The White Cowboys

The iconic buttes of Monument Valley, AZ have been pictured in many western movies.

Non Stop Western Movies

A few months ago, back in the dead of winter, I found myself holed up in Southern Utah taking public assistance for a couple of weeks. As a result I had no control over what I watched on TV.  This wasn’t a bad thing really, for I got a chance to watch a whole bunch of western movies, mostly from the 50s. Not only did I enjoy viewing the films, but also, I learned something about moviemaking and storytelling.

The Movies

The movies I watched were Gun Glory (1957), The Last Wagon(1956), The Cattle King(1963), Fort Dobbs(1958), The Jayhawkers(1959), The Marauders(1955), The Sheepman(1958) and McLintock(1963). All except McLintock and the Cattle King  were made in the 50s and McLintock differed significantly from the rest because it was a comedy, even though John Wayne starred as George Washington McLintock, the eccentric cattle baron. More about that particular film later.

A Common Theme?

What struck me most about the 50s Westerns was how quickly and easily the main characters changed partners. Even death of a spouse was often the catalyst for these changes. For example in the Jayhawkers, Fess Parker plays a man, just escaped from prison, who is headed home. Only problem is the woman in the house is not his wife, as she is buried nearby. No problem, for the moviemakers, because the homesteader, Nicole Maurey, ends of spending the entire film with Fess, as they try to find justice against the gangs of marauding men that are terrorizing the Kansas territory.

John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara  during the filming of McLintock.

John Wayne In a Comedy

For the 50s movies, this seems to be a common theme among these Westerns, at least the ones reviewed in this article. Only with the sixties films of McLintock and The Cattle King, did I detect a more normal relationship between man and woman. The story of McLintock revolves around a powerful western couple, played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and their humorous escapades, as they try to reconcile their differences.

What’s Going On Here

The rugged reality of life in the Old West is definitely at work in a lot of these Westerns. The dangers were real, life was hard, and men and women could die suddenly for no logical reason. When tragic events like this did occur, survival may have quickly necessitated the relocation with a new partner of the opposite sex.

The Wars of the 40s and 50s

From 1942 till 1953, the U.S. went through two costly military conflicts. World War II was by the far the most deadly, but we should not forget the 50,000 soldiers, who perished in the Korean Conflict. Perhaps, some of the resulting turmoil on the home front is reflected in the Western movies that were being made in Hollywood.

Tom Mix was one of the first Hollywood cowboys

The White Cowboy

For just about all of our cinematic history, the Cowboy has been white. Mel Brooks put a crack in this myth with his landmark satire, Blazing Saddles, but even today, the hero of the Western tends to a white male mounted on horseback. Basically, the conquest of the West was told by the victor. Many good movies have been made using these parameters, but there still remains other stories out there that could be successfully brought to the silver screen, both real and fictional, or somewhere in between.

 

Tarantino’s New Movie

Quentin Tarantino's new Movie is a post Civil War Western entitled, The Hateful Eight, image from wikipedia
Quentin Tarantino’s new Movie is a post Civil War Western entitled, The Hateful Eight, image from wikipedia

The Hateful Eight

Due out next month, The Hateful Eight (sometimes printed as the H8ful Eight or The Hateful 8) is about eight persons, who take shelter in a Wyoming stagecoach stop during a raging snowstorm. Tarantino, the writer-director, claims he was influenced by such western TV programs, as Bonanza, The Virginian and The High Chaparral. This may be true, but after watching the trailer and reading a brief write-up, I can’t help but think that the 50s cinema classic, The Bus Stop, (which starred Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray) also shows some resemblance to this new release. By the way, the release date for this movie is Christmas Day, 2015.

The Controversy

The controversy that has arisen just recently, is not so much about the movie itself’, but instead, it revolves around some remarks that Tarantino made while participating in a NYC protest march concerning Police Brutality in Greenwich Village in late October. The march was organized by Black Lives Matter. It was during this march that Tarantino made the following comment to reporters; “I’m a human being with a conscience, And if you believe there’s murder going on then you need to rise up and stand up against it. I’m here to say I’m on the side of the murdered.” Since these remarks, police organizations have responded by demanding a boycott to The Hateful Eight and even promising a vague sort of unnamed surprise for Mr. Tarantino before the movie opens up in December.

Generalities Are Dangerous

My first reaction was that Mr. Tarantino should be a little bit more specific about where and when the police were accused of being involved in murder. Today, there are over 320 million American citizens and according to answers.com, over 1 million are involved in some sort of paid police work. With these kind of numbers there are bound to be some deaths, as a result of police actions…and as more recent events in Louisiana have so sadly proven, American police officers are not immune to being charged with murder. So in reality, Quentin is correct in his statement, just maybe not very tactful.

The Police Response

When I first heard about the police response on the news, I thought the organizations involved were responding to the nature of the movie. Only later did I learn that The Hateful Eight was a Western set in the late 1800s. Still, the police have every right to promote a boycott. However, the story does not stop here, for they also promised a little surprise for the Hateful Eight writer/director before the Christmas Day opening………Maybe the police organizations also need to be a little bit more specific about what their surprise might entail. Some how I don’t think it was egg nog or bread pudding.

The Biggest Irony of All

The biggest irony of all is that The Hateful Eight is a big budget movie made in one of America’s most popular film genres, the Western. I would not be at all surprised that once this movie is released, Americans from all walks of life will find their way into the theater to enjoy the film. This might even include a few police officers.

Telluride, CO is an old mining town now converted to a major ski area and tourist destination, photo from wikipedia
Telluride, CO is an old mining town now converted to a major ski area and tourist destination. It is also where The Hateful Eight was filmed., photo from wikipedia