seen many before but after a lapse of 1-2 years, the movies appear familiar but still enjoyable. This is what we’ve concluded watching these wonderful Hollywood and Italian westerns such as Fort Apache, The Searchers, High Noon, A Fistful of Dollars and Tombstone, naming a few. 1) Old Westerns are the best. “Old” meaning a setting in the old horse and buggy days with crooked, greedy ranchers pitted against the “little guys.” The land and water rights are the biggies. Stage coach robberies, gunfights and crafty saloon gamblers are all part of the excitement. 2) The little guys always win especially when Clint Eastwood, William Holden, Gregory Peck or Sam Elliott are fighting on your side. 3) There’s always a beautiful woman who is either the daughter of the rival big rancher who loves the son of the little rancher or the daughter of the little rancher who loves the son of the big rancher. In the end, love wins especially if the good guys are led by Clint, Val Kilmer or Jason Robards Jr. 4) If you have seen “Tombstone” starring Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell and Sam Elliott, then watched it again a few years later—did you spot Charlton Heston playing a cameo role of a character called Henry Hooker? Hubby and I have watched this classic western a number of times and still didn’t recognize the star famous for “The Ten Commandments.” 5) “Tombstone” is considered a classic western because it has endured. Others that falls into this category are Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “For a Few Dollars More,” “The Last of the Mohicans” with Daniel Day-Lewis, “High Noon” with Gary Cooper, “Major Dundee” with Charlton Heston and our all-time favourite, “Once Upon a Time in the West” with Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards Jr. Just check the website for the greatest “Hundred Best Westerns” and these would be among the top of the list.
Now I’m sure you’re asking yourselves—what exactly did I learn from the old western classics? First of all, the Villains may wear white stetsons and the heroes black ones, but the good guys win 99.9% of the time regardless of what colour hat they wear or how ratty it looks. The beautiful woman doesn’t always get her man as we witnessed in at least 3 of John Wayne’s westerns–he rode off alone at the end.
The westerns made by Sergio Leone were realistic with grey, dreary towns, harsh survival with only the hardiest and most determined surviving. And, like Oriental movies, Sergio’s had an elaborate story plot that eventually worked out in the end. This was seen in Clint’s spaghetti films also directed by Sergio Leone as well as “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Attitude gets you somewhere. Charles Bronson in “Once Upon a Time. . .” played a stoical character with few words; had a poker face when confronted with trouble; played a haunting melody on his harmonica; could outshoot the villains and got the lady in the end—-well, I think he did as it sort of faded out with the credits rolling but he was heading back to where he had left her.
History is supposedly depicted in these classic westerns—the fall of the Alamo; the fight for Texas statehood; the Earp Brothers against the Clantons at the O.K. Corral; Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday—how much is really true? Whatever grains of truth are in these movies, let me say they make entertaining stories and in western movies, that’s what counts.